BCS National Championship Game: Auburn Beats Oregon, 22-19
GLENDALE, Ariz. - In the end, the Auburn Tigers didn't care how many points they scored. They scored enough to win.
Auburn, a team that was an afterthought in the SEC when the season began, won its first BCS championship Monday night, defeating Oregon 22-19 in front of 78,603, the largest crowd in the history of University of Phoenix Stadium.
Monday night's BCS Championship Game wasn't the shootout that everyone predicted, but it was the nail-biter that everyone wanted.
Auburn kicker Wes Byrum nailed a 19-yard field goal as time expired to seal the title for the Tigers, the second national championship in program history. The first came in 1957, well before the BCS was established.
It is the fifth straight BCS championship for the Southeastern Conference.
Auburn freshman tailback Michael Dyer set the table for the Tigers with a pair of runs in the final three minutes. It was his heads-up play that turned the game after Oregon tied it at 19-19 with a dramatic touchdown and two-point conversion following a Cam Newton fumble.
Dyer took the handoff from Newton at the Auburn 40 and appeared to be tackled by Oregon's Eddie Pleasant. But as Pleasant spun Dyer around, his knee never touched the turf. He stopped, initially confused, but after no whistle blew he rumbled down to the Oregon 23. The play was reviewed and upheld.
Dyer got the call on third-and-five from the 18 two plays later and got the ball down to half-yard mark with 10 seconds to go, setting up Byrum's game-winner.
Auburn had put the brakes on the nation's most productive offense for much of the night, until the Newton fumble, forced by linebacker Casey Matthews, gave the Ducks a last chance to change their fortunes.
Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas, forced to pass because Auburn had cut off Oregon's running game for much of the night, engineered the eight-play scoring drive after Cliff Harris' fumble recovery. The Ducks scored on a two-yard pitch to LaMichael James, the nation's rushing leader and then Thomas found Jeff Maehl in the back on the end zone for the game-tying two-point conversion and the tie with 2:33 to go.
Auburn, which finished with a 14-0 record, controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
It was almost unimaginable that Auburn wouldn't even need to put up 20 points to do the job against Oregon, playing in its first national championship game and closing its extraordinary season with a 12-1 record.
But Oregon's high-powered offense fizzled in some big moments, including a no-gain on fourth-and-one late in the third quarter on a drive that was kept alive by a fake punt and then pushed deep into the red zone on a spectacular one-handed catch by receiver Lavasier Tuinei.
Oregon rushed for just 75 yards in the game. James finished with 13 carries for 49 yards.
Auburn, meanwhile, gained 519 yards and held the ball more than five minutes longer than the Ducks.
The Ducks, who wore teams down with their fast pace all season, failed to establish the pace and sustain drives. And they couldn't get in the end zone for a long stretch.
The same Ducks team that was outscoring opponents 115-24 in the fourth quarter this season failed to score in the second half until the final touchdown.
Auburn's Newton, the best college football player in the country this season, was in control. He finished 20 of 34 for 265 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed 22 times for 64 yards and kept drives going with his size and power.
Auburn led 16-11 at the half, getting into the end zone twice on touchdown passes from Newton, the Heisman Trophy winner and the most controversial player in the nation, cleared to play by the NCAA last fall despite evidence that his father had solicited payment from Mississippi State before Newton committed to Auburn.
Newton collected 186 passing yards in the first half with an interception, but a minus-three rushing yards.
James finished the first half with five carries for 19 yards.
It was a shaky start for both offenses, the rust of a 37-day layoff readily apparent.
Both teams punted after their first possession and saw their second possessions end with interceptions.
In fact, Thomas, Oregon's redshirt sophomore quarterback making his first bowl game start, threw two interceptions in his first three possessions.
It was a scoreless first quarter -- just the sixth in 50 quarters of BCS championship football -- something few would have predicted, but both teams busted out as the second quarter began, running off a combined 18 points in 3:15.
Oregon was first on the scoreboard, kicker Rob Beard closing out a 10-play drive with a 26-yard field goal with 14:13 to go in the half after Thomas was sacked by unblocked Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley on third down.
Auburn countered immediately on a 35-yard pass from Newton to Kodi Burns, who was wide open underneath Oregon's pass coverage to make it 7-3. That play followed a near-interception by Oregon's Cliff Harris, who had already intercepted Newton earlier in the game.
It was Oregon's turn for the counter punch. The Ducks immediately got deep into Auburn territory on an 82-yard hookup from Thomas to Maehl and were in the end zone two plays later when Thomas rolled right and threw across his body to the left to hit James for a 8-yard score. Oregon pulled off the two-point conversion on a pitch to Beard and went up 11-7.
The Ducks followed with a big defensive stop, Auburn getting to the Oregon one and coming up empty on fourth-down, but Oregon's James -- the nation's top tailback -- was tackled in the end zone to give Auburn a safety and get them within 11-9.
Auburn reassumed the lead before halftime on a 30-yard pass from Newton to Emery Blake on what was almost a broken play, Newton avoiding an Oregon rusher and completing the pass.