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January 6, 2011
Breakdown: Auburn pass 'O' vs. Oregon pass 'D'
Here is part three of our five-part position breakdown of Monday's BCS national championship game.
Part 1 was a look at Auburn's rush offense and Part 2 dealt with Oregon's rush offense. Today's installment is on Auburn's passing attack. Part 4 will be on Oregon's passing attack and Part 5 on the Tigers' and Ducks' special teams.
AUBURN PASS OFFENSE VS. OREGON PASS DEFENSE
Auburn doesn't throw the ball all that much; the Tigers had the fewest passing attempts in the SEC and only four teams nationally -- the four that run the triple-option -- have thrown it less often.
But when Cameron Newton does throw it, he has been incredibly successful. He leads the nation in passing efficiency and is completing 67.1 percent of his attempts; he has thrown for 2,589 yards and 28 TDs, with just six picks. He has thrown just one interception in the past seven games and has 16 TD passes in the same span. He has thrown at least three TD passes in five games, including three of the past four. In addition, he has thrown at least two TD passes in 10 games.
The Tigers don't have a sophisticated scheme, but Newton has a strong arm and has no issues with throwing on the run. In addition, because opposing defenses have to worry so much about the Tigers' rushing attack, Auburn receivers see a heck of a lot of single coverage.
The spread option offense is all about getting players in space, and Auburn has thrived on that in the passing game this season. The Tigers lead the nation by averaging 10.5 yards per attempt -- which means this is an offense that throws the ball downfield and doesn't dink-and-dunk -- and they're fifth in yards per completion at 15.7.
Darvin Adams is Newton's favorite receiver. He has 48 receptions for 909 yards and seven TDs. He had 12 more receptions but just 88 more receiving yards last season. Emory Blake -- whose dad, Jeff, was a longtime NFL quarterback -- also has seven TD catches; he has 28 catches overall, for 472 yards. Terrell Zachery rounds out the group of Newton's go-to receivers; he has 38 receptions for 585 yards and four TDs.
H-back Philip Lutzenkirchen has just 13 catches, but five have gone for touchdowns.
Adams has four 100-yard games this season, including a monster 207-yard, two-TD performance against South Carolina in the SEC title game. Zachery (against Chattanooga) and Blake (against Louisiana-Monroe) have Auburn's other 100-yard games.
Despite Newton's mobility, Auburn has surrendered 21 sacks this season. That is an area in which Oregon must have some success. The Ducks have 31 sacks, led by E Kenny Rowe's six. In all, 11 Ducks have at least two sacks.
Oregon's pass defense numbers don't wow you at first glance. The Ducks give up 214.0 yards per game, which ranks 51st nationally. But a closer look actually means better news for Oregon.
The Ducks are sixth in pass efficiency defense. They have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 53.5 percent of their passes. And while they have surrendered 13 TD passes, they also have 20 interceptions.
They have seen a lot of passes thrown their way, as opposing teams have fallen behind and taken to the air. Opposing quarterbacks have attempted 37.8 passes per game; only six teams nationally have had more passes thrown at them.
FS John Boyett and CB Cliff Harris are tied for the team lead with five interceptions. Harris also has 15 pass breakups, while Boyett has nine. LB Casey Matthews has three interceptions. DT Brandon Bair, who is 6 feet 7, has eight pass breakups and three sacks.
Boyett and Harris each have interception returns for touchdowns.
Arizona QB Nick Foles carved up the Ducks to the tune of 448 yards and three TDs. Still, Oregon won that game by 19 points. Arizona State QB Steven Threet threw for 387 yards and three TDs, but he also tossed four picks. Stanford QB Andrew Luck threw for 341 yards, with two TDs and two interceptions.
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is aggressive and likes to blitz. But that can backfire against Newton. When Oregon does blitz, it's vital that the Ducks keep Newton in the pocket and not let him break away for first-down runs.
The Ducks have good depth in their secondary and have solid nickel and dime packages.
The edge: A slight one to Oregon. If the Ducks can somehow force Newton to the air -- obviously a difficult assignment; only Alabama truly was able to stifle Newton on the ground -- their chances for a win increase greatly. While Newton can make plays in the passing game, as he showed against the Tide, he causes more trouble for opposing defenses with his legs. Oregon would much rather deal with Newton the passer rather than Newton the runner. Again, though, that would be predicated on slowing Newton when he runs.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.