The 2010 season had dozens of plays that helped take the team to a national championship. Cam Newton's Heisman moment and Onterrio McCalebb's go-ahead touchdown against LSU. Antonio Coleman's hustle play to force a fumble and start the "Camback". Josh Bynes's late interceptions to turn a nail-biter into a 22-point win against Arkansas, etc etc. But there's one play that I don't think gets the attention it deserves.
Auburn's game-winning drive against Oregon is mostly remembered for one specific run by Michael Dyer. He took a handoff, picked up about 6 yards and rolled over a Duck defender. Hearing the Auburn bench scream at him that he wasn't down, Dyer raced 30 more yards to the Oregon 23. At that point, Auburn could run a few plays and time off of the clock and set up the reliable Wes Byrum for a kick from under 40 yards for the win. While it wouldn't be a gimmie, Byrum had made kicks like that all of the time.
Sure enough, Auburn kept it on the ground, gaining 6 yards on runs by Dyer and Cam Newton to set up 3rd and 4 at the 17 with the clock running under 20 seconds. Auburn had plenty of timeouts, so all that was left was for Dyer to get Byrum as close as possible.
Auburn sets up in a stack formation with Eric Smith as the H-Back and 3 wide receivers (2 to the wide side). This was more-or-less Auburn's base formation later in the season after Dyer became comfortable in the offense.
Oregon lines up with 6 in the box, but there's a force defender ready to clean things up if they bounce outside to the wide side of the field. The key here is the two deep safeties. I'm not entirely sure why Oregon is in a two deep here. Auburn doesn't want to risk an interception, so there's no reason not to sell out for the run. At this point, you just want to make Auburn's field goal try as difficult as possible. If Auburn runs up the middle, which with this formation, down and distance, and time remaining is a high probability, the Tigers have a numbers advantage.
The play call is good old Inside Zone. The line will block towards the right, and Smith will take the backside defensive end. The key defenders to watch here are the safeties, the linebacker to the left of center, and the interior linemen.
The 1T, or 1-technique, takes the A-gap, or the gap to the right of Auburn center Ryan Pugh. The 3T, lined up on the outside shoulder of left guard Mike Berry, is going to take the gap straight ahead of him, which is the B-gap. That leaves LB1 to take the other A-gap, but he's also responsible to flow towards any hole that might open up on the line. Dyer's job is to go off of the center's left hip and run to daylight.
Given the dire circumstances* of the play, you can forgive the 1T player for being aggressive, he shoots the A-gap to attempt to stop Dyer in the backfield. However, Pugh simply walls him off to the right, since the hole was to his left anyway. The design of inside zone is meant to get a double team at the point of attack, which the 3T has run into. Berry and left tackle Lee Ziemba completely drive him out of the play, and Berry can move to the second level.
LB1 is the player who makes the most critical mistake. Instead of covering the A-gap on the offense's left side, he tries to flow with the play. If he takes the right gap, there may not be enough daylight for Dyer to get more than a few yards. Instead, Berry barely has to touch him and Dyer has a huge hole, since the intended gap for the play is completely uncovered.
The other issue is the safeties. Their alignment is much too wide given the circumstances of the play. This means the safety to the right doesn't get his arms around Dyer until the 6-yard line. By then, the play, and the game, is all but over. Dyer takes him for a ride right to the goalline, and the play is ruled a touchdown on the field.
Personally, I still have no idea how there is conclusive evidence that Dyer didn't have the ball across the plane of the goal when his knee went down. It's very close, and if he had been ruled down at the one on the field there is no way it would have been reviewed into a touchdown, but I'm not sure how you bring it all the way back to the 1 yard line.
The review puts the ball first and goal at the 1 with just ten seconds left. Auburn initially sends out the field goal team to attempt the winner, but Oregon calls timeout to attempt to ice Wes Byrum. Given a moment to think about it, Auburn head coach Gene Chizik decides to send out his offense to take a knee. Oregon is now out of timeouts, and Auburn can run the clock all the way down to just a second or two and make the field goal attempt the final play of the game. Cam Newton, being Cam Newton, attempts to sneak in for a touchdown anyway, but he is stopped at the line. Auburn calls timeout with just 2 seconds on the game clock, Josh Harris snaps to Neil Caudle, and Wes Byrum gives Auburn the national championship.
Given that this play didn't actually win the game, it doesn't look as important in hindsight. Sure it made the FG easier, but Byrum probably makes a 35-yarder anyway. But in the moment? Before the replay made it 1st and goal instead of a touchdown? It was the biggest play in Auburn history. 53 years of waiting. 53 years of being held back because of the bowl system (1983 and 2004) or because of actions years prior (1993) or because of one damn play (1988). In the moment, the weight was lifted. To tell the truth, no play in Auburn history meant more in the immediate aftermath. Not even the Kick 6. This was, for a moment, the play that won Auburn a national championship.