AUBURN, Ala. -- This year’s BCS national championship game wasn’t the prettiest of games, and it wasn’t just because the recently replaced University of Phoenix Stadium left players slipping all night.
The long layoff had a profound effect on the timing of both teams’ high-powered offenses, who were sloppy throughout and didn’t resemble their regular-season selves, combining for four turnovers.
Expected to be a high-scoring affair, it instead turned into a battle of attrition, with the disrespected defenses taking charge and punts -- not points -- dominating the night.
But like all national championship games, it had its moments.
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Here are six that defined the game:
Kodi Burns with the jumpstart
The Tigers sputtered through the first quarter, gaining only 21 yards of offense, but got things going in the second with a 62-yard drive.
It ended with a touchdown by Burns, the seldom-targeted quarterback-turned-receiver who had only one touchdown catch in his career.
He was wide open on this one. Cam Newton found him across the middle. Burns made a defender miss then leaped past three Ducks into the end zone to get Auburn on the board with a 7-3 lead.
Blanc’s safety dance
Auburn appeared to have missed a golden opportunity when Newton short-armed a pass in the end zone to Eric Smith on fourth-and-goal, coming away empty on a 16-play drive and giving the Ducks possession.
But the Tigers got points anyway. On Oregon’s first play, Auburn defensive tackle Mike Blanc got penetration and took down running back LaMichael James in the end zone for a safety, pulling Auburn within 11-9 and giving it the ball back.
The Tigers would get a 35-yard touchdown catch by Emory Blake on their next drive to take a 16-11 lead into halftime.
Trailing 19-11, the Ducks got down to the Auburn 3-yard line after a 43-yard pass from Darron Thomas to Lavasier Tuinei near the end of the third quarter.
After three straight runs got the ball to the 1, Oregon coach Chip Kelly opted to go for it, calling for a handoff to running back Kenjon Barner.
But Auburn stuffed the play. Linebacker Josh Bynes led a host of Tigers who stopped Barner for no gain, keeping Auburn’s lead intact and swinging momentum back the Tigers’ way.
Newton coughs one up
Auburn seemed to have the game put away. The Ducks, still trailing 19-11, punted back to the Tigers with 4:50 remaining. All Auburn had to do was run Newton a few times, pick up a first down or two and run the clock.
Oregon had different plans. On the second play, linebacker Casey Matthews popped Newton on a running play, jarring the ball loose. Teammate Cliff Harris jumped on it at the Auburn 40.
Newton’s second lost fumble all season set up the Ducks’ game-tying drive, which ended with James’ shovel pass touchdown and Thomas’ two-point conversion pass to Jeff Maehl that tied the game at 19.
Dyer’s not down
For a second, everyone stopped. Oregon’s defense. Auburn’s offense. Then running back Mike Dyer heard coaches yell, “Go! Go! Go!” from the sideline.
Despite appearances, Dyer wasn’t down when he rolled over an Oregon defender near the line of scrimmage late in the game, keeping his knee from touching the ground (although replays showed it was extremely close and probably could have gone either way).
Once he realized, the freshman raced down the field, dragged down after a 37-yard gain to the Oregon 23 with 1:39 to go, putting Auburn in prime scoring position with the game tied at 19.
Byrum is Mr. Clutch
He’d done it five times in his career, including once as a freshman to beat Florida in The Swamp, but none of Wes Byrum’s game-winning kicks had ever been this big.
Distance wasn’t an issue. At 19 yards, it was shorter than an extra point. The angle wasn’t the best, off to the right hash. But Byrum, a senior, had no problem.
The snap was good, as was the hold, and Byrum calmly booted it through the uprights with no time on the clock for a 22-19 victory, setting off an Auburn celebration that was 53 years in the making.