BCS national championhip: Auburn's defense steps to another level

abitter@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 11, 2011 

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Josh Bynes felt slighted. Auburn's whole defense did.

The buildup to Monday's BCS national championship game focused almost completely around the two high-powered, fast-paced offenses.

"They hadn't shown one defensive highlight throughout the week," Bynes said. "So what does that tell us as a defense? We got to play at another level."

Auburn showed exactly what it was capable of at University of Phoenix Stadium, turning in its best effort of the year in a 22-19 win against Oregon.

The Tigers held the Ducks to 30 points below their season average of 49.2, which led the nation entering Monday night. It was only the second time all year Oregon scored fewer than 37 points.

"I cannot be more proud of our defense," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "For one month our defense was bound and determined to show up here tonight and and play the best game of their life."

It started by stuffing the running game. The Ducks averaged 303.8 yards per game entering the night, fourth most in the country. But Auburn's rushing defense — no slouch itself, ranked 11th nationally — was up the challenge, holding Oregon to just 75 yards on the ground.

"They came up, had a good plan for us," said Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas, who threw for 363 yards but finished with minus-6 rushing yards. "They mixed it up a lot. Sometimes the defensive end was crashing or sitting on it, but they came out with a good plan. Hats off to their defense."

Oregon's LaMichael James, the nation's leading rusher and Doak Walker Award winner, finished with 49 yards on 13 carries, averaging only 3.8 yards per carry.

His backup, Kenjon Barner, finished with only 32 yards, getting stuffed on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line midway through the third quarter.

Auburn did it by living in Oregon's backfield. The Tigers had 11 tackles for a loss, getting pressure up the middle mostly from its defensive line, which kept up with the Ducks' smaller but nimble offensive line.

The Tigers negated the advantage with tireless preparation, which included extra conditioning sessions and getting its scout team to rattle off plays as quickly as nine seconds between snaps.

"I think (defensive line) coach Rocker did a great job with the D-line getting ready for this tempo with the get offs and the jump ropes we all practiced," defensive tackle Nick Fairley said. "We probably did like 2,000 jump ropes the whole time we was off. They were tired, I was tired. We were just going to see who hit who in the mouth last."

Fairley, who might have played his final game at Auburn, certainly left a lasting legacy, finishing with three tackles for a loss and forcing a fumble to earn defensive MVP honors.

"They got a great front four," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "Nick Fairley proved he was the best defensive lineman in the country. It was a tough matchup for us."

How good was Auburn's defense? The Ducks had been held scoreless in only five quarters all season. Auburn held them scoreless in two quarters Monday night.

For a defense that has long been criticized as not being national championship worthy, it was a sweet ending.

"You talk about the word respond," Chizik said. "They responded today. One of the reasons we will be able to wear that ring is because of how well they played, these guys right here."

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