SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – If Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews should need to seek any outside advice – or even any words of encouragement – before the national championship, he’s got a couple of solid options.
Matthews has quite a pedigree when it comes to football.
His father, Clay, won a national championship with Southern California in 1974 and spent 19 years in the NFL. His uncle, Bruce, was a Hall of Fame offensive lineman in the NFL.
Casey’s brother, Clay Jr., won a title as a redshirt freshman with the Trojans in 2004 and is now a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. Another brother, Kyle, was a safety on USC’s 2003 national championship team.
Even his grandfather, another Clay, played for the San Francisco 49ers in the 1950s.
“It’s almost like a goal to be on the same level as them, to get where they’re at,” Casey Matthews said this week as he prepared with the Ducks for the BCS title game. Second-ranked Oregon plays top-ranked Auburn on tonight at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“Watching them go through what they’ve gone through, you learn something,” Matthews added about his family tree. “People say you’ve got a lot of pressure, but I don’t see it as pressure. I see it as opportunity.”
Matthews will face a different kind of pressure when he and the rest of Oregon’s defense are faced with the task of stopping Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.
Oregon’s defense has been solid this season but has generally been overlooked because of the Ducks’ high-scoring breakneck offense.
The Ducks have allowed opponents an average of 18.42 points per game, 14th in the nation. They’ve allowed 117.58 rushing yards, and 331.58 total yards (good enough for 25th in the country).
But they’ve never faced anyone quite like the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Newton. Auburn averages 497 yards per game, with Newton leading the way on the ground and through the air: He was the Southeastern Conference’s leading rusher with 1,409 yards and 20 touchdowns and he threw for 28 TDs and 2,589 yards.
“We know he is a very tough runner, and he is not like most quarterbacks,” Matthews said. “He will lower his shoulder and try to get those extra yards. We got to wrap him up as a team, can’t let him slip and get those extra yards.”
Oregon’s defense certainly has the attention of Newton, who pointed to its athleticism.
“I tip my hat off to them because I think it is very hard for any defense to play when your offense is scoring in less than two minutes half the time,” he said.
Matthews, at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, looks similar to his big brother Clay, with long blond locks. Interestingly, he has already played on the same field with Newton: both were in an all-star game in their prep days.
“Obviously, it is going to be tough to shut him down completely. I mean, not too many teams have,” Matthews said. “He is the Heisman winner, just getting a shot to slow him down. They are a great team without him, but he’s definitely what makes their offense run. So we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Matthews, who is from Agoura Hills, Calif., was widely considered one of the better young linebackers in California when he played at Oaks Christian High School. But Southern California surprisingly did not offer a scholarship to the legacy.
“If you look at it now, I definitely chose the right school. Back then if SC would have offered me, I would have gone. That’s just how it was in my family,” he said. “I can’t complain how things have turned out. They are going through their issues right now. We’re playing for the BCS title. So, I mean, I can’t ask for a better ending to this.
A first-team all-Pac-10 selection, this season Matthews has 73 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions and three fumble recoveries. He’s projected to go in the middle rounds of the NFL draft.
A stage like the national championship could bring him more attention. But Matthews is more concerned with getting props for the Ducks defense as a whole.
“If you watch our team, it is hard not to be a fan of our offense. But, I mean, we go out each and every game just proving that we do have a defense as well,” he said. “And hopefully, I mean, when people watch us, we are a fast, hard-hitting group. So that’s the message we try to send to people.”