Defense will rarely rest in BCS title game
Auburn's offense averages nearly 500 yards and more than six touchdowns per game and is led by Heisman Trophy winner Cameron Newton.
Oregon leads the country in both total offense and scoring offense, averaging 537.5 yards and 49.3 points, and is led by the country's leading rusher, LaMichael James, who also was a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Both offenses compete at a frenetic, point-a-minute pace, which is a big reason the No. 1 Tigers and No. 2 Ducks will play in the Jan. 10 Tostitos BCS National Championship Game in Glendale, Ariz.
But recent college football history suggests national championships are won by playing outstanding defense. Each of the past four BCS national champions -- Alabama in 2009, Florida in '08, LSU in '07 and Florida in '06 -- ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense, and all but LSU also ranked in the top six nationally in scoring defense.
"Without a defense, you're not going to win anything," said former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who led the Seminoles to national championships in 1993 and 1999. "Offense might sell tickets, but defense is what will win you a championship."
So which team is more equipped at slowing down the other one when they play for the national championship?
While neither team boasts a defense as stout as recent BCS national champions, the Ducks appear to be stronger on that side of the football than Auburn, at least on paper.
Oregon ranks No. 25 nationally in total defense (331.5 yards), No. 16 in run defense (117.5 yards), No. 6 in pass-efficiency defense (101.7 rating) and No. 12 in scoring defense (18.4 points).
The Tigers rank No. 55 in total defense (362.1 yards per game), No. 10 in run defense (111.7 yards), No. 75 in pass-efficiency defense (132.2 rating) and No. 54 in scoring defense (24.5 points).
Title teams break with tradition
With all due respect to the game's long-held tradition of defense being the cornerstone of championship success, Auburn and Oregon have decided to chart their own course. Ivan Maisel
Oregon built its defensive résumé while playing four opponents that had offenses ranked in the top 50 nationally; Auburn played six teams with top-50 offenses.
As good as the Ducks have looked playing offense in coach Chip Kelly's spread offense, Tigers coach Gene Chizik said he's just as impressed with Oregon's speed and athleticism on defense.
"They have basically a three-down-lineman scheme, which is tough in terms of trying to run the football," Chizik said. "They do a great job with their blitzes, which gives you problems pass protection-wise. They play a lot of guys, they rotate a lot of guys, they have a ton of speed, they play really hard, and they're very well-coached. It becomes increasingly clear that this is not a good team but a great team. We have our work cut out for us."
Oregon has also excelled in three key defensive areas: forcing turnovers, keeping opponents out of the end zone and applying pressure to quarterbacks:
• Oregon ranks third in the country in turnovers gained with 35. Only Hawaii and Tulsa forced more turnovers this season. The Ducks intercepted 20 passes, with cornerback Cliff Harris and safety John Boyett combining for half of them.
• The Ducks ranked sixth nationally in red zone defense, with their opponents scoring on only 25 of 37 possessions (17 touchdowns and eight field goals) from inside the Oregon 20-yard line. Conversely, Auburn ranked 97th nationally in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score on 35 of 40 trips (25 touchdowns, 10 field goals).
• Oregon ranked No. 18 nationally with 2.5 sacks per game and No. 7 in tackles for loss with 7.5 per game. The Ducks have 11 players with two sacks or more, and outside linebacker/defensive end Kenny Rowe led the team with six.
Oregon doesn't have defensive depth by mistake. The Ducks' defense is on the field for most of the game because the offense scores so quickly. Oregon ranks 103rd out of 120 FBS teams in time of possession, playing offense only 27 minutes, 59 seconds per game.
Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said the Ducks also do a tremendous job of disguising multiple fronts and bringing pressure from all angles.
"They're never going to be in the same place," Malzahn said.
Auburn's defense has struggled at times this season, especially in the secondary. The Tigers are allowing 250.5 passing yards per game.
Chizik said the secondary woes have been caused by myriad breakdowns, not just by defensive backs.
"It's not a secondary problem," Chizik said. "It's a defensive problem because anytime they're moving the ball on you in any way shape or form, running it or throwing it, it's an 11-man defensive problem. Our job is to get the 11-man problem fixed and it's not necessarily just one facet of your offense or defense."
The Tigers have been remarkably good this season at making adjustments at halftime. In 13 games, only two of their opponents had more yards of offense in the second half than the first half.
Going into Auburn's 56-17 rout of South Carolina in the Dec. 4 SEC championship game in Atlanta's Georgia Dome, the Tigers had allowed opponents to convert 50 percent of their third-down conversions in the first half, but only 25 percent in the second half.
"It's usually an Auburn problem that we can get fixed," Chizik said. "It's usually a communication problem or a technique problem. Once we really identify what offensively people are trying to do -- who they're trying to go after, who they're trying to attack, what is their idea for the game -- we can usually get a handle on it, and we can have some answers for it."
When the Ducks and Tigers play for the BCS National Championship, both defenses might be looking for answers and they won't have much time to figure them out.
"I think that this is a very unique team all the way around, offensively and defensively," Chizik said. "Their team speed is outstanding. We have to be on the top of our game, and there can't be any hesitation."
Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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