Ohio State advanced to the College Football Playoff National Championship after a 42-35 upset victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The Buckeyes have played Oregon eight previous times, but the meeting on Monday, Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas is easily the matchup with the most implications between these two programs.
Urban Meyer’s team had to overcome two significant injuries at quarterback this season, yet the offense hasn’t suffered much of a drop with third-stringer Cardale Jones in games against Wisconsin and Alabama. In addition to the steady play from Jones, Ohio State’s offensive line has showed marked improvement since losing to Virginia Tech, and the defense has allowed only 35 plays of 20 yards or more – the fewest in the nation.
The Buckeyes enter the national championship with a 12-game winning streak and are looking to win their first time since 2003. Ohio State’s last appearance in the title game came in 2007 with a 38-24 loss to LSU.
Five Reasons Why Ohio State Will Win the National Title
1. Ezekiel Elliott
The Big Ten was home to two running backs (Melvin Gordon and Tevin Coleman) that eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark, so Elliott’s production was largely under-the-radar throughout the course of the season. However, after back-to-back 200-yard efforts, Elliott is quickly emerging as one of the nation’s top running backs. The sophomore enters the national championship with 1,632 yards and 14 scores. In games against Wisconsin and Alabama – two solid run defenses – Elliott rushed for 450 yards and four scores on 40 attempts. The sophomore eclipsed at least 100 yards in his last four games and faces an Oregon defense that allowed 6.9 yards per carry on 15 attempts to Florida State running back Dalvin Cook in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks allowed 156.1 rushing yards per game this season and were vulnerable at the point of attack against the Seminoles. Elliott should plan on a heavy workload in the national championship, especially as Ohio State needs to control the clock and keep Marcus Mariota on the sidelines.
2. Cardale Jones
Jones opened fall practice as Ohio State’s No. 3 quarterback, but the sophomore has been the least of coach Urban Meyer’s problems over the last two weeks. Against Wisconsin, Jones completed 12 of 17 passes for 257 yards and three scores. And in the Sugar Bowl versus Alabama, Jones completed 18 of 35 passes for 243 yards and one touchdown. The sophomore isn’t as mobile or elusive as former starter J.T. Barrett, but he has 52 rushing yards on 25 attempts over the last two games. At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Jones is a load for opposing defenders to bring down, and he’s been plenty capable of making plays through the air. If Jones continues to play mistake-free ball and delivers on third downs, Ohio State’s offense will continue to perform at a high level.
3. Defensive Line
Ohio State’s defensive line was pegged as one of the best in college football this season and is anchored by two All-Americans in end Joey Bosa and tackle Michael Bennett. Bosa was quiet in the win over Alabama (just three tackles), but the rest of the line stepped up and limited T.J. Yeldon to 47 yards on 10 carries, while Derrick Henry rushed for 95 yards on 13 attempts. End Steve Miller returned an interception 41 yards for a score, while Bennett recorded a sack and four stops. Stopping Oregon’s attack starts at the line of scrimmage. The Buckeyes have the defensive line to disrupt quarterback Marcus Mariota’s timing, and the development of the linebackers have only added to the ability of the front seven to control the flow of the game. Ohio State generated 43 sacks this season and tied for seventh nationally in 105 tackles for a loss. If this unit continues to be disruptive at the point of attack, the Buckeyes should be able to limit the damage from Mariota and the array of talented Oregon skill players.
4. Coaching Experience
In a one-game scenario, there are few coaches better than Ohio State’s Urban Meyer. Although Oregon’s Mark Helfrich is 24-3 in his first two years in Eugene, the edge in coaching has to lean to the Ohio State sideline. Meyer is 37-3 in his first three years at Ohio State and navigated injuries to his top two quarterbacks to reach the national championship this season. Prior to taking the top job in Columbus, Meyer went 65-15 at Florida, 22-2 at Utah and 17-6 at Bowling Green. And in 13 years as a college coach, Meyer has reached the national championship game three times. The Ohio State staff is among the best in college football, which features Broyles Award winner in offensive coordinator Tom Herman and veteran offensive line coach Ed Warinner. On the defensive side, the addition of co-coordinator Chris Ash made a huge impact in 2014, and line coach Larry Johnson Sr. is one of the top assistants in the nation. The best player in the national championship is clearly Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. However, it’s a safe bet to assume Meyer’s big-game experience will help Ohio State on Jan. 12.
5. Development of the Offensive Line
Line coach Ed Warinner had his work cut out for him at the start of the season. The Buckeyes had only one returning starter and surrendered seven sacks in a 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech in early September. But over the last seven games, Ohio State has allowed only 11 sacks and rushers have averaged at least five yards per carry in five out of the last seven games. Left tackle Taylor Decker and guard Pat Elflein both earned All-Big Ten honors, while the same five players have started all 14 games for the Buckeyes this season. Center Jacoby Boren suffered an ankle injury in the Sugar Bowl but returned to action and delivered a solid performance against a talented Alabama defensive line. Oregon’s defensive front has been vulnerable to the run this year, and establishing Elliott and Jones on the ground will be crucial to Ohio State’s hopes at victory. Even though Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner played well for the Ducks in the victory against Florida State, the Buckeyes should have an advantage in the trenches.