This is uncomfortable, so let's just get it out of the way right now: Cam Newton did not win this game for Auburn. Oh, he made some good plays, and his overall numbers -- 20-34, 265 yards, 2 TD, INT, 22 rushes, 65 yards -- are certainly respectable. The fact is, though, that this game was only close because Newton missed two wide-open first-half touchdowns that could have blown the game open, and neither drive ended in points. Newton then injured his shoulder during the second half, and turned into a shell of his normal self. While he doesn't deserve a ton of scorn for his late fumble that let Oregon back into the game -- if a ball gets punched out from behind like that by someone you don't even see, well, what were you supposed to do? -- if Newton weren't running tentatively to begin with on account of that sore shoulder, does Casey Matthews still catch him from behind?
No, if anyone on the Auburn offense deserves praise, it's true freshman tailback Michael Dyer. Dyer put the team on his back in the second half, and finished with 143 yards (96 of which came in the second half) on 22 carries. Dyer wore Oregon's smallish defense down over the course of the game, and his roll over an Oregon defender on the last drive of the game led to a 37-yard gain that put Auburn in position to win the game. Again: he's a true freshman. That the SEC gets both him and Marcus Lattimore for two more years is, well, kind of unfair. Final Grade: B
Nick Fairley has a lot to learn about on-field maturity, but as a defensive tackle, he is an absolute nightmare to block. Fairley was instrumental in the Tigers' ability to control the line of scrimmage, registering three tackles for a loss, forcing numerous hurried throws, and opening up opportunities for his teammates when he drew double-teams. His draft stock skyrocketed today, even after a dumb (but not uncharacteristic) personal foul penalty for shoving LaMichael James in the facemask well after a play was dead.
Still, Oregon only rushed for 75 yards on 32 carries -- less than a quarter of the Ducks' rushing average coming into the game. It was the first time since last season's opener against Boise State that Oregon hadn't rushed for over 100 yards in a game. That is dominance. The 374 passing yards allowed? Not so dominant, of course, but Auburn spent the entire year getting shredded through the air and it never mattered. Same goes for tonight. Final Grade: B
Wes Bynum wasn't particularly challenged by his field goals, which is a good thing, and he put all his kickoffs to the goal line. Oregon got no free yards from poor kickoffs, and Auburn's punting was equally inhospitable -- Ryan Shoemaker put three punts inside the 20, had no touchbacks, and allowed only six punt return yards. In close games, details matter, and Auburn took care of the details on special teams tonight. Final Grade: A
For all the follies that usually surround collegiate game management, Gene Chizik did a very good job today. He let Gus Malzahn call an aggressive game without trying anything insane on offense, and none of his playcalls were worthy of scorn -- even that botched 4th and goal was a great call, and nobody was anywhere close to Eric Smith. Newton just failed to get the ball to him, for whatever reason. Speaking of Smith, though, his cheap shot on Dion Jordan that left the Duck bloodied near his eye was an outright disgrace, and he shouldn't have been allowed back on the field by the referees or by coaches. Smith would be injured early in the second half, rendering the point moot, but he shouldn't have been out there anymore in the first place. That's really the only gripe, though. Final Grade: A-
Auburn is your 2011 BCS Champion, and it achieved that by playing a team game. The secondary got torched at times, but the defense stiffened up as a whole in the red zone. Auburn's gameplan evolved nicely over the course of the game, adjusting for Newton's aches on the fly without completely neutralizing him. The game was sloppy at times, and closer than it had any right to be, but it was also scintillating at its peaks and Auburn was obviously a big reason why. Congratulations to Newton, Fairley, and the rest of the perfectly imperfect Auburn Tigers for their national championship. Final Grade: B+