Simply put, Cam Newton is the key to this game. If he plays sensational, Auburn wins. If he plays average or has a bad game, it’s over for Auburn.
There are two things that lead me to believe this:
- First, Cam Newton is the single reason Auburn is undefeated. Running, throwing and even catching – he is a force of nature and has delivered the goods. I certainly have not seen all of Auburn’s games, but I’ve seen a lot of highlights and if he produces like he did against many/most opponents then Oregon is in trouble. If he comes back to earth a bit with a pick or two and limited running yards, I think this is a big blow for Auburn’s chances.
- Second, an “on fire” QB beat Oregon in last year’s Rose Bowl. Suddenly displaying savvy decision making and an uncanny knack for passing the ball dead on the money that had gone unseen all season long, Ohio State QB Tyrell Pryor is the primary reason the Ducks lost to the Buckeyes in the 2010 Rose Bowl. If Cam Newton performs similarly, look out.
“Contain” is probably the key word because I suspect Newton will have his moments no matter what. But, Oregon has displayed an ability to contain QBs this year when they needed to – particularly in the second half of games. Andrew Luck, Nick Foles, Matt Barkley all come to mind.
The Duck DBs are really good and typically teams that go to the well too often with passes get picked off. Also, Oregon’s conditioning on D usually shows up in the third and fourth quarters and that’s when I see the Ducks starting to get pressure on the opposing QB and their running game. Both these things – solid DB play and consistent pressure up front – will be needed to win against Auburn. I think they can do it. If not, Newton will eat them alive.
Now, as for Auburn’s defense stopping the fast paced, multi-faceted Oregon offense, I think this is a tall order for the Tigers. I won’t say they won’t force some punts or three-and-outs, but nobody but Cal this season had the talent to go toe-to-toe with Oregon’s offense and Cal still lost. I doubt Auburn will be able to do it all game long.
And for those of you out there thinking to yourselves, “but Marc, didn’t Ohio State’s big defense shut down Oregon in the Rose Bowl…and won’t the SEC battle tested Auburn D do the same?” I would say to you that yes Ohio State did do a good job, but this year’s Duck team is different than last year’s…mainly at QB, but also the team now features some additional stars such as Josh Huff and David Paulson. This means now the Oregon QB is a real and consistent threat to throw down field. This was not the case with Masoli last season…and certainly not in the Rose Bowl. So, I think having this legit threat will boost the Duck’s chances of exploiting the Auburn D.
In the end, I think the team that slows down the other’s offense consistently will likely win this game. Sitting here right now, I’m thinking Oregon’s defense has a slightly better chance at this (but not easy at all) because they have to limit one guy – Cam Newton – while the Auburn D has too many weapons to try and shut down in any one play and all game long.