The No. 2 Oregon Ducks are looking to put an end to their national championship drought when the take on the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes’ in Dallas, Texas on today at 5:30 pm. Prior to the season, the Ducks were a trendy pick to reach the national championship game; while Ohio State was hardly given a chance by the majority of fans and pundits in college football. Both teams controlled the pace of play against their respective opponents in the semi-final games that they played, and now they get to face each other in the national championship.
Oregon took on the No. 3 Florida State Seminoles in the Rose Bowl semi-final in Pasadena, Calif. and the game wasn’t even close. As the Seminoles struggled to hold onto the football throughout the game, and the Ducks made them pay — FSU turned the ball over five times in the second half. The Seminoles kept the game close in the first half, but then the turnovers came in the third quarter. The Ducks scored 27 points in the third quarter, putting the game out of reach.
After Oregon’s throttling of Florida State, No. 1 Alabama played No. 4 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl semi-final. Alabama entered the game as heavy favorites against the Buckeyes, and initially looked like they were going to walk away with an easy win. The Crimson tide built an early 21-6 lead because of OSU’s offensive miscues because third string quarterback Cardale Jones made several ill-advised throws and bad decisions. But the Buckeyes came back, and scored 14 unanswered points to close out the first half.
After that, it was all Ohio State as the Buckeyes offense was unstoppable in the second half; while the Buckeye defense stopped Alabama’s offense. It was an impressive performance that showed everyone that Urban Meyer has built OSU back into a national power house.
It’s been an exciting bowl season, that is probably going to be capped off by a national title game between two of the more explosive offenses in college football. Let’s take a look at three things every college football fan should be watching for in this game.
3) Ohio State’s front seven vs. Oregon’s offensive line
Oregon’s offensive line struggled, at times, to keep the pocket clean for starting quarterback Marcus Mariota — he was sacked seven times by Washington State — and it has forced him to spend more time running than passing. If the Ducks are going to beat Ohio State, Mariota is going to need a clean pocket for the majority of the game. Ohio State has been vulnerable against the pass this season — the Buckeyes are allowing 10.94 yards per completion, and are ranked as the 76th best pass defense by the NCAA — and it would be good for the Ducks if Mariota has time to make his reads and throw the football.
If the Buckeye’s are able to consistently get pressure on Mariota, and prevent him from making his reads, then they could (potentially) get Oregon’s offense out of rhythm. Ohio State was very good at limiting its opponent rushing attacks throughout the season — the Buckeyes only allowed 3.94 yards per carry, and are the 34th ranked rushing defense. It would be beneficial for the Buckeyes to dominate the line of scrimmage and flush Oregon’s start quarterback out of the pocket.
2) Jones v. Mariota
This game will feature a Heisman Trophy winner, and a guy who is starting the third game of his career…but is 2-0 in his previous two starts — the Big 10 Championship Game and the Sugar Bowl.
Jones has already put together a legendary career at Ohio State, after all he has helped guide the team to a berth in the National Championship game, and it would become even more impressive if the Buckeyes win it all. He’s demonstrated that he can work through is progressions quickly, and figure out if he neds to run or not. That’s a huge advantage for any football team, especially one that is competing for a national title.
As for Mariota, he overcame a sloppy first half — he tossed his third interception of the year — to help lead the Ducks to a blowout victory over Florida State. Mariota’s efficiency on the offensive end was a big reason that Oregon was able to bury the Seminoles with their mistakes. At this point in the season, and his career, we know what Mariota is; Mariota is a quarterback who makes quick decisions, has dangerous speed if he gets loose near the sidelines, and he doesn’t turn the ball over…ever.
1) Jones v. Oregon’s secondary
While the Ducks secondary did well against the Seminoles, it faced a quarterback (Jamesis Winston) that had struggled with his decision-making throughout the season and in the Rose Bowl. Jones has only played in three games, but he has shown an ability to learn (in-game) from his mistakes and that makes him incredibly dangerous. For example, in the Sugar Bowl, Jones threw the ball into a tight window, in the first quarter, and it was picked off. After that, he stopped throwing the ball into tight windows and would take off running if no one was open down field — Jones carried the ball 17 times for 45 yards during the game.
Oregon’s secondary is extremely fast and is known for closing passing lanes, and windows, very quickly. It will be interesting to see if Jones tries to force the ball into windows against Oregon, or if the interception he threw against the Crimson Tide has made him less likely to do so again. Because if he does throw into tight windows today, then there is a good chance that the Ducks secondary will be generating a lot of turnovers.