Ohio State vs. Oregon: Two similar offenses, so this comes down to defense – USA TODAY
PASADENA, Calif. — For Oregon and Ohio State, the road through the College Football Playoff is only halfway done.
After advancing past Florida State and Alabama, respectively, the Ducks and Buckeyes will meet in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 12 to decide the first national championship of the Playoff era. One major test is done; an even bigger test stands ahead.
But with a week to prepare on campus before even flying into Texas, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich hopes his team takes a moment to recharge before turning toward Ohio State.
“Doing what they did tonight, the culmination of the season, they need to enjoy it for a couple of days,” Helfrich said. “These guys can enjoy getting patted on the back for probably too many times here in the next couple days, and then we flip it.”
If the two national semifinals matched teams of differing styles and mindsets — Oregon’s tempo against the Seminoles’ traditional offense, Ohio State’s spread against Nick Saban’s defense — the championship pits two opponents rooted in a similar philosophy.
The Ducks and the Buckeyes are defined in large part on the offensive side of the ball, running quick-paced attacks predicated on wearing down and exposing opposing defenses. Oregon and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer were among the first adopters of this style, which has quickly grown in popularity across the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“We know Oregon,” Meyer said. “I’ll probably be able to call Oregon’s plays because we study them and they study us. There’s a mutual respect.”
There are personnel differences amid the big-picture similarity. Oregon’s offense runs through its quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, while Ohio State’s offense is based on the effectiveness of its running game.
In the win against the Seminoles, Mariota completed 26 of 36 attempts for 338 yards, throwing two touchdowns while tossing just his third interception of the season. If uneven at times — his first half was uncharacteristically unproductive, by his own high standards — Mariota served as the engine behind the Ducks’ prolific scoring attack.
Ohio State’s offense, meanwhile, rolls through sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, who set a Sugar Bowl record with 230 rushing yards in the Buckeyes’ 42-35 win against the Crimson Tide.
It could be said that the national championship will be decided by two factors: one, which offense is able to control the pace, and two, which offense makes the most of each possession.
In short, the national title will be decided by the two defenses.
Maligned for much of the regular season — particularly after losing to Arizona and struggling in a win against California — the Ducks’ defense delivered in the third quarter against Florida State, forcing four turnovers in a 15-minute span to deliver the final blow to the Seminoles’ winning streak. Combined with the play of its offense, Oregon’s victory might have marked the team’s most complete game of the season.
“We felt like we wanted to come out and show who our identity was and play a complete game like we did,” wide receiver Keanon Lowe said. “We stayed confident. We stayed true to ourselves and played to our identity.”
While the numbers aren’t gaudy — the Buckeyes allowed 35 points and 407 yards of offense to the Crimson Tide — Thursday night’s win in the Sugar Bowl illustrated the growth of a defense defined by youth at linebacker and in the secondary. The defense stood tall in the first half, keeping the Buckeyes in the game despite three turnovers, and held Alabama to just 2-for-13 on third-down conversions.
Given the stakes involved, it’s fitting that each team is playing its best football of the season — or the most complete football — just in time to decide the national championship. Oregon is firing on all cylinders. Even if Meyer has suggested his program is one season away from reaching its full potential, the Buckeyes have found an impressive formula of equal parts offense and defense.
“All the hard work, all the stuff that we put into it during the off‑season and for it to kind of pay off and allow us to be a part of this game, it’s a great feeling,” Mariota said. “We’re very fortunate to be a part of it, and we’re excited to get going and get prepared for it.”