Cam Newton. Oregon hemmed in Auburn’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback on the ground, holding him to minus-3 rushing yards in the first half after he led the Southeastern Conference in rushing during the regular season. But Newton began picking apart the Ducks’ defense in the second quarter, completing 14 of his 18 passes in the quarter for 174 yards and two touchdowns.
16. Auburn managed only two first downs in the first quarter, but the Tigers got rolling in the second. They outgained Oregon 258 yards to 107 in the period -- and 81 of Oregon’s yards came on one pass play to Jeff Maehl -- and picked up 16 first downs to Oregon’s three. Oregon led 11-7 at one point, but the Tigers scored the last nine points of the half to take a 16-11 lead at halftime.
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Auburn faced fourth-and-goal at the Oregon 1, when the Tigers’ coaching staff decided to go for a touchdown instead of settling for a field goal. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn made a perfect playcall, as fullback Eric Smith was wide open in the end zone after the Ducks expected a run. But quarterback Cam Newton’s pass was a bit short and Smith was unable to hold on as the ball slipped through his hands and fell incomplete.
Auburn recovered from the failed fourth-down pass on the goal line in admirable fashion. Defensive tackle Mike Blanc tackled Oregon running back LaMichael James for a safety that cut the Ducks’ lead to 11-9. Then Auburn took the kickoff and drove 66 yards for a touchdown that put the Tigers up 16-11 at the break. Newton did almost all of his damage through the air, passing for 174 yards and two touchdowns in the quarter to help the Tigers claim the halftime lead. He almost put even more points on the scoreboard before halftime, driving the Tigers from their goal line into Oregon territory as the final seconds of the half ticked away. Newton threw a Hail Mary to Darvin Adams on the final play of the half -- just like the final play of the first half in the SEC championship game win against South Carolina, which Adams caught for a touchdown -- but this time, the tipped pass fell incomplete.
— David Ching