Vindication at last. At least, that’s how Ohio State players, coaches and fans must have felt after their team throttled the favored Oregon Ducks by a score of 42-20 in the first ever FBS Playoff Championship game.
They did so despite turning the ball over four times, mostly deep in Oregon territory. Even then, the Buckeyes prevailed by three touchdowns.
The Ducks were the first team to get on the board, when Heisman winner Marcus Mariota led the team down the field on the game’s opening drive. They went 75 yards on eleven plays, and took up less than three minutes of the clock. The drive was capped off with a seven-yard pass from Mariota to Keenan Lowe. The momentum was squarely with them.
After each team punted, the Buckeyes finally got it going, and never looked back. Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott scored the first of his four touchdowns, as the Buckeyes tied the game up at seven apiece. The Ducks punted yet again, and the Buckeyes answered with a 46-yard scoring drive capped off by quarterback Cardale Jones’ one-yard pass to Nick Vannett, giving the Buckeyes their first lead of the game at 14-7. The Ducks punted again, and the Buckeyes carried their lead into the second quarter.
Just a minute into the second quarter, the tide looked as if it was heading back in favor of the Ducks, when Jones fumbled in Oregon territory, and they recovered. However, after taking the ball to the Buckeyes’ three-yard line, they decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal, instead of a field goal. Thomas Tyner’s scramble fell a yard short, and the momentum shifted back to the Buckeyes.
After taking the ball to his own 46-yard line, Jones threw a deep ball to Corey Smith, who caught the 47-yard bomb at the Oregon nine-yard line. However, he fumbled the ball, and the Buckeyes turned it over for the second time. However, the Ducks went three-and-out yet again, and the Buckeyes for the ball back in Oregon territory. They went down the field in just over two minutes, and on third and goal, Jones ran it in from a yard out, and gave his Buckeyes a 21-7 lead. The Ducks answered with a field goal, and ended the half trailing 21-10.
The second half began in favor of the Buckeyes, but the Ducks were the ones who took over the third quarter. Cardale Jones led the team to the Ducks’ 37-yard line, but was intercepted by Danny Mattingly.
On the very next play, Marcus Mariota threw a pass to Byron Marshall, who ran 70 yards for what felt like a game-turning touchdown. The Ducks were only down by four, and a few lays later, Cardale Jones turned the ball over for the third time in the game. He was trying to avoid Oregon defenders, but fumbled the ball without being contacted, and Arik Armstead game the Ducks the ball back at the Ohio State 23-yard line. Surely, they would take over now.
Unfortunately for Duck fans, their team did anything but. Despite taking the ball to the Ohio State six-yard line, they were unable to convert on third-and-four, and had to settle for a field goal. Their deficit was cut to 21-20.
The Ducks were unable to take control, and the Buckeyes made them pay. They converted two third downs on the ensuing 75-yard drive, and took up 6:39 on the drive. Ezekiel Elliott capped the drive off with a nine-yard touchdown run on the final plat of the third quarter, and the Buckeyes extended their lead to 28-20 going into the fourth quarter.
It ws clear that the physicality had worn Oregon down, and it was never more apparent than in the fourth quarter. Oregon punted on its first two fourth-quarter drives, and after the first one, Ezekiel Elliott capped off a nine-play, 76-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run, extending the Buckeye lead to 35-20.
Despite getting injured on Oregon’s first fourth-quarter drive, Marcus Mariota returned just one play removed from a vicious late hit from star Ohio State defender Joey Bosa, and re-entered after one play. However, he failed to convert the long third down, and the team had to punt. After another three-and-out which followed the Elliott touchdown, it was clear that the game was basically over. However, it’s never smart to rule the Ducks as completely cooked.
So, when they got the ball back with 4:17 left, there was still a chance that the Ducks would get back into the game. However, the Ducks went four-and-out on that drive, when Mariota’s pass for Charles Nelson sailed incomplete at his own 14-yard line, with just 2:45 remaining. Elliott scored a touchdown five plays later, and the Buckeyes lead extended to 42-20. Mariota entered for what may have been his final drive in a Ducks uniform, and ended the game with his lone interception of the game, just his seventh of the season.
The star of the game, as well as every postseason game for the Buckeyes was running back Ezekiel Elliott. Despite running for nearly 1,200 yards in the regular season, the sophomore had five games in which he barely got the ball, and did not get many yards. In the final three games of the season, however, Elliott ran for 220 yards in the Big Ten Championship game, 230 in the playoff semifinal win over top-seeded Alabama, and 246 yards on 36 carries in the FBS Championship game, scoring for touchdowns in the final game.
Ohio State third-string quarterback Cardale Jones did not put up spectacular numbers, completing 16 of 23 pass attempts for 242 yards, a touchdown, and an interception, as well as a fumble, and 38 rushing yards on 21 attempts. However, as he had done in his two previous starts, the big man made a play whenever he needed to.
For the Ducks, Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Marcus Mariota had a solid performance, from a statistical perspective. He completed 24 of his 37 passes, for 333 yards, two touchdowns and the one interception. He added 39 rush yards on ten attempts, but his longest scramble went for just eight yards. he got hit on many occasions, and even had to sit out for a play in the fourth quarter. It was a tough way to end one of the best college careers ever.
The Ducks’ best runner was Thomas Tyner, who ran for 52 yards on 12 carries. Freshman bruiser Royce Freeman garnered just 22 yards on ten carries, ending his season with two straight dud performances. former running back-turned-receiver Byron marshall caught eight passes for 169 yards, and a 70-yard touchdown. The play was key for Oregon, but the Ducks failed to capitalize enough on the momentum that was churning.
The championship win for the Buckeyes only seemed fitting, after the season they had to endure. Just two years after missing out on a title game due to sanctions from their infamous tattoo scandal, despite having an unbeaten 2012 season, they faced adversity all season long.
They lost their starting quarterback before the season started, and lost their backup, who had become a Heisman candidate himself, in the regular season finale against the rival Michigan Wolverines. They went undefeated in the regular season, but the uncertainty at quarterback was expected to keep them out of the college football playoff.
However, Cardale Jones threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns in the Big Ten Championship game against the Wisconsin Badgers. They throttled Heisman candidate Melvin Gordon, who had the second-bet rushing season in NCAA history, allowing just 76 yards on 29 carries. They won 59-0, Ezekiel Elliott began his tear, and the Buckeyes snuck in to the first ever college football playoff.
After beating one Heisman candidate, the Buckeyes followed suit by doing the same to another candidate, Alabama receiver Amari Cooper. Cooper played well, catching six passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns, but his team fell to the Buckeyes in a 42-35 thriller. Then they defeated the Heisman winner, Marcus Mariota, in Monday’s championship game. This makes them the first team in college football history to defeat every Heisman candidate of any season in that particular year.
Congratulations to the Ohio State Buckeyes, the first ever FBS playoff champions.