Oregon's speedy offense sputters against Auburn
Oregon didn't pick up speed until it was too late.
Known for their frenzied spread-option, the Ducks looked uncharacteristically sluggish Monday night in their 22-19 loss to top-ranked Auburn in the national title game.
''You know, it is really tough to get around those guys,'' said LaMichael James, who was held to just 49 yards rushing after leading the nation with an average of 153 this season.
Overall, the repeat Pac-10 champions had just 75 yards on the ground, well-under their average of 304.
The game was an offensive anomaly for the Ducks, who are known for big yards, big points and breakneck speed. Oregon led the nation in scoring with an average of 43.3 a game, while putting up an average of 537.5 yards in total.
As for speed, 35 of their 71 scoring drives in the regular season took five plays or less, and 24 took less than 56 seconds. The team had 53 plays from scrimmage of 25 yards or more.
Then they played Auburn.
With the running game stalled, the Ducks were forced to throw more than usual. Sophomore quarterback Darron Thomas set career highs in yards (363), completions (27) and attempts (40). His two interceptions matched a career high.
His 363 yards passing were the second most in a BCS championship game, exceeded only by Matt Leinart's 365 for USC against Texas in 2006.
''We stopped ourselves on a lot of the plays. Mental, just mental breakdowns on our own,'' Thomas said. ''They didn't really stop us a lot. We shot ourselves in the foot.''
Thomas had been a steadying force for the Ducks, guiding them calmly back from a first-half deficit against Stanford midway through the season. But the sophomore who gained the team's confidence after Jeremiah Masoli was booted in the offseason appeared rattled from the start with both his interceptions coming in the first quarter.
He really only had only one big play - an 81-yard completion to Jeff Maehl in the first half - until the fourth quarter, when he led Oregon on a scoring drive that tied the game at 19 with 2:33 to play.
It was one of the only times that Oregon's offense appeared to click. Thomas hit D.J. Davis with a 29-yard fourth-down pass that kept the drive alive, then finished it off with a shovel pass to James. Thomas found Maehl in the back of the end zone for the 2-point conversion.
It was too late for the Ducks to get rolling, and Auburn won it on Wes Byrum's 19-yard field goal as time ran out.
Oregon relied this season on wearing opponents down with their speed and pushing up the score in the second half. But they had not really played a defense as good or as big as Auburn's. The Tigers never appeared to get tired - perhaps helped by the numerous television timeouts that a nationally televised game affords.
The mismatch was never more evident than in the third quarter. After Oregon faked a punt on fourth down for an 11-yard gain, Thomas hit Lavasier Tuinei with a 43-yard pass to get to the Auburn 3.
But the Ducks couldn't punch it in on four tries. Auburn's defense swarmed Kenjon Barner. Tackle Nick Fairley and linebacker Josh Bynes made the two key stops to keep Oregon out of the end zone.
James' 49 yards were a season-low, but he set an Oregon single-season rushing record of 1,731 yards.
''Nobody likes losing,'' James said. ''When you are a competitor, you don't want to lose. Coach Kelly tells us we play football but it doesn't define who we are. There are going to be better days.''