All the recent media hype surrounding the National Championship Game is that it will be a high scoring offensive shootout. After all Auburn has the number one offense in the SEC, ranks sixth nationally in scoring and has had 34 scoring drives of less than two minutes. Comparatively Oregon has the number one PAC 10 offense, ranks first nationally in scoring and has 48 scoring drives of less than two minutes.
However, even with mega stats like that, it will be the defenses for both teams that will determine the outcome of this game. While some around the country are giving an edge to Oregon on the defensive side, I'm giving the nod to Auburn. The Tigers have more than proven themselves down the stretch, finishing 13-0 in the SEC and defeating seven top 25 teams along the way.
Auburn Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof acknowledged recently that the Tigers do not have the great stats he would like to see but added, "The bottom line is that we do what we have to do to win football games. Right now, we're a South Eastern Conference Championship defense. We're working on being a National Championship defense."
To do that Auburn will have to slow down LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. James, a Heisman finalist, had 1682 yards during the season to lead the nation in rushing.
The entire Oregon team is frightening on paper with their speedy playmakers, play calling, and fast paced offense (79 snaps per game). To say the Tiger D faces a huge challenge does not really do the situation justice. The key to being able to hang with that type of pace will be to keep their offense off the field and to rotate players on defense.
Auburn will have to use some freshmen players to get the job done. Players like Jeff Whitaker, Corey Lemonier, Craig Sanders, and Kenneth Carter. The younger guys saw playing time in the SEC Championship game and Coach Rocker has said he will have no problem playing them in Glendale.
Although Auburn has been suspect in the passing game this season, the front four (led by Nick Fairley) has helped the Tigers in ranking second in the SEC and seventh in the nation in rushing defense. Oregon is averaging 6.1 yards per rush and the Tigers only allow 3.4 yards for 99.7 yards per game average. It will take the same type of Tiger effort to defeat the Ducks.
The key for Auburn's defense will be to continue to do what they have done all season, namely stop the run, disrupt the quarterback in passing situations, and have some key takeaways. The Tiger defense has stepped up and made big plays in games all year and that's what will be needed from them again next Monday.
I hope Auburn puts up big numbers, but it is even more important that the Tigers stop the Ducks offense. Being able to do that will be the key to Auburn winning the National Championship in Glendale.