January 10, 2011

SI.com's Richard Deitsch will provide ongoing commentary and analysis throughout tonight's Auburn-Oregon BCS championship showdown. For updated stats and play-by-play, follow SI's Gameflash. For additional commentary, follow SI's college football experts on Twitter.

FINAL SCORE: AUBURN 22, Oregon 19. Michael Dyer is now a folk hero in Auburn, Alabama, and the SEC has now won five consecutive BCS title games. With the score tied and the national championship in the balance, it's the true freshman running back (and not the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback) who seals the game for the Tigers. Dyer rushes for 55 yards on the final drive, including a 37-yard run on which he benefitted both from the laws of college football and the laws of physics. (He was tackled, but he was never officially down.)

Then, on a third-and-four from the Oregon 17, Dyer rolls off a 16-yard run to move the ball to the one-yard line with 10 seconds left. The Tigers milked the clock for another couple of seconds and then called a timeout. Enter kicker Wes Byrum, who was straight and true on the 19-yarder as time expired. (How's this for crazy? Byrum scored all of Auburn's points in the second half.) Newton (22-of-34 for 265 passing yards, two touchdowns, one interception and 65 rushing yards) said after the game that everyone in the huddle was calm. But the game was anything but and we give the last word to Posnanski: "Not sure it was a great game, but it was certainly a wild one."

2:33, FOURTH QUARTER: Auburn 19, Oregon 19. Here's the play of the game: On a fourth-and-five at the Auburn 40, Thomas finds wideout D.J. Davis who goes 30 yards to the Auburn 10. Incredibly, the play is set up by the umpire screening Auburn linebacker Zach Clayton. Says Posnanski: "That was one of the great official picks I've ever seen ... so there's all sorts of goodness happening here." Indeed. The Ducks eventually score when James takes a flip from Thomas from the one and strolls into the end zone. That sets up the dramatic two-point conversion, and Thomas finds Maehl in the end zone. It's an eight-play, 40-yard drive in 2:21 and it's all tied in Glendale. Wow. SCORE: AUBURN 19, OREGON 19.

4:54, FOURTH QUARTER: This game just got juiced. Auburn commits a huge turnover just when it looked like the Tigers were going to salt the title game away. Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews strips Newton from the backside on a fantastic play and the fumble is recovered by Cliff Harris on the Auburn 40. Surely, this is Oregon's last chance, no?

6:02, FOURTH QUARTER: Posnanski checks in after an Oregon first down: "It feels like Auburn should have salted this game away an hour ago. But Oregon has the ball down one score with an offense that average 49 points per game.

7:00, FOURTH QUARTER: ESPN's Herbstreit was a supporter of Auburn coach Gene Chizik long before Chizik became the flavor of the month. Why? "The very first time I heard Auburn got Gene Chizik -- and I remember being on an island a bit -- I thought 'What an outstanding hire and what a great fit.' It got off to a pretty good start in his first year and struggled a bit down the stretch. But after his second year he has won everybody over. I just thought he was a guy who had very high success at a very high level as a defensive coordinator. It was almost as if people forgot what he did at Auburn and what he did at Texas because of his time at (Iowa State). And I just thought that was unfair."

11:00, FOURTH QUARTER: The Ducks are trailing for the first time in the fourth quarter all season and the Auburn defense keeps coming as linebacker Josh Bynes drills Thomas on a third-and-eight from Auburn's 46 to blow up another Oregon drive. The Ducks are 3-of-11 on third downs and have rushed for just 80 yards during the game for an average of 2.7 yards per carry. James, the nation's leading rusher, has just 54 yards on 12 carries.

13:24, FOURTH QUARTER: Posnanski checks in from the press box: "This game has just had a strange rhythm. First quarter, everyone's rusty, nothing's happening. Second quarter, big plays, Auburn puts up 258 yards of total offense, it looks like the shootout we expected. Third quarter, just kind of strange -- though the decisive play of this game might be Oregon getting stuffed on fourth-and-goal from the one. It seemed a strange play call, a shotgun sweep against a fast defense. I keep waiting for someone to kind of take control of the game ... Auburn has seemed on the brink of it, but has not quite made it happen."

END OF THIRD QUARTER: Auburn 19, Oregon 11.

