Ohio State runs over Oregon 42-20 to capture national title – USA TODAY
ARLINGTON, Texas — Analyzing No. 4 Ohio State’s 42-20 victory against No. 3 Oregon in Monday’s College Football Playoff championship game:
THE BIG PICTURE: The College Football Playoff selection committee got this one right. It picked Ohio State for the fourth spot in its inaugural four-team playoff, and while the Buckeyes were arguably the hottest team in the country at that time, they still had a major blemish on their résumé — a Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech at home. But now, imagine this Playoff without Ohio State. Imagine a national champion crowned that wasn’t this team. The Buckeyes backed up the committee’s faith by proving not only were they one of the country’s four best — they were undoubtedly the top team, even with a third-string quarterback.
On the other hand, everything had seemingly fallen into place for Oregon. Its quarterback, Marcus Mariota, was the finest player in program history. After early struggles, the offensive line rounded into form after a loss to Arizona in October — and entered the championship game playing its best football of the season. The defense had found its groove under first-year coordinator Don Pellum, playing an opportunistic and aggressive style that melded well with the team’s frenetic and prolific offensive philosophy. Unmentioned during the days leading into the title game was an indisputable fact: Oregon might never have a better chance to win the national title.
That the Ducks came up short will be difficult for the program to swallow. Oregon is set to lose Mariota, who is expected to forego his final season of eligibility and enter the NFL draft, as well as a number of key senior contributors — from center Hroniss Grasu through defensive backs Troy Hill and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Next year’s team might be ranked among the top teams in the Pac-12 Conference, but it won’t be viewed as a championship contender.
WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT, PART I: Good Cardale, bad Cardale and good Cardale again. By the midpoint of the second quarter, the Ohio State third-string quarterback had already completed passes of 26, 26 (again) and 47 yards. Hype surrounding Jones — who’s 6-5, 250 and has a cannon for an arm — continued to reach mythological proportions as he led the Buckeyes to a 21-7 lead. Could he declare for the NFL draft after just three career starts? Twitter was abuzz with the possibility.
Shortly after halftime, though, Jones’ fairytale seemed to come crashing to an end. First, he threw an interception that bounced off receiver Jalin Marshall and into the open arms of a Duck. On Ohio State’s next possession, he inexplicably fumbled the ball while being chased in the backfield. Oregon scored 10 points off those two turnovers alone, and the Ducks pulled within one point en route.
But Jones still had a bit of magic left. He and running back Ezekiel Elliott orchestrated a 75-yard touchdown drive that pushed the Buckeyes’ lead to eight. Turns out, that’s all Ohio State needed to secure victory.
WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT, PART II: Oregon wide receiver Darren Carrington was ruled ineligible for the championship game after failing an NCAA-sanctioned drug test. That robbed the Ducks of another valued receiving target, joining redshirt freshman Devon Allen, who was injured in the Rose Bowl, and tight end Pharaoh Brown, who suffered a season-ending injury in November. The lack of experience at the position showed during the first quarter.
After scoring on its first drive, Oregon’s second possession ended on a key third-down drop by freshman Charles Nelson. One drive later, after Ohio State had evened the score at 7-7, normally trustworthy sophomore Dwayne Stanford — wide open along the right sideline — dropped a pass that would have resulted in a gain of more than 30 yards. Mariota was accurate, at always. His receivers let him down early, costing Oregon potential scoring opportunities. Even as the Ducks drew within a single point at 21-20 in the third quarter, those first-half missteps loomed large.
BREAKOUT PLAYER: Ohio State’s workhorse, running back Ezekiel Elliott. He had 36 carries for 246 yards and four touchdowns, his third impressive performance of the postseason. He’s rushed for more than 200 yards each of the last three games — against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon, no less — which is the first time a running back has done that in program history.
THE TURNING POINT: Ohio State wobbled Oregon with back-to-back scoring drives to end the first quarter. After another sloppy Oregon possession — atypical for the Ducks’ typically explosive offense — the Buckeyes drove across midfield with the goal of taking a 14-point lead early into the second quarter. But after a near-perfect start, Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones made his first mistake: Jones double-clutched on a handoff to running back Ezekiel Elliott, causing the ball to spill on the turf and into the arms of Oregon defensive tackle Alex Balducci.
But Oregon was unable to convert. After driving deep inside the Ohio State red zone, the Ducks opted for a fourth-down try rather than attempt a short field goal. The biggest gamble of Oregon coach Mark Helfrich’s career backfired: Oregon was stopped inches shy of the end zone, shifting momentum back into the Buckeyes’ factor. Two drives later, Ohio State went 50 yards on six plays to take a 21-7 lead.
Though the Ducks forced two turnovers and pulled within one point in the third quarter, they never tied the game. Those points left on the board will haunt Oregon fans for quite some time.
KEY STAT: Ohio State forced Oregon into three punts in the first quarter. That was the first time the Ducks had punted three or more times in the first 15 minutes since 2009.
KEY STAT, PART II: With the win, Ohio State moved to 91-1 when leading by 14 or more points at any time in a game in the last 10 seasons.
GALLERY: HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME