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USC Coach Lane Kiffin says defense, not offense, will decide the BCS title game

Kiffin, who has faced both Auburn and Oregon in the last two seasons, is impressed with the coaching and execution in two of the nation's highest-scoring offenses. But he says the winner probably will be the team that gets key stops or forces a crucial turnover.

January 08, 2011|By Gary Klein
  • Oregon Coach Chip Kelly is congratulated by USC Coach Lane Kiffin after the Ducks defeated the Trojans, 53-32, this season.
Oregon Coach Chip Kelly is congratulated by USC Coach Lane Kiffin after… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)

Lane Kiffin schemed against Auburn in 2009.

In 2010, he tried to solve Oregon.

That gives USC's coach a unique perspective on Monday night's Bowl Championship Series title game, which features two of the top scoring teams in college football.

"It's two cutting-edge offenses with two guys doing things as well as anyone in the country over the last two years," Kiffin said of Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and Oregon Coach Chip Kelly. "[They've] done an unbelievable job of being able to program guys into their systems."

Kiffin points to the quarterbacks.

Cam Newton is finishing what might be his only season as Auburn's starter.

Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas also is completing his first season at the helm.

"Two first-year starting quarterbacks in the national championship game," Kiffin said. "When was the last time that happened?"

Matt Flynn led Louisiana State to victory over fellow first-year starter Todd Boeckman of Ohio State in the 2008 BCS title game, but that's the only other game in the 13-year history of the BCS that featured two first-year starters. (In the 1999 title game, first-year starter Tee Martin led Tennessee to victory over a Florida State team that had quarterback Marcus Outzen starting in place of injured Chris Weinke).

Newton succeeded Chris Todd, who helped lead Auburn to a 26-22 victory over Kiffin's Tennessee team at Knoxville last season. The 6-foot-6 Newton, a junior college transfer who started his career at Florida, stepped into the Tigers' no-huddle system and won the Heisman Trophy, passing and running for 48 touchdowns while leading a team that averages 42.7 points a game.

"They were really good last year because of Gus and the system — all the motion, sweeps, throwbacks, receivers carrying the ball," Kiffin said. "And now you come in with this gigantic tailback carrying the ball and throwing it.

"There's no way to practice and simulate Cam Newton."

Thomas, who played in five games as a freshman before redshirting in 2009, won the starting job after Jeremiah Masoli was dismissed from the team for a series of off-the-field incidents.

Oregon averages a nation-leading 49.3 points a game and Thomas has passed for 28 touchdowns, with only seven interceptions. In October, he led the Ducks to a 53-32 victory over USC at the Coliseum.

"Auburn is very fast-paced; Oregon is just a whole 'nother speed between snaps," Kiffin said.

For all the talk of offense, Kiffin expects defense to decide the outcome Monday night.

"Auburn's front seven is really physical," Kiffin said. "Oregon's built a little bit different. They're not as big defensively but they are really fast and in such phenomenal shape, they're able to play their fourth-quarter defense.

"It's going to be a great matchup of great athletes and great speed."

Kiffin said he could not pick a winner.

"I don't know who's going to win the game," he said. "The key is not going to be who moves the ball; it's who's going to be able to make them slow down and force them to make the mistake.

"Who's going to play defense and not give up big plays?"

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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