GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Just so you know there's already a name for it. They should have stopped the celebration right then and there to officially adopt the label stuck on it by Auburn center Ryan Pugh, unofficially the voice of the Tigers. Standing in the middle of a confetti-littered University of Phoenix Stadium on Monday night, the Tigers' senior center named the play that should last for the Auburn ages.
"How about Rolling Toomer's?" Pugh said of teammate Michael Dyer's replay-reviewed, not-quite-down 37-yard jaw-dropping run that is about to become the biggest play in the school's history.
Dyer rolled -- over Oregon safety Eddie Pleasant -- to keep the game-winning drive alive and Auburn eventually rocked after a 22-19 victory over Oregon in the BCS title game. The play was the perfect metaphor for the long-suffering program. Championship runs in 1983, 1993 and 2004 were ruined, in order, by Miami, the NCAA and the BCS. How's that for a sampler platter of villains? In '83 No. 5 Miami jumped No. 3 Auburn for the championship that would start a dynasty. In '93 the NCAA had its way with the program that was ineligible for the postseason. In '04, the BCS deemed that a 13-0 season wasn't good enough to beat out either USC or Oklahoma.
In a stadium 1,800 miles from home you better believe the Auburn fans who filled 65 perfect of the stadium figured they were owed one.
"Catching that break?" Pugh asked. "I think we did [deserve it]."
At the end of a 53-year wait for another national championship, it was fitting that a true freshman who hadn't even started provided the magic.
"I came here to Auburn to make something happen," said Dyer, the nation's No. 1 prep tailback less than a year ago before being signed by Auburn, "[but] not this quickly."
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The kid has two or three years left in his college career, but it will be hard to top Monday. A freshman from Arkansas who didn't start, came to Arizona to roll over -- and refuse to be tackled by a guy named Pleasant who was as shocked as everyone else. When officials didn't blow a whistle on Dyer's five-yard run from his own 40 with two minutes left in a 19-19 game, well, Dyer just kept going all the way to the Oregon 23.
Pleasant thought he had brought Dyer to the ground, only to agonizingly watch the second-team freshman All-American roll over, pop up and ... stop. Some Auburn coaches yelled for Dyer to keep going. For a couple of pregnant seconds the scene looked like a walk-through.
"I heard a lot of voices," Dyer said, "Even the crowd was saying, 'Go, Go.'"
"I thought he was down, he thought he was down, everybody on the team thought he was down ...," Pleasant said. "I'm pretty good at tackling. I don't miss tackles. It's not like I missed a tackle. He rolled over my chest."
When Dyer realized the play was still alive, he completed the run. Five plays later Wes Byrum's 19-yard field goal at the gun resulted in Auburn's title, the SEC's fifth straight BCS championship. The Tigers cried. They jumped. They laughed. They made confetti angels in the stuff that covered the field. Their fans shrieked with further glee when the video board revealed a live shot of a certain famous intersection in the Loveliest Village on the Plain.
They were "rolling", as the locals call it, Toomer's Corner, the ancestral gathering place to throw toilet paper in the trees after every Auburn victory. Given that, it seems this Pugh kid has a future in journalism. He was deservedly proud after naming the play that will never die in the minds of those fans.
"The media is just missing out on this wealth of knowledge," he said. "I'm a scholar-athlete. Do you want me to write your story for you too?"
Sure, but start by explaining how Auburn even got to this point. Monday's win was the ninth comeback victory in an unlikely season that began with a junior-college transfer quarterback winning the job in August. Cam Newton completed what is likely his only full college season almost blowing the game. It was a rare fumble that set up Oregon for the game-tying touchdown -- and two-point conversion -- that tied it at 19-19 with 2:33 left.
Please, Ryan, tell us if Auburn's 14-0 season will hold its legitimacy? Newton won a Heisman, a national championship and plenty of skeptics.
"There's no doubt what this team did on the field shouldn't be questioned," Pugh said. "There's no doubt in my mind this was the best team in the country this year."
Rationalize how a kid who isn't good enough to start runs for 143 yards, an Auburn freshman bowl record. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn shot down speculation that Dyer had been disciplined by explaining that he missed the first quarter because Dyer is a "pace back." The first few offensive plays are scripted. Once Auburn gets a first down, Dyer sometimes is brought in later to jumpstart the offense.
|The secondary got torched at times, but the defense stiffened up as a whole in the red zone. Auburn's gameplan evolved nicely over the course of the game. The game was sloppy at times, and closer than it had any right to be, but it was also scintillating at its peaks and Auburn was obviously a big reason why. Read More>>|
|Oregon is going to remember for a long time the two trips inside the 10-yard line that only produced three points. Combined with the two interceptions and six costly penalties, there were a lot of mistakes made on Oregon's end. Having said that, it is awfully impressive that it still took a field goal as time expired for Auburn to beat them. Read More>>|
"Get a first down, put the hammer down and go as fast as we can [with Dyer]," Malzahn explained.
When the Tigers got only two first-quarter first downs, there wasn't room to insert Dyer. Instead, the game that was expected to be the highest-scoring shootout in BCS history turned into a grinder. Oregon's offense, No. 1 in the land, was held scoreless for seven consecutive possessions at one point. It was eventually held to 30 points below its average.
The result proved that it continues to be the SEC's world and we're only living in it. Auburn became the fourth different conference team to win a title during this current run. That's more national championship teams than some conferences have had in their existence. If you want to stop this run, you're going to have to go through Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, the defensive player of the game. Or someone like him.
You're going to punch him after the whistle, twist his helmet around, cheap shot him. Unless he gets you first. In 2007, it was LSU's Glen Dorsey. Last year, it was Marcell Dareus at Alabama. All of them, big, physical defensive linemen who intimidate. Dareus basically decided last year's game when he took out Texas' Colt McCoy on the game's fifth play.
For those five consecutive seasons now, the SEC has bullied the rest of the country. The conference is close to retiring the BCS glass football. It is 7-0 in BCS title games, having won more than half the 13 games played. A large reason why is a large defensive tackle who was the latest hulking SEC defender to terrorize a championship game opponent. When Fairley, all 6-feet-5, 300 pounds of him, wasn't threatening to make a big play he was just threatening. The big lug lives on the edge of the rulebook, but you have to admit he puts the fear (of getting pounded into the sod) in opponents. Oregon's LaMichael James, the nation's leading rusher, was held to 49 yards.
"Nick Fairley proved he was the best defensive lineman in the country," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said of the defensive motor that never stopped Monday.
"We try not to ever quit," Dyer said.
Auburn didn't, at all, this season.