Dyer’s fourth quarter run saves Newton, propels Auburn to national title victory

Auburn Tigers quarterback Cam Newton holds the championship trophy after the Tigers defeated the Oregon Ducks in the NCAA BCS National Championship college football game in Glendale, Arizona, January 10, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Here are five quick-hit thoughts about Auburn’s wild 22-19 win over Oregon in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game.

1. In the end, it was a freshman and not a Heisman winner who won it for Auburn.
Cam Newton played a great game. He completed 20-of-34 pass attempts for 265 yards with two touchdowns and one interception while also rushing for 65 yards on 22 carries. But he didn’t put together one of those special performances that Auburn fans were accustomed to seeing all year. His fourth quarter fumble set up LaMichael James’ touchdown run and Darron Thomas’ wild 2-point conversion pass to Jeff Maehl, which tied the game at 19-19 with 2:33 remaining. But in the end, Michael Dyer’s “controversial” 37-yard run set the Tigers up for Wes Byrum’s 19-yard game-winning field goal. I put “controversial” in quotation marks because it wasn’t really controversial, per se. He definitely wasn’t down and the refs never blew the whistle, but I’ve seen officials stop plays when a player’s forward momentum was less stopped than that. Still, credit Dyer for having the wherewithal to keep his knees off the ground when he was being tackled and the Auburn sideline for instinctively telling him to keep running when they saw he wasn’t down. The Tigers’ Heisman-winning quarterback played well but Dyer and Auburn’s defense were the main reasons the Tigers won their second national championship in school history. Seeing as how Dyer is only a freshman, Auburn’s backfield is set for the next couple of seasons.

2. Ted Roof defensive game plan was tremendous.
Roof will certainly sleep easy tonight. He had six weeks to figure out how to slow down Oregon’s explosive offense and that’s exactly what he did. This was an offense that led the nation in points per game (47.5) and was fifth in rushing yards per contest (290.1). Yet the Tigers held the Ducks to 19 points and 81 total rushing yards. That’s amazing. For weeks pundits debated whether or not Auburn’s defense would rise to the challenge and yet Roof’s squad made it look easy for most of the game. Even when the Ducks scored late to tie it at 19-all, Auburn didn’t make it easy for them around the goal line. And that drive was set up when Casey Matthews punched the ball out of Newton’s hands to give Oregon the ball at the 40-yard line, so Roof’s squad was put in a bad spot. What an incredible effort.

3. Nick Fairley is a monster.
I don’t want to excuse the bone-headed decision he made to shove LaMichael James’ helmet to the ground, because that was a stupid, dirty play. (I’m glad the refs caught it and threw a flag for unnecessary roughness.) But what a night this kid had. Fairley completely dominated the interior of Oregon’s offensive line and the Ducks had zero success running the ball up the middle the entire night. At one point, I literally started yelling at Chip Kelly from my couch to stop running those inside draw plays because Fairley would blow them up every time. He was the main reason Oregon’s offense never really got on track and the play he made at the goal line when he stopped James just short of the end zone was pure relentlessness. With Andrew Luck returning to Stanford, the Panthers may want to think long and hard about taking Fairley at No. 1 next April.

4. Third down conversion percentage proved to be the difference.
One team converted third downs in this game and one didn’t. The team that did, won. The didn’t that didn’t…well you get the point. Auburn was 9-for-17 on third down, while Oregon was just 5-for-15. There are a couple of stats that will haunt Chip Kelly this offseason and that’s one of them. Oregon receiver Jeff Maehl (nine receptions, 133 yards, one 2-point conversion reception) had a great game and made a couple of nice plays to keep drives alive, but Darron Thomas struggled most of the night on third down.

5. The Ducks’ defense did all it could.
The Oregon defense has nothing to hang its head about. For all the press that the Ducks’ offense received this season and leading up to this game, Auburn’s O was just as deserving of praise. Yet the Ducks held the Tigers to just 22 points, including only six in the final two quarters. As previously mentioned, Newton had a fine game but he really never took over like some expected. That was due in large part to Oregon stepped up at crucial times in the second half. And how about the play Casey Matthews made to pop the ball out of Newton’s hands when the Ducks needed a turnover to have one last shot of tying the game? I was convinced that the Ducks’ offense wouldn’t get the ball back after they punted and then all of a sudden, Matthews is popping the ball loose. Is football in that gene pool or what?

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