Ryan Black commentary: Points won't be as plentiful as predicted in BCS title game

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 20, 2013 

AUBURN, Ala. — People can’t be faulted for assuming the 2011 BCS national championship would be a high-flying affair.

After all, top-ranked Auburn came in averaging 42.7 points per game. Its opponent, No. 2 Oregon, was even better, as it scored 49.3 per contest.

So of course, the game ended 22-19 in Auburn’s favor — and it was decided by a kicker, no less.

What happened?

“I think both defenses were prepared. That's one thing,” said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who was the Tigers’ offensive coordinator at the time. “Both defenses were good. The second thing is (in) the first quarter, it did take each group (some time) to kind of get going.”

Fast-forward three years later, and it’s the same story: people expect this year’s BCS title game will see a scoreboard awash in points. Again, all it takes is a quick look at the numbers, and it shows that Florida State (53.0 points per game) and Auburn (40.2) should be ready for a track meet on the scale of the Tigers’ last outing, which saw them sprint past Missouri 59-42 in the SEC championship game. But as history has shown, the long layoff between conference title games and the national championship tilt favors defenses nearly every time.

To wit: Starting with the first BCS championship game in 1999, there has been only one occasion when both teams scored more than 30 points. That instance was in 2006, in the game many view as the “greatest (college football) game ever played,” as Vince Young single-handedly led Texas past Southern California in a 41-38 classic.

If the statistics aren’t convincing enough, just listen to players, who reached a consensus: this interminable wait between live games is an inherent advantage for defenses.

“It definitely helps the defense, because they have more time to prepare for us,” said Alex Kozan, Auburn’s starter at left guard. “So it’ll help their defense, but it’ll also help our defense. It might be a little lower-scoring, but at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to execution.”

What say you, Jay Prosch?

“(Defenses) still have to play together as a team, but with our offense, communication-wise, we work as one, like a well-oiled machine,” the senior fullback said. “Defensively, I think it’s more where players can just read and react, so you can get back into it faster.”

It’s not just those on offense who hold this belief, however. Jermaine Whitehead would say the same thing. In fact, the junior safety took the same stance as his coach. Both the Tigers’ and the Seminoles’ defenses should come be able to put their best foot forward simply due to the time they have to break down every single aspect of the other team’s offense.

“We get to watch a lot more film that we do on a team in the regular team other than the first game,” he said. “We’ll be able to cue in and do our best work in this game.”

Anything less than that would qualify as a disappointment to Jonathon Mincy. Yes, he was happy Auburn won the SEC championship. He even uttered the ever-popular disclaimer “at the end of the day” before he went into his full answer. But try as he might, the junior cornerback couldn’t forget how the Tigers’ defense played the last time they took the field.

Missouri moved the ball at will, tallying 534 yards of total offense and scoring four touchdowns.

Auburn didn’t beat its opponent as much as it outlasted it.

And Mincy admits, he’s already heard all the talk surrounding next month’s matchup. The defenses for both teams will serve as mere speed bumps as they try to break the scoreboard in Rose Bowl Stadium. Consider that motivation, he said.

And while you’re at it, Mincy urges that you to divert your attention away from the highlight reel scoring plays the game will produce.

That’s not where the game will be decided, anyway.

“It’s really going to come back to a defensive play,” he said. “Everybody has to lock on to their assignments and we need to play a perfect game.”

Unlike Mincy, Prosch wouldn’t offer any predictions. Doing so would be foolish, as he pointed to the fact the Tigers and Seminoles didn’t share any common opponents.

He’s fine with just letting the game play out as it will.

“It’s hard to say,” Prosch said. “Anything could happen.”

Indeed, if we’ve learned anything this season, it’s that ruling anything out when Auburn is involved is a risky proposition.

Speaking of propositions, there will be an untold number of wagers placed on the outcome of the BCS title game between now and kickoff Jan. 6.

Here’s a word of advice: Bet the under.

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