2:11, THIRD QUARTER: Oh, Chip Kelly, you rascal. The Oregon coach calls a fake punt on a fourth down, and Jackson Rice completes a pass to Marvin Johnson for 11 yards and a first down. On the next play, Thomas finds wideout Lavasier Tuinei, who makes a circus catch for a 43 yard gain to the Auburn three. Then Auburn's defense stiffens up and produces the goal-line stand of the year. Fairley tracks down Kenjon Barner right before the back crosses the end zone. Then, on a fourth-and-goal from the one, the Auburn defense stops Barner again. The Ducks come away with zero points on a 10-play drive. "I liked the decision to go for it," says SI's Menez. Posnanski disagrees: "I didn't like the play call. I don't think I'm too old fashioned, but I'll never quite get a team running shotgun on fourth-and-goal from the one."

6:25, THIRD QUARTER: File this moment away: Newton just overthrew a wide-open Darvin Adams on what would have been a sure 77-yard touchdown. Adams had streaked by the Oregon defenders and would have skipped into the end zone.

7:46, THIRD QUARTER: Auburn's Fairley just had an eventful drive. He was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul for a late hit -- not unexpected when it comes to Fairley -- and later sacked Thomas for a seven-yard loss -- also not a surprise for the surefire top 10 NFL draft pick. Auburn's defense forced Oregon to punt after eight plays. That's a big stop. If Newton can get a score here on this drive, it's going to be very loud in War Eagle land.

11:30, THIRD QUARTER: Auburn 19, Oregon 11. Solid nine-play scoring drive to start the half for Auburn. Newton found Philip Lutzenkirchen for 39 yards to put the ball in the red zone. But Oregon's defense stiffened up and forced Auburn to kick a 28-yard field goal. Says Mandel: "I'd call that a mild win for Oregon's defense. Newton looked ready to take over." SCORE: AUBURN 19, OREGON 11.

13:45, THIRD QUARTER: Staples emails between working on a couple of stories: "Now comes the fun part. In their toughest games, Oregon and Auburn turned on the jets in the third quarter. Against Stanford, Oregon outscored the Cardinal 14-0 in the third. Against Alabama, Auburn outscored the Crimson Tide 14-3 in the third. This is where one team should separate from the other."

14:28, THIRD QUARTER: ESPN's Herbstreit said something very amusing early in the week, and it's worth keeping in mind since Auburn has the ball to start the second half: "I thought Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti had a great comment about his preparation. He said he's been sleeping like a baby the last month as in he sleeps for an hour or two and then wakes up crying because he's dreaming of how to defend Cam Newton."

HALFTIME: SI's video team caught up with Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira in the stands. His take? Newton could hit homers.

HALFTIME THOUGHTS: The SI crew checks in from high above University of Phoenix Stadium:

MANDEL: "The safety on LaMichael James seemed to really give Auburn a lift. It dominated the rest of the half. Oregon's D has done as good a job as any this season containing Cam Newton the runner, but Cam Newton the passer did a great job picking up the blitz, hitting uncovered receivers on both his touchdowns. It'll be interesting to see if Auburn runs Newton more in the second half to see if Oregon can keep up physically. Oregon will have something up its sleeve, too. Remember, these are both second-half teams. Lots more points to come."

POSNANSKI: "Well, it appears the first quarter lull -- especially by Auburn -- was more rust than anything else. The second quarter was a whirlwind. Oregon's defensive wizardry faded as Auburn drove down the field at will ... only a poor throw and dropped pass in the end zone prevented the Tigers from scoring three touchdowns. Auburn's defense also seemed to adjust to Oregon's fast-break offense except for one huge play. Newton has looked oddly out of sorts for the game, but he got the Auburn offense rolling and the entire game has shifted -- now you wonder if Oregon has a few more defensive tricks up its sleeve."

MURPHY: "Auburn's last three drives have gone the length of the field -- two TDs and a heroic goal line stand by Oregon, squandered by a safety. (the first-down penalty deep in Oregon territory was brutal for the Ducks.) Auburn OC Malzahn is defeating Aliotti's zone dogs and blitzes with hard ball runs by Dyer, which have in turn softened up Oregon's dee for Newton's passes. The momentum is with the Tigers as the half ends. Paging Cliff Harris..."

HALFTIME: Auburn 16, Oregon 11. The first half ends with Newton's Hail Mary from the Oregon 46 being knocked down in the end zone. Tweets Schroeder: "Auburn ran last 29 of 35 plays in first half. Taking over?"

