PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- Kickoff is only hours away for Auburn and Oregon. By this time Tuesday, there will be a new national champion. So what does each team need to do to ensure it is the one raising the Waterford Crystal football? Here are three keys for each side.
When the Ducks get an opponent down, they go for the throat by ratcheting up their breakneck offensive pace and wearing down the opposing defense. "Our guys smell blood," Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said, "and they attack."
So how do you force a quarterback to miss an open receiver? You hit him. And hit him. And hit him again. Even if they can't sack Thomas, Auburn's defenders need to pressure him. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley can't worry about what the officials might think of a hit after Thomas releases the ball. It's more important to let Thomas know the Tigers will be coming play after play. "It's instinct," Fairley said. "Really, you just got to hit him. You are going to get flagged or you're not."
Newton should get the ball, moving north-and-south. The chains will move every time.
Get the ball to playmakers such as James or Kenjon Barner outside the tackles and Fairley will have no impact. Against most teams, Auburn's speedy linebackers would string out such plays for minimal gain. But Oregon is faster than most teams, and if those linebackers miss their shots at Oregon's backs, they'll be eating feathers.
Thomas seems to have a firm grasp of his role. In most cases, the quarterback is the star of the offense. In this case, the offense is the star. It's Thomas' job to manage it correctly. "The ball is in my hand every play," Thomas said. "So I've got to make the right decision."
Listen to linebacker Casey Matthews, who seems to have a firm grasp of the only way to get Newton on the ground. "He's not your ordinary quarterback. I mean, he's huge, 6-6, 250," Matthews said. "He's got a pretty powerful stiff arm. ... We know he is a very tough runner, and he's not like most quarterbacks. He will lower his shoulder and try to get those extra yards. We've got to wrap him up as a team."