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Offenses, you're on the clock

Oregon’s LaMichael James led Division I-A in rushing, averaging 152.9 yards a game. The Ducks like to push the pace, leading I-A in scoring offense at 49.3 a game.

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Oregon’s LaMichael James led Division I-A in rushing, averaging 152.9 yards a game. The Ducks like to push the pace, leading I-A in scoring offense at 49.3 a game.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Steve Spurrier, the South Carolina ball coach who knows a little about offense from his Fun 'n' Gun days at Florida, said the game could wind up 60-55.

ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who knows a little about these teams, said defenses must bristle when they keep hearing about scores in the 55-53 range.

There's a reason No. 1 Auburn and No. 2 Oregon are playing in the BCS national title game tonight, a reason the matchup has turned into a hot ticket.

These are two newcomers to the championship scene, both with offenses that almost never take a break. Auburn has Cam Newton, the Heisman Trophy winner who led the SEC in rushing, passer efficiency and scoring. Oregon has LaMichael James, the key to an offense that likes to snap the ball nine to 11 seconds after the end of the previous play, and one that scores a nation-high 49.3 points a game.

"We're anticipating it being very quick, obviously, from the things that we've heard," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "But we're prepared for that."

Oregon's Chip Kelly, starting his news conference Sunday, is ready for the play-calling to begin. "Let's go play. Questions?"

Auburn has been pummeled all season with questions about Newton's status, the result of a meandering investigation into allegations that his father was involved in a failed pay-for-play scheme during the quarterback's recruitment to Mississippi State.

The NCAA cleared Newton to play shortly before the SEC title game, and with the Tigers confident, at least for now, they won't have to give back the crystal ball if they win it, the most notable thing to pass for controversy this week has been the debate over whether Auburn defensive lineman Nick Fairley is a cheap-shot artist.

Fairley, the Lombardi Award winner as the nation's top lineman, has a reputation for playing hard through the whistle, and sometimes beyond. How Oregon's quick, but not huge, offensive line handles him could dictate how well the Ducks' fast-paced offense runs.

"He's got speed, strength, technique," Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. "Basically, all the things you don't want to see as an offensive guy lining up against him, he's got."

James, averaging 152 yards rushing and almost two touchdowns for an offense that has been held to fewer than 37 points only once all year, said he can tell when a defense is breaking down.

"You start seeing a lot of hands on hips, broken tackles, things like that," he said. "You see them blitzing but not really blitzing because they don't have the energy."

Knowing Oregon will try to push the pace, Chizik said he would have a specific conversation with officials before the game, urging them to enforce a rule that allows the defense time to make substitutions if the offense does. Kelly said it won't make a difference, "because we don't sub."

"When we want to play fast, we know the rules," he said.

Oregon's mission on defense is to become the first team to stop, okay, maybe just slow, Newton, who has the body of a linebacker (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) but the skills of a top running back and quarterback.

He averages 108 yards rushing a game, completes 67 percent of his passes and has accounted for 49 touchdowns — 21 running and 28 passing. After Newton passed for 335 yards and four TDs and ran for two more in a 56-17 rout of South Carolina in the SEC title game, Spurrier said a 60-55 score was a possibility tonight.

"You have two of the best offensive minds in football," the former Gators coach said, speaking of Kelly and Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.

All of which may really mean that whichever defense plays better will lead its team to a title.

"I think both defenses have something to prove and want to show up and are tired of answering questions about how it's going to be 55-53," Herbstreit said. " … I think it will be … lower-scoring because of the way the two defenses are going to show up in a bad mood."

Offenses, you're on the clock 01/09/11 [Last modified: Sunday, January 9, 2011 9:29pm]
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