Photo courtesy of Auburn athletics
Quarterback Cam Newton spent just one season at Auburn, but what a season it was.
Newton won the Heisman Trophy, led the Tigers to an SEC championship and a perfect season. On this day 10 years ago, Newton led the game-winning drive to lift Auburn past Oregon in the BCS National Championship, 22-19.
Setting the Stage
Auburn and Oregon were each undefeated when they arrived in Glendale on Jan. 10, 2011. The Tigers were 13-0 and despite some close games along the way, were the favorite.
At 12-0, Oregon had played just one game decided by fewer than 11 points. The Ducks had led the nation in total and scoring offense while Auburn ranked in the top 10 in both categories.
To the surprise of many however, it was the defenses that shined brightest. It however, was a brilliant offensive play that would decide the game.
Dyer, Byrum Deliver Tigers
Throughout the night, Auburn had held Oregon’s high-scoring offense in check. The Tigers’ defense however, would be put in a tough spot on their final possession.
With Auburn leading 19-11 with less than five minutes to play, Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews laid a big hit on Newton at the Tigers’ 40-yard-line. Newton coughed up the ball and Oregon’s Cliff Harris recovered.
A personal foul would push Oregon back to its own 45-yard-line, but for freshman quarterback Darron Thomas and the Ducks, that would be no problem. Facing 4th-and-5 from the Auburn 40, Thomas came through with a 29-yard completion to D.J. Davis.
Three plays later, Thomas found LaMichael James for the 2-yard touchdown. With 2:33 to go, Oregon needed a 2-point conversion to draw even. Thomas converted that as well, finding wide receiver Jeff Maehl in the end zone.
The contest was knotted 19-19, but too much time was left for Newton and the Tigers. With the ball at his own 25-yard-line, Newton started the ensuing drive with a 15-yard completion to Emory Blake. One play later, running back Michael Dyer made the biggest play of the night.
Dyer started the next set of downs with what appeared to be a productive run. The freshman running back appeared to be brought down after a nice gain, but landed seated on top of a defender. Dyer sprang to his feet and rumbled 37 yards to the Oregon 23-yard-line.
Three plays later, Dyer had gone for 16 more yards to the covert a third down to the Oregon 1. Newton was stuffed on a quarterback sneak, but with time for just one more snap, kicker Wes Byrum came onto the field to try a chip shot field goal.
Byrum split the sticks. With the clock showing triple zeroes, Auburn had emerged victorious, 22-19.
27 of the game’s 41 points came in the second quarter. After a field goal by Oregon kicker Rob Beard less than a minute into the second quarter, Newton got the Tigers on the board with a 35-yard touchdown strike to converted quarterback Kodi Burns.
Down 7-3 with 12 minutes left in the quarter, it took Oregon just 62 seconds to answer. Thomas’ 8-yard touchdown pass to James capped a 93-yard drive. Head coach Chip Kelly and the Ducks then fooled Auburn as Beard, the kicker, ran in the 2-point conversion.
With less than three and a half minutes to play in the half, Auburn cut Oregon’s 4-point lead in half when Mike Blanc tackled James in the end zone for a safety. The Tigers proceeded to 66 yards for the lead, capped with Newton’s 30-yard touchdown pass to Blake. At the break, Auburn led 16-11.
The third quarter featured just a 28-yard field goal from Byrum. With less than three minutes to go in the quarter, Auburn came up big defensively by stuffing Kenjon Barner on 4th-and-goal from the 1. The next four possessions resulted in punts.
Although the Ducks were unable to capture that elusive first national championship, they finished with just their second top-5 national ranking ever at No. 3. Oregon would return to the title game four years later, but again fell — this time to Ohio State. The Ducks are still looking for that first title.
For Auburn, the victory resulted in its first national championship in 53 years. The Tigers returned to the BCS National Championship three years later, but let an 18-point lead slip away in a loss to Florida State.
Throughout the course of the 2010 season, seven of Auburn’s 14 games were decided by one score. The Tigers won them all, including the title-clinching thriller that took place on this day one decade ago.