The big question going into the season for Oregon's offense was whether sophomore QB Darron Thomas, a first-year starter, could be effective as a passer. The answer has been an emphatic "yes."
Now, Thomas is not the prototypical NFL gunslinger; rather, Oregon's passing attack is predicated off Oregon running the ball effectively. But the Ducks have run effectively, and Thomas has been productive beyond most expectations as a passer.
He has thrown for 2,518 yards and completed 60.5 percent of his passes. He has 28 TD passes and seven picks. He has thrown at least one TD in every game and has thrown at least three in five games. He threw for a season-high 308 yards against UCLA, the only time this season he has reached the 300-yard plateau. He has thrown just two interceptions in the past seven games, and has countered with 15 TD passes in the same span. But his yardage total dropped off in the final three regular-season games; he threw for between 145 and 155 yards in each of those outings. But he also had six TDs and just one pick in that trio of games.
WR Jeff Maehl is, by far, the Ducks' most productive receiver. He is overshadowed in this offense, but is one of the most productive receivers in the nation. Maehl runs crisp routes and has good hands and OK speed. He has 68 receptions for 943 yards and 12 TDs. He had at least one TD catch in nine games, with a season-high of three against USC. He has three 100-yard games this season and had at least five catches in nine games.
Senior WR D.J. Davis never quite lived up to his high school hype, but he is the Ducks' second-leading receiver this season, with 36 receptions for 410 yards and three TDs. His best game came against Stanford, when he had six catches for 64 yards and score. WR Lavasier Tuinei is another possession receiver, with 33 receptions for 321 yards and two TDs.
TE David Paulson is a downfield threat. He has only 21 catches, but they've gone for 370 yards -- 17.6 yards per catch -- and four TDs.
OREGON PASS OFFENSE
Passing yards per game: 233.7 (48th nationally)
Passing TDs: 29 (tied for 15th nationally)
Interceptions: 7 (tied for 12th nationally)
Completion percentage: 62.2 (39th nationally)
Average yards per completion: 12.8 (32nd nationally)
Average yards per attempt: 7.9 (tied for 28th nationally)
Passing efficiency: 151.7 (15th nationally)
Sacks allowed: 8 (tied for 3rd nationally)
Total passes: 354 (tied for 81st nationally)
Passes per game*: 29.5 (tied for 64th nationally)
Passes of more than 20 yards*: 38 (tied for 54th nationally)
Passes of more than 50 yards*: 5 (tied for 25th nationally)
300-yard games: 3
200-yard games: 8
Games of fewer than 100 yards: 0
AUBURN PASS DEFENSE
Passing yards per game: 250.5 (105th nationally)
Passing TDs: 23 (tied for 83rd nationally)
Interceptions: 10 (tied for 77th nationally)
Completion percentage: 62.7 (tied for 97th nationally)
Average yards per completion: 10.9 (96th nationally)
Average yards per attempt: 6.9 (tied for 52nd nationally)
Passing efficiency: 132.2 (74th nationally)
Sacks: 33 (tied for 17th nationally)
Total passes: 474 (110th nationally)
Passes per game*: 36.5 (110th nationally)
Passes of more than 20 yards*: 39 (tied for 37th nationally)
Passes of more than 50 yards*: 5 (tied for 23rd nationally)
300-yard games: 4
200-yard games: 9
Games of fewer than 100 yards: 0
NOTES: Stats from NCAA's statistics website; the asterisked ones are from cfbstats.com.
The Ducks have allowed just eight sacks, the third-fewest in the nation. Thomas' mobility obviously has helped keep the sack total low. RBs LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner are OK receivers, and using them more than usual in the passing game might be a way to slow Auburn's strong pass rush a bit.
Auburn has 33 sacks, with DT Nick Fairley leading the way with 10.5; he also has 21 quarterback hurries. Fairley is one of six Tigers with at least two sacks. E Antoine Carter has 4.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hurries.
Auburn's pass-defense stats aren't good. The Tigers surrender 250.5 passing yards per game, and only 13 teams nationally have allowed more. In addition, Auburn has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 62.7 percent of their passes -- one of the 25 worst figures in the nation -- and have allowed 39 passes of at least 20 yards, among the worst 40 defensive performances in the country. The Tigers have given up 23 TD passes and have just 10 picks
On the other hand, the typical completion by an Auburn foe averages just 10.9 yards, which is one of the 25 best totals nationally.
LB Josh Bynes leads the Tigers with three picks, and defensive backs have just five of the team's 10 picks. CB Neiko Thorpe leads with nine pass breakups, but he doesn't have any interceptions. Bynes is tied for second with four breakups.
Secondary depth is a big issue. Outside of No. 3 cornerback T'Sharvan Bell, the reserves aren't experienced and can be exploited.
The edge: Oregon. The Ducks are a run-first team, but Thomas has proved to be a solid passer and he'll be throwing against a less-than-stellar secondary. To be fair, Auburn has seen a lot of passes because opponents frequently are throwing it around in a futile attempt to catch up. At the same time, opposing quarterbacks have completed a lot of those passes and have hit some big plays. The one saving grace for the Tigers, though, is that -- on average -- they really don't give up that many big plays. That 10.9-yards-per-completion average is solid. If the Tigers are able to stymie the run and force Thomas to the air, they'll like their chances. But if Oregon is balanced offensively, Maehl could have a monster game because the safeties will be so worried about the run. And Paulson, while not a "go-to guy," can hurt opposing defenses by getting deep.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.