0:30, SECOND QUARTER: Oregon has just 38 yards rushing so far. The Ducks averaged 303.8 rushing yards per game this season. "They are losing the battle up front," says Herbstreit.

1:47, SECOND QUARTER: Auburn 16, Oregon 11. The Heisman Trophy winner strikes back. On the sixth play of a lightning-quick drive, Newton steps in front of the rush and finds a wide-open Emory Blake, who easily beats Kenny Rowe for a 30-yard touchdown. The drive takes 1:39. That's Auburn's 31st touchdown drive of two minutes or less this season. SCORE: AUBURN 16, OREGON 11.

3:06, SECOND QUARTER: Oregon 11, Auburn 9. What a turn of events. Auburn gets a safety as Mike Blanc tackles James in the end zone. "Even the defenses want to get to the over," Staples tweets. Staples also points out that "the two-pointer and the safety pretty much guarantee someone who doesn't follow football will win your office score pool." SCORE: OREGON 11, AUBURN 9.

3:14, SECOND QUARTER: Auburn can't cash in after an epic 16-play, 68-yard drive that chews off 7:14 on the clock. On a third-and-two from the Oregon 12, Newton bulls his way ala Tebow for a three-yard gain. ("I like Cam's chances on 3rd-and-2, every time," tweets Schroeder.) But on a third-and-goal from the Auburn two, Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews stops Newton on a huge play. That brings up a dramatic fourth-and-goal from the Oregon one. Newton calls a play action and the Ducks bite. Wide receiver Eric Smith is wide open. But Newton short-arms the throw. Mark it down. Huge, huge play.

5:14, SECOND QUARTER: Staples checks in: "It appears the offenses have awoken from their first-quarter slumber. Here's a score to remember: 7-0. USC led Texas by that score at the end of the first quarter in the BCS title game five years ago. Texas won that game, 41-38. If you took the over in Vegas, don't toss that betting slip just yet."

7:30, SECOND QUARTER: SI.com's Murphy checks in as Auburn is driving: "Aliotti told me Saturday that they would sell out to stop Cam from beating them with his feet. Problem, is he may beat them with his arm."

10:58, SECOND QUARTER: Oregon 11, Auburn 7. Chip Kelly is dealing. First, he calls a dynamite play where the action goes right, and Thomas finds LaMichael James on a throwback to the left. James walks in untouched. "I love the roll right throw back to the left screen pass," tweets Posnanski. "When it works, it's ludicrous. That play would have gone 99 yards." Then Kelly calls for a trick two-point conversion where holder Jackson Rice pitches the ball to kicker Rob Beard. It's a four-play, 93-yard drive for Oregon. And it took 57 seconds. Thomas' 81-yarder to Maehl earlier in the drive is the longest play in BCS Championship game history. "Ooooh, Lane Kiffin is so jealous right now," tweets Mandel. SCORE: OREGON 11, AUBURN 7.

11:40, SECOND QUARTER: SI.com's Mandel checks in with an off the field note: "By the way, Pitt hired its new coach tonight. Todd Graham. The school sent a press release during the first quarter."

11:43, SECOND QUARTER: Now this is what we expected. After an Oregon miscue on a too-fancy reverse on a kickoff return, Chip Kelly calls a play-action fake and Thomas finds Jeff Maehl for an 81-yard gain to the Auburn 12. It causes Staples to check in from the press box: "Hellllllooooooo, offenses."

12:00, SECOND QUARTER: Auburn 7, Oregon 3. Newton has found his grove in Auburn's hurry-up tempo. He made a beautiful play on a second-and-two from the Oregon 38 when he lost his balance but still found McCalebb for a first down. Two plays later Newton is seemingly picked off by Harris, but the initial call is that the defender was out of bounds. Chip Kelly storms out on the field, making sure it gets reviewed. The play stands as the refs rule Harris did not have possession through the play. On the next play, Newton finds Kodi Burns in the middle of the field for a 35-yard touchdown pass. Huge turn of events. SCORE: Auburn 7, Oregon 3.

12:30, SECOND QUARTER: Posnanski checks in: "They just announced that was the sixth scoreless quarter in 49 BCS Championship quarters. That is the most useless stat I've ever heard."

