Scottsdale, Ariz.--While much of the focus for Oregon's defense in preparation for the BCS National Championship Game has been on stopping Cameron Newton, the offensive side of the ball has its focus squarely on Auburn's #90 Nick Fairley. A dominant performer for the Tigers this season, the big junior has definitely got the attention of the Ducks heading into Monday night's game.
"I was trying to describe him the other day," Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. "I was in the Pac-10 and coaching at Arizona State, we had Terrell Suggs playing against Oregon's Haloti Ngata. And he is kind of combination of those two guys because he's a big, he's fast, he's physical. He's technically very sound, and he plays in a great system. So, you know, he's another guy that – and we've had the misfortune of coming up against a guy like Stephen Paea or Guy Price at UCLA that command a lot of attention.
"It is just the misstep by one other guy trying to do somebody else's job that the talent around him then comes into play. They have got a great system. It is not just Nick Fairley. Their front is outstanding, all four – and they play a lot of guys, kind of like our defense that rotate in and out. He certainly makes the freak-show plays that are on highlight films."
One of the guys that will have the job of slowing down Fairley, Zach Clayton, Mike Blanc and the rest of Auburn's defensive line is Oregon senior center Jordan Holmes. A 6-5, 300-pounder with 29 career starts, including 25 consecutive, Holmes said watching Fairley on film it's easy to see why he's been so successful in 2010.
"I'm sure we'll double team him at times," Holmes said. "With our scheme we'll do a lot of things with him. It just kind of depends on the play and how we handle him the first couple of series. We'll see what happens.
"We just have to do our job," he added. "He's definitely a very talented individual. We're not going to win every rep against him and he probably won't win every rep against us. You can't get discouraged because he's a playmaker and that's what they do. We just have to stay focused and keep chipping away and hopefully everything will work out."
Despite what people might think about Auburn's defense just by looking at the numbers, Helfrich is a firm believer in what the Tigers are capable of on defense after watching film from every game this season. He said all it takes is to watch what the Tigers do and you immediately see what Ted Roof and Auburn's defense can do.
"Watch five plays of film and you will immediately have respect for their scheme, for their players," . They're big. They're fast. They're strong. They tackle well. They do a great job more so than anybody we have seen all year balancing what they do, meaning pressure, meaning coverage, field blitz, boundary blitz, strong, weak, all that stuff that you like to get a percentage on a guy. And that's not possible with these guys."
Despite the talented Fairley playing at a high level and Auburn's defense shutting down opponents in the second half, the Tigers have had their share of problems this season on defense. Allowing several opponents to run up and down the field early before making adjustments in the second half, Auburn can't let that happen against Oregon or it could be lights out in the desert. Helfrich said despite some of the problems they've had he expects nothing but the best from the Tigers this time around.
"They are playing up to the level of their opponent and just maybe at times taking some coast-it-type moments. But nobody can run the ball against them. Everybody is trying to trick them or throw the ball in different ways or do those things. But when you can dominate run defense like that – it is just like on offense, if you can run the ball, you can do anything.
"On defense, if you can stop the run, you can kind of do anything. Sometimes the numbers are misleading. I mean, they are an outstanding team. They have great scheme. They are very balanced in what they do, and they have got great players. That's what we're dealing with."