Some more thoughts on title game

At about 2:30 a.m. ET, SEC blogger Chris Low turned to me and said: "Auburn didn't score a touchdown in the second half?"

To which I replied, "Correct." The Tigers had two field goals, one in each quarter in their 22-19 win over Oregon in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.

And he then goes, "Who would have thought that Auburn would score no second-half touchdowns and would win this game?"

No one. If someone had said to me on Sunday, "Auburn will score no second-half TDs. ..." I would have stopped them there and said that was impossible, forget the part about winning.

It was a strange game. Lots of great plays. And sloppy plays. There were stupid penalties. Auburn missed some wide-open pass plays downfield. Both teams got stuffed once on the goal line. The safety the Ducks yielded -- after an illegal motion penalty killed a 9-yard run -- loomed large.

Consider this: 968 total yards. And it was a defensive struggle.

The talk after the game -- including my story -- was Auburn's defense dominating the line of scrimmage. But the Ducks gained 449 yards and only gave up two sacks on 41 pass attempts. Auburn gave up two sacks on 35 passes.

Oregon had 26 plays that gained zero or negative yards. Auburn had 28. (But keep in mind the Tigers ran 85 plays -- a BCS title-game record -- compared to 73 for the Ducks, who averaged 79 plays per game this year).

"Dominating" isn't the right word for what happened at the line of scrimmage. But "winning" clearly is.

Here are two key numbers:

  • Auburn averaged 6.3 yards per first-down rush. Oregon averaged 2.9 yards on first-down runs. Second-and-short, we call all agree, is a good thing.

  • Both teams needed an average of 5.5 yards to convert on third down. The Tigers went 9-of-17; the Ducks were just 5-of-15.

Finally, you will hear plenty of SEC trash talk versus the Pac-10. My take? Well, the SEC is clearly atop college football.

The SEC just won its fifth consecutive BCS national title. That is amazing. Even more so: Five different SEC teams have won championships. The best SEC team just beat the best Pac-10 team for the title (I know, Stanford fans, but we're not doing hypotheticals now).

The pregame talk about Auburn being bigger and more physical on both lines proved true. The Tigers won both lines. End of story.

And yet, Pac-10 fans, know there are plenty of sharp SEC fans who walked away from this game with a healthy respect for the Pac-10. The previous four foes that lost to the SEC in the title game lost by double digits, by an average of 16.8 points, in fact. The Ducks lost when the Tigers kicked a field goal on the last play of the game.

Further, Oregon's defense held the Tigers to 21 points below their season average and their second-lowest total of the season. So while an SEC defense asserted itself, a Pac-10 defense also showed some mettle.

Some more thoughts:

  • Oregon's big special-teams edge? Nonexistent. The Ducks' return game was poor much of the night, and Auburn punter Ryan Shoemaker had a better night than Oregon's Jackson Rice.

  • The Ducks also were a much better team in terms of turnover margin entering the game. But turnovers were a push at two apiece. (Though Ducks fans surely are smarting about the Cliff Harris interception that wasn't.)

  • One of the oddities of the Ducks' rushing struggles was quarterback Darron Thomas' reluctance to keep the ball on option plays, and we're not just talking about that ill-advised first-quarter pitch when he had first-down yardage but tossed backward and gave up forward progress. Thomas gained just 7 yards rushing on eight attempts (officially he was at minus-6 yards because of sacks). More than a few times he seemed to make poor reads on option plays, handing the ball off when a keeper would have earned more yards.

  • Ducks receiver Jeff Maehl is a heck of a player. He caught nine passes for 133 yards to lead all receivers in the game. His leaping catch on the 2-point conversion that tied the game was a spectacular athletic play.

  • Oregon finished with just two sacks, and Ducks' coaches are going to be slapping their foreheads watching game film. At least four times Ducks defenders -- end Kenny Rowe twice -- blew sack opportunities by running wildly past Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, even before Newton felt the pressure.

  • That said, Rowe had four tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble. His nine tackles were second on the Ducks.

  • Anyone else HUGELY curious about how the Ducks' offense will match up with the LSU defense to open the 2011 season?