Bowl Season

OREGON (12-0) VS AUBURN (13-0)
BCS No. 1 vs. BCS No. 2 Glendale, Ariz.
U. of Phoenix Stadium
Jan. 10
8:30 p.m.
ESPN/ESPN3D

 

Kool Bell, of trackemtigers.com was nice enough to answer some questions about the Auburn Tigers.

BS: Cam Newton aside, how good a job has Head Coach Gene Chizik done in his 2 years at Auburn? It seems like he is often forgotten with all the players and OC Gus Malzhan. -

Kool Bell:  Chizik has done an excellent job in his short tenure at Auburn. Ask any of his assistants and every one of them will tell you, Coach calls the shots. One day at practice, an unexpected rain shower popped up as is want to do in the South, and Chizik pulls out a “Rain Plan” from his pocket. Totally catching everyone by surprise, he had prepared for that moment. As he has prepared for this season.

BS: Barely a top 25 team at the beginning of the season, how has all of this happened?

Kool Bell: Last January Chizik calls a Senior meeting along with the coaches, and lays out the plan to win a Championship this year. To a man, they say the plan has not deviated. In May the Seniors on this team were talking Championships, no one was listening then....

BS: The offense is led by Heisman Trophy winning QB Cam Newton. Talk about his season as well as the offense in general.-

Kool Bell: Well, Cameron is a very special talent. God gifted ability, with a grounded personality. He keeps everything in perspective, and stays focused. Add those with a fierce determination not to lose, and you have that winning combination. The offense that Malzahn runs is something we have never experienced at Auburn. Even with all of the offensive players that have made it to play on Sunday in the NFL, The Tigers have shattered just about every recorded statistic. Yards per play, total yards, points, number of TD's, Yards per pass, and list keeps growing.

BS: The Auburn defense struggled some, particularly against the pass. What do they have  do to limit this Oregon offense and who are the key players? -

Kool Bell: Senior Josh Bynes is the Captain, and calls the alignments on the field, including audibles. Zac Etheridge who was carried off the field against Ole Miss last season with a broken neck has returned and led a shaky secondary, early in the season Auburn lost the services of Senior Aaron Savage and that took some time to recover from. With the maturation of T'Sharvan Bell, and Walk-On Ikeem Means has added some depth, giving some desperately needed rest.

The defensive line has been a stable force with Zac Clayton, Nick Fairley, and Antoine Carter leading that group. In the rotation though the talent does not drop off. Jefferey Whittaker, Corey Lemonier, Mike Blanc, and Mike Goggans are all very impressive.

If this defense is going to have it's way with the Ducks, they are going to have to stop the run first and foremost. Keep the receivers in front of the defensive backs, and the first man to the ball is going to have to make the tackle. Penalties and missed tackles will kill this defense, and give Oregon all the inspiration it needs to step on the gas.

BS: If you could choose one player to have a breakout performance in the bowl game, who would it be?

Kool Bell: That would be difficult with the talent that Auburn has. If I had to guess, and that's what you have asked me, I'll say T'Sharvan Bell the defensive back has a big game. Last year against Northwestern in the Outback Bowl, Bell emerged as a force against the pass and run. Seems he likes a big stage, and the stage won't come any bigger.

Thanks a lot to Kool Bell. Check him out at trackemtigers.com

 

Dale Newton, of duckstopshere.blogspot.com was nice enough to give his insights on the Ducks.

BS: The Oregon Ducks have won 2 consecutive PAC-10 titles in the first 2 years under Chip Kelly.How has Kelly been able to turn a good program into a great program?


Dale Newton: Coach Kelly would be the first to give credit to his coaches and players.  Oregon has been on a steady climb toward respectability since the late '80s, and a big part of that success has been continuity.  Since 1977 the Ducks have had just three head coachesRich Brooks, Mike Belotti and now Kelly.   In addition the Ducks have a core of longtime assistants, Steve Greatwood, Nick Aliotti, Don Pellum, Gary Campbell, and strength coach Jim Radcliffe. all of whom have 20 or years or more in the program, serving under all three head coaches.

Kelly elevated the program in two ways.  One, with leadership.  He handled some difficult, very public situations with consistency and decisiveness, sending the message that if you want to be part of this program you have to adhere to the same rules and standards as everyone else.  In 2009 he suspended star running back LaGarrette Blount for eight games, and his handling of that situation was instrumental in both Blount's rehabilitation and the team's resilience.   Star quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was suspended in February and then booted off the team in May of this year.  Kelly suspended LaMichael James and kicker Rob Beard for off-field incidents.

The team has bought in, completely.  They have absorbed his win-the-day philosophy, and have treated every game like the Super Bowl.

Kelly's second major innovation is the way the Ducks practice and the tempo at which they play.  They work with tremendous intensity, running a play every ten seconds in drills.  In games they rotate about 26 players a game on defense, playing a fast, attacking style that forced 35 turnovers this year.  

 
BS: The offense has been great this year, averaging 49.3 points a game. Talk about Darron Thomas' job at QB and what are the keys to success against this SEC defense? Also, please include some personnel.


Dale Newton: When Jeremiah Masoli was suspended and then booted off the team last spring, many experts downgraded the Ducks from a potential national title contender to question mark.  The thinking was, no one competes in the PAC-10 without an experienced quarterback.  How would a sophomore starter handle a hostile road environment in game 2 at Tennessee in front of a national TV audience and 102,000 fans?  How would he handle a big confrontation with smashmouth Stanford in game 4, or a road game to face USC in the Coliseum on Saturday Night College Football?

