National Championship Preview:

Steve O Speak

Both Auburn and Oregon feature explosive offenses and top ranked defenses. Here are my Keys to the Game for each team:

Oregon Ducks:

1. Run Your Offense: The biggest mistake the Ducks could make is trying to respond to every Auburn score or series. Oregon needs to run their game plan and allow the run set up the pass. If Auburn goes up early, don’t worry and make a mistake, execute your game plan and you should be fine. The Ducks will need to continue with their fast paced attack, and can catch defenses napping and they shouldn’t slow down their approach until the final minutes of the game. Even if Oregon is up early in the 4th quarter, I wouldn’t try to milk the play clock, and try to eat up time. The only thing that allows is for the Tigers defense to catch their breath and diagnose your formation for longer. Also, since your team is more practiced at quick snaps, allowing them to sit there in their stance can only lead to false starts and blown assignments. Keep the pressure on Auburn and the Ducks should be fine.

2. Neutralize DT Nick Fairley: While Cam Newton might get all the fame and glory, defensive tackle Nick Fairley is really the Tigers most dangerous player. Fairley is the most disruptive defensive lineman in college football, and is nearly impossible to block one-on-one. The Ducks have a solid interior offensive line, but they don’t have a single man who can neutralize Fairley so they will need to double-team him the majority of the game. Fairley could also force the Ducks to run outside more, and do more bootlegs away from him. The good news for Oregon is that the Tigers don’t have that many additional playmakers on defense, which helps allow them to scheme for just Fairley. While you don’t want to completely take away your inside running attack, you will have to be more cautious with Fairley there.

3. “Dance With The Girl That Brung You”: With all due respect to Darron Thomas, Jeff Maehl, Kenjon Barner, and the rest of the Oregon Ducks, but LaMichael James is the reason Oregon is in the Championship Game this year. Sure Oregon’s depth as a team and many impressive skilled players are important, but James is the heart and soul of this team. For the Ducks to win this game they need James to have a big game, and find his way into the end zone a couple of times. Part of the reason Thomas and company have had such success this year is that opposing defenses are keying on James. If the Tigers have success bottling James up from the start then they can look at how to attack the rest of the Ducks offense. If on the other hand James is making them pay, and they keep having to adjust their defense to him, I believe the Ducks will find success with their other weapons. Oregon needs to get James involved early and often, and force the Tigers hand.

Auburn Tigers:

1. Newton Time: There is little doubt that the number one key to this game is getting Cam Newton going early. And it is a pretty simple situation for Auburn, If Newton struggles they struggle, if he is successful they are successful, and if he is incredible they are incredible. The problem for Oregon is that Newton has been pretty much successful or incredible all season meaning the Ducks will have their hands full. Newton’s speed and agility will allow him to not only elude the pass rush, but pick up big plays when he does. While much of the focus with Newton centers around his legs, I think this game will come down to his arm. The Ducks have beaten some teams with top quarterbacks this season, but they haven’t been able to completely shut them down. Both Andrew Luck and Nick Foles had some success throwing the ball against the Ducks, and if Newton has a similar game (to go along with his threat on the ground) it will haunt the Ducks.

2. Help Out Fairley: Now the Tigers will need a good game out of Fairley if they want to impact the Ducks defense, but if they get a great game out of him they should be National Champs. Now individually there isn’t anything Fairley can do to help him tonight, but the team can plan around him to try to allow him more freedom to work. I’d recommend an assortment of stunts to help confuse Oregon. I’d also look to do some overload/inside blitzes to force more single teams on Fairley. The Tigers should also use Fairley as a bit of a decoy, by sending delayed blitzes and even lining him up at end at some points. The more looks they show early that can confuse the Ducks will set them up for big plays later in the game.

3. Be Prepared to Make Second Half Adjustments: If you watched any Oregon football this season one thing has always been clear, the Ducks are a 2nd half football team. While it might have frustrated their fans and scare them a little bit at times this season, the Ducks have been far better in the 2nd half of games than the first half. Ducks coach Chip Kelly makes great adjustments on both offense and defense, so if you had a defensive plan that slowed down the Ducks in the first half it likely won’t work anymore as the 3rd quarter starts. Similarly if your offense could move the ball in the first half, you should expect to grind to a halt in the 2nd half. This is the toughest challenge for Auburn coach Gene Chizik, as he will need to play a mental chess match with Coach Kelly if the Tigers are to win. Now usually that chess match is pretty much done while the game is going on, but here I’d expect significant changes from Oregon by the time the 2nd half rolls around, so Auburn will have to mirror the Ducks moves. If Auburn can continue to adapt to a changing Oregon gameplan and set their own tone they can win this thing.

Prediction: We know both teams can score, and usually I’d give the game to the team with the best offensive and defensive players in the game, but I’m going with the Ducks here. I think they are more balanced and a deeper team. I also am more of a believer in Chip Kelly and consider him one of the best coaches at any level. Oregon wins a shootout 49-38.

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