14:13, SECOND QUARTER: OREGON 3, AUBURN 0. SI.com's Andy Staples mentions how Fairley was untouched on a huge third down sack of Thomas at the Auburn nine. "Oregon's o-line needs to communicate," Staples says. The sack forces Auburn to kick a field goal. Rob Beard knocks it through from 26 yards. SCORE: OREGON 3, AUBURN 0.


MANDEL: "Much as we expected, both offenses looked rusty and out of rhythm to start the first quarter. Oregon seemed determined to run to the outside, but it wasn't working. Cam Newton had no room to run and threw a bad interception. As the quarter ended, however, Oregon was on the cusp of the end zone thanks to a productive drive in which it finally started operating at the ridiculous tempo we saw during the season."

POSNANSKI: "Seemed like a bad, bad, bad quarter for Auburn even with score 0-0. On defense the Tigers seem to be having all sorts of problems with Oregon's tempo and have needed a couple of wayward throws to stay in there. On offense, they seem entirely baffled by the delayed blitzing and movement of the Oregon defense. Obviously, adjustments can be made. But Auburn looks a little in over its head to me at the moment."

MURPHY: "Shades of Iron Bowl. Ducks D-Coordinator Nick Aliotti flat-out baffling Cam with multitude of wild, crazy looks, stunts, including a look called "Creep," which I'll write about in the magazine this week. Meanwhile, Tigers dee struggling with Oregon's tempo. Looks good for green team."

END OF FIRST QUARTER: Oregon 0, Auburn 0.Who'da thunk?

0:48, FIRST QUARTER: Late in the first quarter Auburn is really feeling Oregon's tempo. Said Herbstreit earlier in the week: "Oregon is up-tempo, up-tempo, up-tempo. And no matter what Auburn has tried to do on defense against their scout team offense, you cannot duplicate what Oregon will bring to the table when they are snapping the ball every 16 or 17 seconds. So how does Auburn handle for four quarters the wear and tear of going up against that tempo?"

2:14, FIRST QUARTER: Auburn has managed only 21 yards of offense. Entering the game, Newton needed 184 yards to break Tim Tebow's SEC record for single season total offense. We still think he'll do that. We think...

5:01, FIRST QUARTER: Incredible. The pressure by Auburn All-America defensive tackle Nick Fairley (yes, him) forces Thomas to throw the ball before his receiver makes his cut. Auburn's Zac Etheridge picks off the pass for the third interception of the game. Tweets Mandel: "Fairley absolutely crushed Thomas on the interception. Straight up the middle untouched."

8:40, FIRST QUARTER: Settle down, fellas. Newton immediately gives back the turnover when he's picked off by cornerback Cliff Harris. That's six interceptions on the season for Harris, seven for Newton. SI.com's Murphy says, "It's great to Harris make a big play, for purely selfish reasons. He's the best quote on either team."

9:00, FIRST QUARTER: SI.com's Austin Murphy checks in: "The Ducks are a slow starting team to begin with and it seems like Thomas has butterflies on this huge stage, understandably. I think the long TV timeouts are not helpful for up-temp offenses designed to wear down dees. Built in extra rest."

9:19, FIRST QUARTER: Here's the first big mistake of the game: On a third-and-eight from the Oregon 41, Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas is intercepted by Demond Washington at the Oregon 47. The throw was high and deflected off tailback Kenjon Barner, but as SI.com's Schroeder points out, "Darron Thomas isn't sharp to start. Bad pass, though Kenjon Barner should have had it."

11:49, FIRST QUARTER: Oregon defensive end Kenny Rowe lays the first big hit on Newton. He sacks the quarterback for a loss of eight yards and a fumble at the Auburn 46. Newton then fails to connect with Darvin Adams on a third-and-long, and Auburn is forced to punt. So much for the high-octane, point-a-minute track meet. Both defenses have come to play early. SI's Gene Menez says that was Newton's first incompletion on the opening drive ALL SEASON.

13:43, FIRST QUARTER: Auburn stops Oregon on a three-and-out. That's a huge start for the Tigers, compounded by a terrible 39-yard punt by Oregon's Jackson Rice. Cam Newton starts at his own 38 and momentum is immediately with Auburn in a big way.

14:30, FIRST QUARTER: SI.com's Schroeder checks in: "During pregame, Oregon players slipped a couple of times. Sod seemed loose. Josh Huff slipped on the kick return, too. Something to watch."

