Top-ranked Ducks follow familiar pattern

Published Nov. 23, 2010 12:00 a.m. EST

By Pete Fiutak

Oregon's LaMichael James will win the Doak Walker Award and will finish second in the Heisman voting, but as the win over Arizona showed, just about any back who can run and hold on to the ball at the same time can produce in the Ducks' offense. But will that ring true against Auburn in what now appears to be a likely matchup for the national title?

That’s not necessarily slighting James, who’s a great collegiate talent with a phenomenal burst and great vision. But he was running through 10-mile-wide holes on several of his 28 carries, while Kenjon Barner and WR Josh Huff were also able to run wild thanks to a great day from the offensive front.

This isn’t a Wisconsin-like group that pounds away; it’s a precision line that is phenomenal at keeping the pressure off QB Darron Thomas and was fantastic against the Arizona defensive front. The Wildcats led the Pac-10 against the run and were 14th in the nation allowing just 113 yards per game and 10 rushing touchdowns. And Oregon ripped through the front seven like it was standing still.


Fine, so the Wildcat run defense was ice cold, having been ripped apart by Stanford and USC in the previous two games. But Oregon did what it was supposed to do and overcame the problems in the secondary and a couple of turnovers to win in a blowout. Going into the Oregon State showdown, Oregon's focus has to be on playing well for a full 60 minutes just to prove that it can. Waiting to come through in the second half will work against Arizona, but not against Auburn.

Auburn might not have the best defense in the country, and the secondary has certainly been a disaster at times, but as Nick Fairley showed against Alabama, there’s nothing wrong with the run defense. The Oregon offensive line that’s been so strong all season long isn’t going to dominate the Tiger defensive front, and against OSU the spotlight will be on Thomas and the passing game to see if it might be sharp enough to take advantage of a shaky defensive backfield. The Duck offensive line might have been dominant all season long, but that might not be the case on Jan. 10 when it comes to springing the backs. Will the team find that out too late?

With the way Oregon has been struggling in the first halves of games, it might be relying on a comeback that isn’t going to be there if it doesn’t come out hot against the Tigers.

Of course the Ducks are going to be focusing 100 percent on simply getting by the Beavers next week, but they also have to make a statement along the way, to themselves if nothing else. After the way they played Saturday night against the Wildcats, they have to show that they can be sharp from the opening kickoff. Otherwise, when they face a Tiger team that’s also awesome in the second half, the dream season could end with a thud.

By Richard Cirminiello

Fake-out Friday.

C’mon, boys, stop teasing Boise State and TCU, those non-AQ programs desperately seeking some upward mobility and a coveted spot in the national championship game. For the second time in the span of a few hours, one of the nation’s top two schools trailed at halftime, only to rally in the second half to preserve a perfect season. Earlier in the day, Auburn had a narrow escape.

This time, it was Oregon that needed to shake off a slow start in order to get past Arizona. In both cases, you could just feel the air come out of Boise and Fort Worth, where the hometown teams appear to be operating with a glass ceiling above their heads.

If you haven’t seen this script played out in Eugene, you probably haven’t been paying attention this fall. It was another case of the Ducks giving an opponent a false sense of security before zooming past behind the play of the up-tempo offense. What happened to the supposed blueprint for stopping the Quack Attack that Cal crafted a couple of weeks ago? The Ducks squatted on it, ripping through a pretty good Arizona defense for well over 500 yards along with their usual offering of big plays.

The reality regarding Oregon is that it’s not going to lose as long as games are 60 minutes. It can be beaten for a quarter and, like Friday night, even a half, but eventually one of the myriad playmakers is going to break your back and squash your hopes for the upset. Chip Kelly’s offense simply wears teams down with the speed and pace of his spread-option.

All right, Lucy, you’ve gotten Charlie Brown twice on the same day. How about giving the poor guy a break already?

By Matt Zemek

The BCS forces every pundit and poll voter in college football to look for differences between and among the top few teams in college football, but the big revelation (if it is a revelation at all) from Oregon’s decisive win over Arizona on Friday night is that the Ducks and the team they might very well face in the BCS national championship game are really very similar.

Think about it: The Auburn Tigers and Oregon Ducks — throughout the season but especially on the day after Thanksgiving — showed remarkably identical characteristics.

They give up some very big pass plays. Their defenses can and do get undressed at times. They haven’t been tested very much away from home, but did well to survive their most nerve-wracking challenges when things didn’t work smoothly.

They both benefited on Friday from a silly movement penalty from an opponent. Alabama committed a false start on the drive that followed Auburn’s fumbled punt. The flag turned a third-and-five into a third-and-10, and it denied the Crimson Tide the touchdown they desperately needed. Oregon benefited from a third-quarter offside penalty, a mind-blowing misstep that turned a missed field goal into seven points and gave Oregon the momentum it needed to pull away.

Both Oregon and Auburn surged after halftime, burying physical opponents with tempo, fitness, conditioning, and gutsy decision making from their respective head coaches and offensive coordinators. The Ducks and Tigers have been doing those things all year.

Both Oregon and Auburn witnessed their defenses turn from weaklings to kings in the second half, a result of making adjustments and gaining momentum while also using — once again — an advantage in physical fitness.

Yes, the Ducks and Tigers have some differences. Auburn has more beef, the Ducks a more diversified offense. The SEC’s unbeaten team has the Heisman Trophy winner, while the Pac-10’s best operates more of a system in which multiple players thrive. Of course there are some differences between Oregon and Auburn, but Thanksgiving Friday has proven that these teams’ similarities are far more conspicuous and noteworthy.