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... AND WHAT LIKELY MAY BE

Nov. 15, 2010
Nov. 15, 2010

Table of Contents
Nov. 15, 2010

LEADING OFF
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
COLLEGE FOOTBALL
PRO HOCKEY
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... AND WHAT LIKELY MAY BE

In a not-so-absurdly-early look at a title game between Auburn and Oregon, one thing is certain: They will score and score

Take the over.

This is an article from the Nov. 15, 2010 issue

No matter how many points the oddsmakers in Las Vegas think Auburn and Oregon would combine to score in the BCS title game, it cannot be enough. When future historians study the score from Jan. 10, 2011, they will wonder why someone included the result of a college basketball game.

Gus Malzahn, the offensive coordinator at Auburn, wants basketball scores. "If you have ever watched the pace of an up-tempo basketball game, that is the pace you want to carry over to the football field," Malzahn wrote in his 2003 book, The Hurry-Up, No-Huddle: An Offensive Philosophy. "While it may sound a little crazy, you can get the same advantages in football as you would if you were controlling the tempo of a basketball game."

Chip Kelly, Oregon's second-year head coach and the mastermind of the Ducks' speedy spread attack, is Malzahn's hurried-up brother from another mother. The difference? Kelly doesn't allow the fitness of his defense to get in the way of his offensive pace. Malzahn dreams of a day when the Tigers can run 95 plays (as the Ducks did in the season opener against New Mexico), but Auburn coach Gene Chizik sometimes asks Malzahn to dial back the speed to give the Tigers' defense a break on the sideline.

Kelly doesn't do that. Because Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti shuffles his players like an NHL coach shuffles his lines, the defense is fresh deep into the fourth quarter while the opposing offense—goaded into a futile attempt to match Oregon's scoring pace—gasps for breath.

Still, neither defense would be prepared for the opposing offense. The Ducks can't simulate Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. At 6' 6" and 250 pounds, Newton is bigger than most of Oregon's defensive ends. And the Tigers haven't faced a back who combines the tackle-breaking ability and top-end speed of Oregon's LaMichael James.

When the analysis ends and the game begins, Newton immediately will show why he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide. On Auburn's second play he picks his way through the defense for a 68-yard touchdown. When the Tigers follow a defensive stop with an 18-yard Onterio McCalebb touchdown run to take a 14--0 lead, Auburn fans launch into the "S-E-C!" chant in anticipation of the conference's fifth consecutive national title.

But Kelly isn't fazed. He signals in a zone-read play for James, and it gains nine yards. Seconds later the same play gains 12. On the third consecutive iteration of the play, James blasts into the open field for a 54-yard touchdown run. Following cornerback Cliff Harris's interception, quarterback Darron Thomas hits wide-open receiver Jeff Maehl for a 39-yard touchdown to tie the score. At halftime Auburn leads 27--24.

Offense rules the third quarter. By the fourth, both defenses are exhausted. Kelly and Malzahn know this, and they press the gas pedal harder. After Newton flattens a linebacker at the goal line to give the Tigers a 62--59 lead with four minutes remaining, Kelly gathers his offense on the sideline. "We will not do anything desperate," he says. "We will run our offense."

James chews up yardage on the zone-read. Maehl catches short passes over the middle. Thomas, whose rushing yardage has been limited by the Tigers' sideline-to-sideline speed, finally gets the corner and goes out-of-bounds at the four-yard line with a minute remaining.

After an incomplete pass Thomas runs a keeper to the one-yard line. Auburn stuffs James up the middle on third down, setting up one play for the crystal football. Before all the weary Tigers can realign themselves, the Ducks snap the ball. James plows in over the left side for a 66--62 lead.

After safety Eddie Pleasant picks off a desperation heave from Newton to seal the win, the celebration begins. Kelly raises the trophy, and the Ducks carry him off the field. Meanwhile, copycat offensive coordinators everywhere burn their playbooks. By the end of January, Malzahn's book sits at No. 3 on The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list. By the first weekend of the 2011 season, only 50 of the 120 Division I-A teams use a huddle.

THE DUCKS CAN'T SIMULATE NEWTON, AND THE TIGERS HAVEN'T FACED A BACK LIKE JAMES.
TWO PHOTOSJED JACOBSOHNTWO FOR THE SHOW James (21 and left, top) and Newton both thrive in hurry-up, no-huddle offenses that might tilt the scoreboard if Oregon and Auburn were to meet in the BCS title game.PHOTOBILL FRAKES[See caption above]