Though it’s now the final days of the season in January, and not the early anticipation of August, The Oregonian/OregonLive are doing two-a-days in the run-up to the College Football Playoff national championship between No. 2 Oregon and No. 4 Ohio State. Each day leading up to the Jan. 12 kickoff at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, we will preview two position matchups each day.

Today: Ohio State’s offensive line vs. Oregon’s defensive line

The matchup of Oregon’s defensive line against Ohio State’s offensive line pits two units that have seen drastic improvement since September.

At the start of the year, Oregon’s defensive front of DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Alex Balducci was a group of potential and limited results. The Ducks struggled, early on, to pressure the quarterback and were susceptible to the running game. But over the course of the season, the trio improved. They might not have had a better game than the Pac-12 Championship win over Arizona. In Santa Clara, they kept constant pressure on Arizona’s quarterbacks, and limited the Wildcats to just 3.2 yards per carry – a nice downtick from the 4.2 per carry averaged on the season.

They followed it up with a superb Rose Bowl performance, keeping constant pressure on Jameis Winston and keeping the FSU running game at bay. What started as a group with potential has turned into a consistent trio over the latter half of the season.

The Ducks will be matched up against an Ohio State front five that was tasked with replacing four seniors from last season’s roster — and it didn’t start well. In fact, you could argue that one of the primary reasons for Ohio State not being ranked No. 1 in the country was the play of the line at the start of the year. In the Buckeyes’ lone loss of the season, the line was dominated by Virginia Tech’s front, allowing seven sacks while accumulating only 108 rushing yards. But since that game, led by left tackle Taylor Decker, the Ohio State line has solidified and thrived. Decker was the only returning starter from last year’s roster, and since that loss to Virginia Tech, he and the four new faces have helped produce one the nation’s most prolific runners in Ezekiel Elliott (1,632 yards and 14 touchdowns) and helped in the success of the Ohio State passing game despite numerous injuries to quarterbacks.

Ohio State wins with its dominating running game and the Oregon defense has been susceptible to big gains. The one thing the Ducks don’t allow, though, is a ton of points. Bend but don’t break is their specialty. The Buckeyes’ line should be able to create room for Elliot to run, meaning one of the big keys to the game will be how much pressure Armstead and Buckner can get through the line to place on third-string quarterback Cardale Jones.

Next up: Oregon’s running backs vs. Ohio State’s linebackers. 

— Tyson Alger

[email protected]

503-221-8100; @tysonalger

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