It's the little things in the BCS championship game. It's the little things because we know about the big things.
Figure Cam Newton for 200+ passing and 100+ rushing. Figure LaMichael James for 100+ rushing and a couple of touchdowns. Pencil Nick Fairley in for at least three tackles for loss and a personal four or two. None of that would surprise any of us.
It's the little things.
"I think it is real simple," Auburn's Gene Chizik said. "It is probably 200 years old ... We know that we have an explosive offense. We know that we have the capability of scoring a lot of points. What we'd like to do offensively is keep the football and eat some clock, get some first downs."
About that, Auburn is 86th in time of possession (29:01 per game) but is 11th in first downs (24.31). I'm a big stat guy so I think that's important. It's another indicator that Auburn is more like Oregon offensively than anyone knows. The difference in these two teams offensively is that I think Auburn wants to drive the ball, while Oregon wants to score quickly. Hence, the 79 plays per game. Possessions will have to be valued greatly. I compare it to a tennis match. If you don't score in this game, you lose serve.
I go back to the Oregon's USC game on Halloween. USC had a bye week to prepare for the Ducks' high-flying offense. Lane Kiffin spent a lot of time conditioning the Trojans. They were up to it to the point that USC scored two quick touchdowns in the third quarter to go ahead 32-29. Oregon then scored 24 unanswered to win 53-32. Do I think that will happen against Auburn? No. My point is that no matter what happens, Oregon's defense is going to be left on the field for an inordinate amount of time.
The Ducks average 1.76 points per minute of possession but their defense spends more than 32 minutes per game on the field.
For Oregon, gang tackling is going to be key against Cam Newton. The Ducks have six players with at least 25 tackles. Linebacker Casey Matthews is the energy guy (73 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 3 sacks). Corner Cliff Harris (five picks) is the big-play guy. He averages 19.5 yards per punt return and has taken four to the house.
As for Oregon's offense, I suspect Chip Kelly will come out early running the zone read side-to-side with James. That will serve to tire out Auburn's defensive line, which obviously is its strength. When I talked to James following the Oregon State he told me that he -- and the coaches -- favor him getting up field more and using his body. Even though James is only 185, maybe 190, he is one of the hardest hitters in the game when he sticks his nose up in there.
Even though he's got a space-age offense, Kelly will try to manage this game like an NFL coach. Take chances, open it up and try to get out to a lead in the first half. If that happens, look for James running up in the creases to tire out Auburn. There is a line of thinking that Kelly has "hidden" much of the offense down the stretch. Quarterback Darron Thomas hasn't done much running. Look for that to be a factor too with Thomas rolling out with a run-pass option.
"Defensively, we think it is very simple. Again, that's 200 years old," Chizik said. "We've got to definitely stop the run first. We cannot give up the big plays in the secondary."
That's Auburn's biggest weakness. Only 14 teams are worse than Auburn against the pass.
The second half, particularly the fourth-quarter will be key. That sounds simple, but is really the identity of these teams. Oregon has outscored opponents 277-77 in the second half. Auburn has outscored foes 125-48 in the fourth quarter. That begins to explain why each of these teams has eight come-from-behind wins.
The final factor: Which team has the biggest chip on its shoulder? Make that Chip. Oregon has been acting like the team that is here on business. It got to the Valley early. There was scant media availability. We didn't even know Kelly was in town until Friday when he appeared at the mandated media day. The Ducks are still thinking about their performance in last year's Rose Bowl. They weren't physical enough against a quarterback of a similar build as Newton, Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor.
Prediction: I thought former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti broke it down perfectly Sunday when he said Auburn runs a Wildcat offense on every play with Newton. Defensive coordinators call a running quarterback a "plus one" because he has to be accounted for on every play -- an extra running back if you will. New Texas coordinator Manny Diaz -- who coached against Newton in his second Auburn game with Mississippi State -- called the quarterback a "plus one and a half."
We've talked about the little things here. Like Chizik said, it's simple. Go with Newton. No one has stopped him yet. I don't think Oregon is going to be the first. Auburn 41, Oregon 31.