Ohio State used a heavy dose of running back Ezekiel Elliott and timely stops on defense to claim its first national championship since the 2002 season with a 42-20 victory over Oregon. The Buckeyes entered the college football playoff with long odds to win the title, as coach Urban Meyer’s team was on its third quarterback and suffered a puzzling, early-season loss to Virginia Tech. However, Ohio State regrouped after the defeat, and third-string quarterback Cardale Jones successfully replaced J.T. Barrett after a season-ending leg injury against Michigan. Behind Jones and Elliott, the Buckeyes finished the season with wins over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and hoisted the first college football playoff championship trophy after the victory on Monday night.
The run to the 2014-15 national championship was an unlikely one for Ohio State, as losing two potential Heisman candidates at quarterback is tough to overcome. However, Meyer is one of the nation’s top coaches, the talent level in Columbus is among the best in the nation, and the Buckeyes delivered with clutch performances at the right time.
Four Things That Determined Ohio State’s National Title
1. Line of Scrimmage
The secret to Ohio State’s success in Monday night’s win over Oregon was no surprise. The Buckeyes simply won the battle at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Ohio State recorded 296 rushing yards (4.9 ypc) and quarterback Cardale Jones was sacked only one time. Running back Ezekiel Elliott had his way against the Oregon front seven by recording 246 yards on 36 attempts, and the sophomore’s performance was critical to controlling the pace of the game to keep the high-powered Ducks’ offense on the sideline. On the defensive side, the Buckeyes limited Oregon to 132 rushing yards, recorded two sacks and five tackles for a loss. The Ducks’ inability to get a push up front limited put all of the offensive pressure on quarterback Marcus Mariota, and with a defense unable to get stops (other than turnovers), the offense had to score on every drive to have a shot at the win.
2. The Turnover Battle/Red Zone
Teams that record a -3 turnover margin in championship games aren’t usually successful in the win column. However, much like Ohio State managed to do all season, the Buckeyes found a way to overcome a major obstacle in their path. Oregon forced four Ohio State turnovers and converted those mistakes into only 10 points. In the Rose Bowl, the Ducks used five Florida State second-half turnovers to score 41 points. The Buckeyes’ ability to limit the damage on defense from the Oregon offense on turnovers was one of the deciding factors in the game. Another area where the Ohio State defense stepped up was in the red zone. The Ducks kicked two field goals and were stuffed on downs inside the red zone. Small things add up in national championship games. Oregon simply didn’t convert the opportunities on turnovers and wasn’t opportunistic enough in the red zone to overcome the defensive issues.
3. Cardale Jones
Third-string quarterbacks usually aren't this talented. However, Jones has made a strong case to be Ohio State’s starting signal-caller in 2015, capping a solid three-game stretch behind center with a win over Oregon in the national title. The sophomore played under control all night, completing 16 of 23 passes for 242 yards and one score. Jones also added 38 yards and a score on the ground. At 250 pounds, Jones is a load to bring down in the rushing game, and the sophomore has a cannon for an arm capable of stretching opposing defenses with big plays. The quarterback battle between Jones, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller (if he stays in Columbus) will be very interesting.
4. Oregon’s Receiving Corps
Injuries and suspensions hit Oregon’s receiving corps hard in 2014. Receiver Bralon Addison suffered a torn ACL in the spring, tight end Pharaoh Brown was lost for the year in early November with a serious leg injury, and the Ducks lost receiver Devon Allen to a knee injury on the opening kickoff against Florida State. Add in the suspension of receiver Darren Carrington and Oregon was looking for a few new faces to step up in the national championship. Quarterback Marcus Mariota was the least of the Ducks’ problems on Monday night, but his receivers dropped a couple of key passes. The injuries and personnel moves finally caught up to Oregon.
CFB National Championship Awards:
Offensive MVP: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Even though quarterback Cardale Jones played well against Alabama and Wisconsin, Ohio State wisely put the game in the hands of their best offensive weapon. Elliott earned his third consecutive 200-yard effort by gashing the Oregon defense for 246 yards and four touchdowns on 36 attempts. The sophomore averaged 6.8 yards per carry and scored three times from 10 yards or less to give Ohio State a 42-20 edge after the Ducks cut the deficit to 21-20 in the third quarter. While Elliott gets our nod as the most valuable player from the Ohio State offense, let’s also give a tip of the cap to the line. After struggling in the loss to Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes showed steady improvement up front. And in the win over Oregon, the Ohio State offensive line won the battle at the point of attack and allowed its offense to dominate the time of possession (37:29 to 22:31).
Defensive MVP: Darron Lee, LB
The Buckeyes didn’t have an overly dominant individual performance by a defender, as it was more of a team effort in slowing Oregon’s offense to just 20 points. However, Lee gets the nod as our defensive player of the game after recording eight stops (four solo) and a pass breakup. The freshman’s development was critical for Ohio State’s defense in replacing standout Ryan Shazier, and Lee emerged as one of the nation’s top linebackers over the last few games of 2014. Expect to see plenty from Lee in 2015.
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