Oregon Loses to Auburn in BCS Title Game as Offensive Mojo Crumbles
The Ducks couldn't even push the tally to 20 points in the BCS Championship Game on Monday night. The team that had been held under 37 points only once all season couldn't get in the end zone more than twice against the Tigers. Oregon scored more than its title game total by halftime in more than half its games this season.
Did the Ducks' offensive mojo evaporate in a 37-day layoff or did it just get swallowed up by a dominant Auburn defensive line, a team with the plan and the talent to stop them?
Oregon is going to choose to credit Auburn and then travel back to Eugene, Ore., get into a dark film room and figure out how to fix it for next year, so that if they are this spot again, they aren't, well, in this spot again.
"They had a good plan for us," said Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas in the aftermath of Oregon's 22-19 loss to Auburn. "They mixed it up a lot. ... Hats off to their defense. We had a chance to make plays, to come out and win the game that we didn't make."
This was surely not a typical Oregon performance.
The Ducks averaged 49.3 points a game coming in. They rushed for more than 303 yards a game.
But Oregon scored a scant two touchdowns, one in the second quarter and another in the fourth with 2:33 left in the game. The Ducks failed to score in the third quarter for the first time all season.
The pace that has caused so many opponents to crumble this season was something short of Oregon standards. Auburn made it look manageable. The Tigers, led by superb defensive tackle Nick Fairley, certainly didn't look tired. Mostly, they looked in charge.
"I thought we had it ramped up pretty good and then other times we didn't," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "When you get behind with a penalty or something like that, it kind of puts you off track. There were times when we had it rolling pretty good and other times it wasn't going as fast as it should have been."
Tailback LaMichael James, the nation's leading rusher (averaging 152.9 yards a game) and the third-place finisher in the Heisman Trophy vote, was held to a season-low 49 yards. The Tigers bottled up the middle of the field and forced Oregon to run its offense to the outside.
In reality, the Ducks were forced to pass much more than they had been all season. The evidence is in the numbers.
Thomas, the sophomore quarterback making his first bowl game start, established career-highs with 363 passing yards, 27 completions and 40 attempts. The passing game was responsible for the bulk of Oregon's 449 offensive yards -- including the longest play of the night, an 81-yard completion to senior Jeff Maehl -- and both touchdowns (the 2-yard pitch to James that tied the game in the fourth quarter was a forward pass).
The running plays that turned the tide of a game, the bursts through the middle just weren't there Monday night.
Thomas threw two interceptions in Oregon's first three possessions. The Ducks started seven of their 12 drives inside their own 20. They were five of 15 on third-down conversions and were forced to punt four times. The Ducks also had another drive, at a key juncture in the third quarter, stall at the Auburn 1-yard line.
"We stopped ourselves on a lot of the plays, mental, just mental breakdowns on our own," Thomas said. "They didn't really stop us a lot. We shot ourselves in the foot."
But James was willing to credit Auburn. He was the one who spent most of the night with the Tigers' players wrapping themselves around him. And in a couple of cases, sticking their fingers into his face mask.
James said it was "really tough to get around those guys, It really was a difficult matchup."
Those are not words Oregon has had to say much this season. Perhaps only in the Cal game, which Oregon won 15-13 back on Nov. 13, was an opponent able to limit Oregon so completely.
"When it comes down to a field goal at the last second, you can always point to a play here or a play there," Kelly said. "But it really doesn't do much for you. We're a forward-thinking operation and we'll learn from this thing and move forward."