Ohio State wins first college football national championship in new playoff era

Ezekiel Elliott and the power running game of Ohio State was too much for Oregon to handle, allowing the Buckeyes to overcome four turnovers and win their sixth national title.

Eric Gay/AP
Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott (15) runs for a touchdown during the first half of the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Oregon Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, in Arlington, Texas.

On the first drive of Monday night's game, Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and the Oregon offense drove down the field 75 yards in two minutes and 39 seconds to score a touchdown. That drive would be the only time all game Oregon showed the fluidity and speed of college football’s best offense. After that drive, Ohio State unleashed its power running game on the smaller Duck defense and never looked back.

Success for the Ohio State run game came behind a supercharged offensive line and a scheme that enabled the team to exploit their size and strength advantage. Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer negated the Ducks’ defensive speed by running numerous option delays and counters, allowing his interior offensive linemen to generate a push and simultaneously encouraging Oregon edge rushers to abandon their gap assignments. In the end, sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliot set BCS-era records in carries (36), yards (246) and touchdowns (4) en route to being named the game's Most Valuable Player.

There were numerous chances for Oregon to reestablish themselves in the game, but the Ducks were unable to significantly capitalize on a slew of Ohio State turnovers. Fumbles in the first, second and third quarters by the Buckeyes halted promising drives, and a bobbled pass that became an interception in the third all invited Oregon to seize control of the game. The Ducks were able to cash in for 10 points in the third quarter, but seemingly left points on the field given how dominant Ohio State was moving the ball up and down the field.

On offense, the Ducks were unable to establish the tempo they are used to playing at and the one opposing teams dread. Oregon ran plays quickly in the first quarter as the team moved the ball up the field with ease. After plays that netted substantial yards, Mariota and his offense were at the line and typically snapping the ball after 10-12 seconds.

The issue, however was that the Ducks were frequently thwarted on first down, discouraging them from rushing into second-and-long plays that would frequently result in third-and-long. The Buckeyes were stingy on third down as well, allowing Oregon to convert on only two of their twelve tries, both coming on third-and-long and on the same drive. Oregon’s 16.6% success rate on third down was their worst of the season.

Ohio State, meanwhile was able to convert constantly on third downs, typically seeing a much shorter yardage distance. The Buckeyes were eight of fifteen (five of eight in the first half) on third downs and, converted all three of their short yardage conversions on fourth down. Excluding the drive that finished the first half, Ohio State was able to keep drives going on 11 of 14 opportunities.

In a game that could have unraveled early for Ohio State, the story has to be the mature play of Cardale Jones at quarterback. Despite fumbling twice in the game, Jones played with tremendous poise, especially early before the run was established. The third-stringer was unfazed by Oregon pass rushers, and led a 90-yard drive in the first half in which he converted on third down from his own end zone. He scrambled for first downs when the team needed yards, and made big plays on third and long when he had to keep drives alive.

Talking to reporters after the game, Jones expressed the underdog mentality that motivated the Buckeyes' late run.

"Late August, around camp, everybody counted us out when our Heisman Trophy quarterback went down, and then when the first College Football Playoff rankings came out, we was like No. 16 or 17," Jones told ESPN reporters. "Long story short, we weren't supposed to be here."

Ohio State proved Monday night that they belonged in the College Football Playoff with their dominant performance, and it cannot be overstated that the Buckeyes would not have come close to a championship game in the old Bowl Championship Series. Monday night may have spelled the end for a tremendous Oregon team and their quarterback, but the game and the new playoff system is a win for fans of college football and competition overall. 

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