Why Oregon Ducks should win it allIt's all run, run, run, right? No. Oregon can beat Auburn off the passing game.Email Print Comments41 By Jeff Dooley
Oregon's pass defenders -- Talmadge Jackson III, John Boyett and more -- should be able to slow down Cam Newton and Auburn.
Throughout the season, the Oregon Ducks have met every benchmark in our Eliminator rankings, which draw on the numbers of past champions in key statistical categories to determine which teams most closely resemble past national title winners.
The Auburn Tigers are elite statistically as well -- except for a few key categories in which they are lacking.
These two teams' differences lie almost exclusively in the passing game. Oregon and Auburn are the nation's fourth- and fifth-best rushing teams, respectively, and have done a good job in clamping down on opposing running games, excelling in the yards-per-carry and yards-per-game categories. Because it's hard to find a noticeable difference in the production of these two teams' running games, a look at the passing games could be the key to Monday night's showdown.
Key stats: Passing efficiency; yards per pass attempt
Upon first glance, the Tigers appear to have the overall advantage in the passing game, and that is because of Cameron Newton's dominant statistical performance throwing the football all season long. After all, in the two stat categories that matter most in the passing game, Auburn ranks first in the country (passing efficiency rating and yards per attempt). For all of Newton's heroics in the run game, his passing numbers are perhaps more impressive, and although Oregon and Darron Thomas are no slouches in the passing game, they certainly fall short of the Tigers in the most important areas.
Key stats: Passing efficiency defense; yards per pass attempt allowed
As we've documented throughout the season, Auburn's pass defense does not live up to its pass offense. For starters, the Tigers give up more than 250 yards per game through the air, ranking 106th in the country. Passing yardage allowed doesn't correlate strongly to success in college football, but it indicates the unit's overall struggles. The team's scoring defense (24.5 points allowed per game) falls well short of past BCS national champions', and opponents' ability to move the ball through the air against Auburn has been a big reason. Auburn ranks 75th in the nation in passer rating allowed, and the Tigers have allowed all the teams at or around Oregon's statistical level to have big games against them in the passing game, from Arkansas to Alabama to Georgia to South Carolina (first meeting). These deficiencies haven't yet been a deal-breaker for the Tigers, with Newton and the offense always coming to the rescue (and the defense seemingly being able to rise to the occasion when it counts -- its defensive numbers in second halves of games have been noticeably better than its first-half numbers), but going against an elite statistical team like the Ducks could be too much to overcome.
The Ducks, meanwhile, have a formidable pass defense, ranking sixth in the nation in pass efficiency D and allowing a stingy 5.7 yards per pass. Granted, Newton will represent the best statistical quarterback the team has faced all season, but even Stanford star Andrew Luck was limited to a 131 QB rating against the Ducks in a two-interception performance.
Sacks and INTs
Both these stats are strong indicators of success in college football, and the teams excel at getting to the quarterback (Oregon is 18th in the country in sacks per game, Auburn 20th) and avoiding interceptions (the Tigers have tossed only six all season, while the Ducks have thrown seven). Oregon once again breaks away, however, in sacks allowed (fifth in the nation to Auburn's 42nd) and interceptions produced (20, good for sixth in the country, while Auburn is in 76th place with 10). The Ducks' impressive INT ratio helps contribute to their supremacy in another key statistical category, turnover margin. Telling stats: In the Ducks' closest call of the year, against Cal, Oregon produced only one sack and zero interceptions, while Alabama sacked Newton four times in its near upset of the Tigers. Both categories, for both teams, figure to be critical in Monday night's matchup.
There is no question that Auburn has been very, very successful -- and highly efficient -- in the passing game this year, combining nicely with its multifaceted and explosive running game. But it will be running into one of the toughest, if not the toughest, defenses it has faced all season, and the Tigers' own deficiencies in pass defense could finally catch up to them against a productive Oregon passing game. Lastly, in the difference-making categories of sacks, interceptions and turnover margin, the Ducks hold a significant advantage. That means that if the teams' evenly matched running games balance each other out, Oregon's overall advantage in the passing game figures to put it in position to grab the win -- and a BCS national title.
Sometimes running the Mularkey offense makes me feel like I'm in a prison.