14:53, FIRST QUARTER: True freshman cornerback Chris Davis suffers a right lower leg injury on the opening kickoff. He was down for a couple of minutes. It's an eerie start to the national championship.

TWO MINUTES TO KICKOFF: Oregon won the coin toss and opted to take the ball. "We're confident in all of our game plan," Oregon coach Chip Kelly told ESPN prior to kickoff. "That's why we're here."

FIVE MINUTES TO KICKOFF: SI.com's George Schroeder checks in via Twitter: "Nike boss Phil Knight was absolutely giddy on the sidelines. Posing for pictures, fist-pumping to Oregon fans. "

SIX MINUTES TO KICKOFF: AP sports writer John Zenor reports that Auburn AD Jay Jacobs said the decision for Cecil Newton not to attend the game was "mutually agreed upon." SI's Andy Staples reports that Cam Newton led the Tigers out of the tunnel and ran the length of the field.

SEVEN MINUTES TO KICKOFF: The on-set chemistry between ESPN analysts-for-a-night Nick Saban and Urban Meyer is similar to that of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in Gigli.

EIGHT MINUTES TO KICKOFF: Stewart Mandel checks in from his Twitter account to point out some notable sideline presences: Ahmad Rashad (in Oregon gear), Mike Slive, Larry Scott, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban and @ErinAndrews. Mandel also reports that two Oregon fans were holding up a huge fake cardboard check made out to "Cam Newton's dad" for "$180,001."

10 MINUTES TO KICKOFF: SI's Joe Posnanski checks in from the press box: "Oregon players wearing glow in the dark socks. Auburn players at midfield in a huddle. Lots of people in orange saying it's great to be an Auburn Tiger. Lots of Tostitos signs. Last minute talk seems to be about whether Oregon is too small to handle Auburn. Everyone marveling at how quickly Urban Meyer bounced back from his need to spend time with the family."

15 MINUTES TO KICKOFF: So many pundits have talked about how to defend Newton. ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit believes Oregon's best strategy is to force Auburn to win through the air. But, alas, that presents serious danger: "Cam's ability to throw the football, that will be a big, big thing in this game," Herbstreit said. "Can Oregon stop the run by getting people up to the line of scrimmage? Can they tackle Newton? It's one thing to be there and another thing to bring him down. And then being vulnerable in the secondary, can they hold up in one-on-one coverage with his ability to throw the ball. If I were defending Cam Newton because Auburn is so balanced, they have to try to stop him from running the football first. But there's a risk there because to be able to slow him down running, and to slow down Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb, you have to crowd the line of scrimmage. You have to get numbers. To do that, you have to put defensive backs on islands against talented receivers."

30 MINUTES TO KICKOFF: SI.com's Stewart Mandel checks in: "It's a battle of the apparel companies here at the BCS National Championship Game. Driving on I-10 West toward Glendale, we saw at least two electronic Nike billboards with an Oregon player, a swoosh and the message "Yesterday's Fast is Today's Slow." Impressive. Not to be outdone, we arrived at the stadium to see a plane flying a banner featuring the Under Armour logo and "War Eagle."

PREGAME: Don't feel conflicted, BCS haters. That's the advice from our college football staff heading into tonight's delectable No. 1 versus No. 2 championship game matchup. You may loathe the system that delivered it, but Auburn (13-0) versus Oregon (12-0) is a dream for college football fans and television programmers alike. Offense will be everywhere in the desert, led by the brilliance of Auburn Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and Oregon running back LaMichael James, the country's leading rusher with 1,682 yards on 281 carries. Warp-speed Oregon averaged a national-best 49.3 points and 537.5 total yards per game; Auburn averaged 42.7 points (sixth nationally) and 497.7 total yards. The over-under for the game is an astronomical 74 points.

Among SI.com's many pregame features is a primer from Andy Staples on the keys to the game and an overview from Stewart Mandel on why college football fans need this title game to live up to its hype. We agree. It's been 37 days since Auburn and Oregon last played and college football diehards have had to endure 34 mostly mundane bowl games to get to tonight. If ticket demand portends an epic game, this should be one of the ages: Tickets with a face value of $300 and $325 were going for up to $5,000, making this one of the most coveted tickets in sports history.

For those not venturing to Glendale, we invite you to stick with this blog, which will include observations and analysis throughout the game from our team at University of Phoenix Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for shortly after 8:30 p.m.

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