Yes, defense still wins championships - NBC Sports

Yes, defense still wins championships
Let by amazing Fairley, Auburn's 'D' dominates what was supposed to be offensive showdown
January 12, 2011, 10:01 am

Years from now, when songs are written about the 2010 Auburn football team - that's what they do in the south - the sweetest words will be reserved for quarterback Cam Newton.

Newton was the best player in college football. He won the Heisman Trophy, outran the NCAA, the FBI and even his own father, Cecil, and delivered the national title that Auburn had craved for 53 years.

But it was another player who beat the Oregon Ducks on Monday on a slippery field at University of Phoenix Stadium. A mountain of a defensive tackle who should be the first pick of the 2011 draft - assuming the Carolina Panthers know what they're doing.

Nick Fairley, take a bow. You and your teammates did what many thought impossible: Stuff the Oregon Ducks point-a-minute offense. Auburn's 22-19 BCS national championship might have been Newton's coronation, but it was your night.

"Man, our defense, we showed America everything we've done each every Saturday out there on the field," Fairley said. "We have been doing this, like I said, for 14 weeks. We just went unnoticed throughout the year.

How good was Auburn's defense?

Well, Oregon averaged 49.2 points per game and only once had been held under 37 points, that in a 15-13 victory over California in mid-November.

The Ducks rushed for a season-low 75 yards, and Heisman finalist LaMichael James was held to 49 yards on 13 carries. Oregon averaged just 2.3 yards per rush.

One other statistic worth noting: Oregon's longest run from scrimmage was 14 yards. Fourteen? Are you kidding me? That's usually a warm-up act for the Ducks.

Simply put, Auburn's defensive line dominated Oregon's front. It was the heavyweights of the SEC against the middleweights of the Pac-10, and you know what they say in boxing: A good big man beats a good little man every time.

That's exactly what they did.

It was the Auburn defensive front that made the biggest play - actually the biggest four plays - of the game. Oregon was trailing 19-11 when a Darron Thomas-to-Lavasier Tuinei 43-yard pass gave the Ducks a first down at the Auburn 3-yard line with about three minutes left in the third quarter.

Four times Oregon tried to run the ball into the end zone. Four times it was denied - by four different tacklers - including Fairley.

If the Ducks score there, perhaps it's James, Thomas and coach Chip Kelly celebrating a championship.

"I think that fourth-down stop was a definite momentum change in the game," said senior middle linebacker Josh Bynes.

Fairley was, to put it mildly, a beast. The 6-foot-5, 298-pound junior, who won the Lombardi Award as the nation's best defensive lineman, spent as much time in the Oregon backfield as James. He had five tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble.

The only thing he didn't do was verbally declare for the NFL draft. But he'll undoubtedly do that before Saturday's deadline to declare, and the Panthers should have gotten a pretty good scouting report from his destruction of the Ducks' offense.

"Fairley really is a great player," James said.

The oddest sight Monday? Twice in the first half, for some inexplicable reason, Oregon left Fairley unblocked. On both occasions, he barreled into Thomas with frightening speed, disrupting the play.

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Fairley also lived up to his reputation as a dirty player, incurring a 15-yard penalty for shoving James' face into the turf after a whistle. But I'm guessing NFL teams don't mind a little nastiness in their defensive linemen.

Besides Fairley's dominance, one other fact was reaffirmed: The rest of the country still can't compete with the SEC. Oregon's speed and imaginative offense was supposed to be the skill-set that finally brought down college football's pre-eminent conference, but Auburn was just as fast and, more importantly, far more physical.

Oregon might be able to misdirect its way past the Arizona States and Washingtons of the world, but in national title games, against the SEC, gimmicks run head-first into stone walls.

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"Like I told the defense before we got on the bus to come here, throughout the whole week of preparation and everything before this game, they hadn't showed one defensive highlight," Bynes said.

"So what does that tell us about our defense? . I said, `Today we are going to be the best defense in the country, and we are going to show up, and we are going to win this game for us.' "

That's surely worth a chorus or two, isn't it?


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