No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 4 Ohio State

Time: 5:30 p.m. PT Monday

Where: AT&T Stadium, Dallas, Texas

Records: Oregon (13-1); Ohio State (13-1)

Coaches: Mark Helfrich, second year at Oregon (24-3 overall); Urban Meyer, third year at Ohio State (37-3 at OSU, 141-26 overall)

Latest line: Oregon by 6

On air: TV on ESPN; radio on ESPN radio, KUGN-AM (590) in Eugene and Sirius 83, XM 83

What’s at stake: Oregon’s first national championship, and Ohio State’s eighth.

UO offense vs. OSU defense: Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota will make what is expected to be his final hurrah in an Oregon uniform without two of his recent favorites at receiver in Devon Allen, who’s out with a leg injury suffered Jan. 1, and Darren Carrington, who is ineligible following a reported failed drug test for marijuana. But even without those two, the Ducks will have the best player on the field at any time on their side in Mariota whose 56 touchdowns are a Pac-12 single-season record. At running back, Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner each are healthy, and the offensive line is as healthy as it’s been since fall camp with center Hroniss Grasu back for a second consecutive game. Mariota has thrown a touchdown in every game he’s played, a streak of 40 straight. The Buckeyes will counter Oregon’s firepower (it’s 24-0 under Helfrich when scoring 30 or more points) with a strong defensive line led by Joey Bosa, Ohio State’s 27th unanimous All-American and first since 2007. The sophomore has a team-leading 20 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. Behind him are linebackers Darron Lee — a freshman and former high school safety and quarterback — and Curtis Grant. Watch for the two veteran strongholds in the secondary in safety Tyvis Powell (19 career starts) and corner Doran Grant (29 career starts).

 

UO defense vs. OSU offense: If Oregon has issues at receiver, Ohio State has the same at quarterback. They’re down to their third-string quarterback in Cardale Jones, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound, 22-year-old sophomore with a cannon for an arm that is affectionately known around Columbus as his “12 gauge” (he wears No. 12, after all). He’ll be chucking to receivers Evan Spencer and Devin Smith in particular, though Michael Thomas — Keyshawn Johnson’s nephew — is a 6-foot-3 target who caught a highlight-reel touchdown in the Sugar Bowl. Oregon’s corners and safeties must stay behind Smith, whose 30 career touchdown catches have gone for an average of 37.9 yards. Ohio State is 22-0 when Smith scores. Ezekiel Elliott, the Ohio State running back, averages 116 yards per game but isn’t necessarily a home-run threat.

Did you know: The Ducks have never scored more than 17 points in any of their eight previous matchups with Ohio State. The Buckeyes are 8-0 in the series. 
Individual matchup to watch: Bosa against whichever Oregon tackle draws him. Bosa, the son of John Bosa, a former first-round pick of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, is said to be a first-round pick himself in this year’s draft — if he was eligible. He’ll have to wait another year, but Oregon probably wishes he was already gone because of his strength. He’s returned a fumble for a touchdown against Wisconsin, and forced a fumble against Navy that a linebacker returned 61 yards for a touchdown. He wreaks havoc regularly. Oregon has faced the top three sacks artists in FBS and Bosa is No. 4. 

Key stat: Oregon’s average margin of victory against top-25 teams this season is 26.5 points.

They said it: “I think this will be without question the fastest team we’ve faced. I think this is the fastest team in America. More importantly they play very fast. They look pretty fast, but that’s a sign of preparation. They know what they’re doing, and I think that’s going to be a big part of this game.” — Urban Meyer. 

Prediction: Oregon 38, Ohio State 35

— Andrew Greif
[email protected]
@andrewgreif

Correction: An earlier version of the story mistakenly attributed Meyer’s quote to Oregon’s Tony Washington

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