Thomas' rapid development was the key to Oregon's undefeated season.  He was poised and unflappable.  He handled every challenge and progressed way more quickly than anyone could have hoped, throwing for over 2800 yards and 28 touchdowns, running for about 500.  He proved to be an upgrade over Masoli in the passing game, and distributed the ball effectively in Oregon's faced-paced multiple read offense.

Here's a telling stat:  Thomas threw only seven interceptions this season, and after six of those, Oregon scored on their next offensive possession.  That's resilience.  In fact, he threw a pick on the Ducks' first drive of the year versus New Mexico (a lineman missed a key block on an inside screen) and he went down and made the tackle.  Oregon quickly got the ball back and won 72-0, Thomas throwing for 220 yards and a pair of touchdowns.  The next weekend they trailed midway through the second quarter 13-3 in Neyland stadium, and he took big hits to toss a pair of touchdown passes as the Ducks scored 45 unanswered points to win 48-13 on the road versus an SEC opponent. 

Throughout the season DT met every challenge.  He handled all his firsts, the first college start, the first road game in a hostile environment, the conference opener, the first showdown game with a ranked opponent, a Saturday night game against USC in the Coliseum, the pressure of an undefeated season and a number one ranking.  He not only replaced Masoli, which many pundits and experts doubted he could do, he upgraded Oregon's downfield passing game, a glaring weakness in key games last year.

 

But the beauty of Oregon's attack is that it isn't just about one star and one guy.  It's a cohesive team with many weapons.  The offensive line, led by center Jordan Holmes, guard Bo Thran and tackle Mark Asper, roadgraded opponents for 6450 yards of offense, 3646 on the ground.   Senior Jeff Maehl leads a tough, unselfish group of wideouts that excel at downfield blocking.  He's joined by Lavasier Tuinei and Drew Davis.  Tight end David Paulson may have the best hands on the team, and all but two of his catches went for a first down or touchdown.  The Ducks are deep on offense, and get big plays from explosive players Kenjon Barner and Josh Huff off the bench.  Both have breakaway speed.  Huff took a pitch 85 yards for a touchdown in the Arizona game.  Barner had five touchdowns in the opener against New Mexico, an 80-yard punt return for TD against Tennessee, and 134 yards rushing on 15 carries in the Civil War.

 

 BS: The defense was very underrated this year, giving up only 18 points a game. What will the key to success be against the potent Auburn offense? Also, who are the top players on the unit?


Dale Newton: Jim Rome interviewed Chip Kelly last week, and Kelly told him that there is no magic scheme for stopping Cam Newton and Auburn, that the game would come down to fundamentals, particularly gang tackling and pursuit.  A lot of experts and SEC honks say the Ducks have no chance against the fast, physical and potent Tiger attack, but the Ducks will get on the plane and plan to play the game. 

Oregon matches up a lot better against Gus Malzahn's offense than many think, because they are deep, fast, and physical themselves.  They regularly play about 26 guys, and the talent in the unit is such that there isn't a big dropoff when they go to the bench.  Senior Casey Matthews is one of the leaders at middle linebacker, and he's a smart player with great instincts and a great football pedigree.  His family has a long, proud history in the NFL.  Kenny Rowe, who had 3 sacks in last year's Rose Bowl against Terrelle Pryor, anchors the line along with DT Brandon Bair.  Rowe is so athletic and versatile Oregon uses him in a variety of roles, standing him up on some plays as a linebacker and putting him in a three-point stance on others.   Bair is tough in the middle, with 15.5 tackles for loss and 8 batted passes.

Matthews is one feature performer in a talented group of linebackers, including fast, physical Josh Kaddu, heady senior Spencer Paysinger, and youngsters Michael Clay and Bo Lokombo, who returned a fumble for touchdown against Arizona State.  The secondary flies to the football, and they've been thoroughly tested in the pass-happy PAC-10.  Safety John Boyett and cornerback Cliff Harris had five interceptions each, and cornerback Talmadge Jackson III is a sure tackler who improved all season.  Strong safety/rover Eddie Pleasant is Oregon's fastest player on defense.

The Ducks' defense excels at big plays and turnovers.  This season they created 35 turnovers.  They were tough in the red zone (67.6%) and tough on fourth down (23.8%).  Because of the high-powered offense, they are often underrated and overlooked, and may surprise some people on January 10th. 

BS: If you could choose one player to have a breakout performance in the bowl game, who would it be?


Dale Newton: Odd to say, but I think the breakout performer will be LaMichael James.  James thrives on big games, rushing for over 200 yards against both Stanford and USC this year.  He was hampered by a third-quarter shoulder injury against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.  Over Oregon's last four games of this 2010 regular season, LMJ ran tough but didn't have his customary burst.  He ended the Cal game on crutches and didn't have his top gear for Arizona or Oregon State.  With five weeks to heal, James will be at full-strength and full quickness, and the country will get a chance to see what a great player he truly is.

Watch out also for Oregon's special teams, which have produced big plays all season, and Huff and Barner.  Kelly loves to get those two in open space.


Thanks a lot to Dale Newton. Check him out at duckstopshere.blogspot.com




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