They faked like a champion, and tricked like a winner, and gimmicked like no other college football team on this stage ever has done before. Oregon was fascinating to watch on Monday, and entertaining, too, and the Ducks made 78,603 fans afraid to leave their seats and utilize the stadium restrooms during the BCS Championship Game for fear they'd miss a play.
What Oregon was not though, was better or bigger than Auburn.
The Tigers beat the Ducks 22-19. And you shouldn't be fooled by the narrow margin of victory, or distracted by the fake punt, trick two-point conversion, gimmick plays or bright-yellow socks and shoes that Oregon wore. Because Auburn was bigger, tougher and more physical. And in the end, football is a physical game and Oregon got steam-rolled on both sides of the ball.
Said Ducks running back LaMichael James, who was held to 49 rushing yards: "It was tough to get around those guys."
Auburn rushed for 254 yards. It was that numbing output, and not Heisman-winner Cam Newton's 265 passing yards, which did the Ducks in on defense. And on offense, Oregon became one-dimensional, and rushed only 32 times for a mere 75 yards in the championship game. And in that, Oregon abandoned the style that helped them to a perfect season and got beat doing so.
If they don't, they're just a cute BCS sideshow, as they were in last year's Rose Bowl against Ohio State.
"They got a great front four," said Kelly, who is 0-2 in BCS bowl games. "Nick Fairley proved he's the best defensive lineman in the country. It was a tough matchup for us."
Fairley spent the game rumbling up and down the line of scrimmage, picking up the Ducks and pile-driving them.
The Ducks are close to a national-title breakthrough. Fun to watch, too. But if you're spending today talking about Oregon's shoe color, fake extra-point conversion, the reverse (or fake reverses) they ran on back-to-back kickoff returns, or that gorgeous fake punt they converted into a first down, you're missing what the winning coaches already know.
Physical play rules on the big stage.
I'm certain one day Fairley is going to meet a man as big and as mean as he on a football field. But I will not hold my breath waiting for it. What Oregon must find if it wants to break through on this level is an offensive line that can at least slow down a big, physical player such as Fairley and also, a more physical offensive line itself.
Sure, Kelly could have kicked the field goal on fourth-and-goal in the second half and been in better shape at the end of regulation. If not, the Ducks coach could have given the critical carry there not to Kenyon Barner but to the team's Heisman finalist, James. But I suspect had Auburn needed more points at the end, they'd simply have lined up and pounded out a few more points instead of kicking the winning field goal.
"My hat's off to Auburn," Kelly said. "They got some great players who made great plays."
Newton is a large quarterback, but there's no way he should outweigh every Ducks defensive player, as he did on Monday.
This Oregon season was special. The Ducks opened eyes, and helped give the country a great show on Monday. But they don't hand out trophies for being interesting or fun to watch. And in that, Oregon must be willing to recognize that if it wants to get back to this point and walk off winners, it will have to come back looking and playing more like Auburn.
Kelly hugged linebacker Casey Matthews. To safety Eddie Pleasant, Kelly said, "I am so proud of you guys." And the coach patted James, who has already announced he'll return for another season, on the shoulder pads.
Oregon finishes 12-1 this season. Kelly said, "We'll be back."