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Once again, Ducks offense fails to light up BCS stage

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The glow from Oregon's lime green socks and dazzling new uniforms had University of Phoenix Stadium buzzing 15 minutes before kickoff of the BCS National Championship Game.

The classic simplicity of Auburn orange and blue was all anyone could see 15 minutes after the game.

There was no clearer metaphor for the contrasting styles on stage at college football's crowning event. And as a hundred flashbulbs backlit Wes Byrum's game-winning 19-yard field goal as time expired, it was clear which one had emerged superior.

"So close," Oregon tailback LaMichael James said.

As close as an inch. As wide as a mile.

The postcard from Auburn's 22-19 victory will always be freshman running back Mike Dyer's game-clinching 37-yard run after everyone in the world assumed his knee was down earlier in the run.

The reality is the Ducks never should have been that close.

All week, we were told Oregon's California kids had a speed advantage, and we approved the absurd lapse of logic with a dumb nod of the head.

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All week, we heard about coach Chip Kelly's offensive creativity, the Ducks' pace of play and the unstoppable force that is James.

All week, we prepared for an offensive showcase and a five-hour game rife with kickoffs, commercials and big plays.

It never materialized.

Oregon's defense kept Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton in check, with 64 rushing yards, two TD passes and two turnovers.

But it was the Auburn defense that stole the show, limiting James to a season-low 49 rushing yards and Oregon to the second-lowest point total in Kelly's coaching tenure.

"The matchup with our offensive line against their defensive line was really the changing point in that football game," Kelly said. "I will give Auburn credit. They've got a great front four. Nick Fairley proved he was the best defensive lineman in the country. It was a tough matchup for us."

There were times when the Ducks' pace appeared to tire the Tigers. And there were plays the Ducks made.

But just when Oregon felt an offensive rhythm coming, the Tigers made a play of their own or the Ducks made a mistake.

Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas set career highs with 363 passing yards and 27 completions, but he also matched his season high with two interceptions.

And when the Ducks reached the red zone, they came away red-faced.

Oregon settled for a field goal on one trip, got intercepted on another and got stuffed on fourth-and-goal on a third.

"They didn't stop us -- we stopped ourselves," Thomas said. "Those two [interceptions] stick in my head."

Oregon threatened to erase all those mistakes and an entire game script with one dramatic drive.

Following a Newton fumble, Thomas flipped a pass to James for a 2-yard score, found Jeff Maehl in the back of the end zone for a two-point conversion, and suddenly -- improbably -- the game was tied at 19 with 2:33 to play.

"When we scored, I really thought we were going to get it done," Thomas said. "We still could have won that game."

But Oregon did not, and Kelly is now 0-2 in BCS bowl games.

Oregon's offense was a wonder this season, leading the nation in pace and points per game (49.1). But just as it did in a 26-17 loss to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl a year ago, the Ducks' creativity and dazzle dissolved against a physical football team.

"I said in my first game when I was the head coach, one game doesn't define you as a person or as a football player," Kelly insisted.

Oregon undoubtedly will be the Pac-12 favorite next season, even with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck returning. And with USC still serving NCAA sanctions, they could return to the BCS title game.

But until the Ducks break through on these big stages, these losses are exactly what will define them.

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