ARLINGTON, Texas — For the first time in this glorious Oregon football season, the Ducks on Monday night didn’t have the best player on the field.

Marcus Mariota, the Heisman Trophy winner and ridiculous record setter, was valiant in the national championship game, but he was not the story.

The story was Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, bouncing off and through the Oregon defense. It was Buckeyes quarterback Cardale Jones giving Ducks defenders piggy back rides en route to first downs. It was the clear-cut, physical advantage Ohio State imposed on the Ducks.

“Those are some pretty good hammers,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said.

It was so evident that near the end of Ohio State’s 42-20 victory, with the Buckeyes facing a fourth-and-one near midfield, the entire offensive line urged Ohio State coach Urban Meyer with their arms — mimicking first down motions — begging him to go for it.

Meyer didn’t, but there isn’t much doubt what the result would have been. In fact, there was such a decided lack of respect for the Ducks defense — topped with a lack of class by Meyer — that the Buckeyes eschewed taking a knee with the game in hand, and tacked on an Elliott touchdown with 28 seconds left.

Of course, Oregon could have stopped them, and made that moot, but I would bet my plane trip home that Helfrich would have taken a knee in the same situation.

But the final touchdown had little to do with the game, offering insight only into Ohio State’s thinking. They thought they were bigger. Stronger. And tougher.

And they were right.

But before anybody tries to dig up the “Oregon is soft” theory the Ducks did so well to bury this season, consider this: What Elliott, a 225-pound sophomore, and the Buckeyes did here Monday, they’ve been doing against everybody lately.

In the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin, Elliott rushed for 220 yards. In the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, Elliott rushed for 230 yards. Against the Ducks, he rushed 36 times for 246 yards and four touchdowns. 

Elliott’s 246 yards is a championship game record, breaking Texas quarterback Vince Young’s mark in the 2006 BCS Championship, and an Ohio State bowl/postseason record.

“A monster,” Meyer said of Elliott. “A monster.”

This wasn’t an Oregon problem, it was an Ohio State solution to the national title.

The better team won. Brawn beat speed.

“They just played their game,” Ducks receiver Byron Marshall said. “We tried to play ours, but it didn’t really work out. They just really balled out and deserved to win this one.”

It didn’t help that Oregon spent much of the early game stopping itself. Charles Nelson dropped a third-down pass. Dwayne Stanford dropped what would have been at least a 30-yard completion to end a drive.

Not even the magic of Mariota could make a difference. He went 24-for-37 for 333 yards and two touchdowns. But he was contained on the read option, held to 39 yards on 10 carries, and on perhaps the final play of his career, his desperation heave was intercepted.

But by halftime, it was clear this game was going to be about the Oregon defense, and whether it could stop Elliott and Jones and the behemoths blocking for them.

Then, on the first play of the second half, with Ohio State leading 21-10, Elliott ripped off a 22-yard run.

It says something that on a night Oregon amassed four takeaways on fumbles,  they still allowed 538 yards.

When the Ducks pulled to within 21-20 with 6:39 left in the third quarter, they readied for a third-and-one at their 37. Elliott was met by probably the Ducks’ strongest defender, DeForest Buckner. He took him for a two-yard ride and a first down.

Later in the series, it was third-and-three. Jones ran up the middle and was met by noseguard Alex Balducci. Jones kept his momentum going forward, and Balducci was joined by Sam Kamp. Neither could bring down the 250-pound quarterback.

Four plays later, Elliott scored, and the game, and the title, was lost.

 — Jason Quick
[email protected]
@jwquick

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