GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Fairly or unfairly, he’s gained a reputation as a dirty player.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly didn’t go down that path late Monday night after watching Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley set up camp in the Ducks’ backfield.
“Nick Fairley proved he was the best defensive lineman in the country. It was a tough matchup for us,” Kelly said following Auburn’s 22-19 win over Oregon in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.
An impossible matchup would be more like it.
Fairley has pretty much been unblockable all season. He was again against the Ducks and then some.
The 6-5, 300-pound Fairley finished with three tackles for loss and a forced fumble, and he was part of the swarm of Tigers that buried Oregon’s Kenjon Barner at the 1 on fourth-and-goal late in the third quarter.
“He’s a great player, just a baller,” safety Mike McNeil said of his Lombardi Award-winning teammate. “He’s special. He’s a big, silly guy.”
Fairley had another one of those plays in the game that’s not going to help his reputation of being fond of extracurricular activity after the whistle. He shoved Oregon’s LaMichael James in the helmet after the play had been blown dead and was hit with a 15-yard personal foul penalty.
But Fairley is such a disrupter up front that those plays are obscured.
What everybody will remember is that Oregon simply couldn’t block Fairley, and the Tigers did what they’ve done defensively all season.
Make clutch plays and clutch stops.
“Man, our defense … we showed America everything we’ve done each and every Saturday out there on the field,” Fairley said. “Like I said, we’ve been doing this for 14 weeks.”
To truly appreciate what Auburn’s defense was able to do, think of it in these terms: The Tigers were able to beat the top scoring team in the country without scoring a single touchdown in the second half.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik said defensive coordinator Ted Roof had a phenomenal game plan.
“Our defense was focused for one month,” Chizik said. “They went out and practiced every day to win a national championship, every day. There was not a day that I can sit there and look at, boy, we were just terrible today.”
Senior linebacker Josh Bynes grew weary of hearing about everything this Auburn defense wasn’t.
He told his teammates, in no uncertain words, that they were going to be the best defense in the country on Monday night.
“Offense won’t be able to win every game for us,” Bynes said. “We showed that in the SEC championship when everyone said it would be a 99-89 game, and it was a 56-17 game because defensively we stepped up and played like it was our last down.
“And, today, we did the same thing. I think that’s what this defense and this team was built on, the resiliency of going out there and playing to the final whistle.”