The Ducks score 47.2 points per game (second nationally) with 225.9 yards of offense per game (third). Tempo has been a key to their success as Oregon has run the tenth most plays in the country despite possessing the ball for less than all but eight teams in college football. The Ducks run a play every 21.8 seconds that they have the ball.
So, how do you stop such an efficient, ruthless offensive attack?
"Just scoring every opportunity we can,” running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “They have a very high-powered offense. Sometimes we're going to have to grind it out and have long possessions to keep our defense off the field and give them some rest.”
If the Buckeyes are to extend possessions, Elliott will likely be the reason. The sophomore back has exploded in his last two games for 450 yards, more than a third as many yards as he had in the Buckeyes 12 regular season games.
Elliott’s ability to extend possessions and grind out yards against the Ducks will be key. The longer an Ohio State drive is, the longer that Oregon’s high-powered offense will be watching from the sidelines.
The Buckeyes offense is driven by tempo to an extent – the Buckeyes run a play every 25.7 seconds – and head coach Urban Meyer surely won't forsake what has gotten his team to the national title game. Still, Meyer has always preached that his spread offense is run first. Ohio State has possessed the ball longer than its opponents this season and will look to do so again in the title game.
Elliott will be the focal point in that regard. The sophomore entered the season highly thought of but largely unknown after sitting behind 2013’s eighth leading rusher in Carlos Hyde. Running behind four new offensive linemen, he’s proven to be more than capable.
"I knew as the season went on the line would get better and better,” Elliott said. “That's kind of how it was last season for Carlos. I knew that eventually the line would be clicking on all cylinders. You just have to be patient and go through the evolution.”
The run game has certainly been clicking lately for the Buckeyes, and that’s an area of importance entering the matchup with Oregon.
In the Ducks' lone loss this season, a 31-24 defeat at the hands of Arizona on Oct. 2, the Wildcats ran the ball 55 times for 208 yards. That is the most rushing attempts against Oregon this season and the second most yards on the ground.
Ohio State averages 41.9 rushing attempts on the season and has had more than 55 rushes twice this year with 65 against Cincinnati and 57 against Penn State. The Buckeyes may want to clear that number again Monday with everything on the line.
While they may have been reluctant to pound the ball with Elliott early this season, the sophomore has clearly shown he is capable of carrying the team lately. Furthermore, he may be the best running back Oregon has faced all season.
Elliott is 22nd nationally in rushing yards per game with 116.52. The Ducks have faced two backs that average more, UCLA’s Paul Perkins (121.15) and Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford (117.08), but Elliott has been far better than his season-long average for a while.
Since a slow start that was hampered by a broken wrist 12 days before the start of the season, Elliott has averaged 124.25 yards in his last 12 games, a mark that would be good for 13th nationally over the whole season. Elliott has done it against some of the Buckeyes' best opponents, averaging an absurd 173.75 yards a game against the four ranked teams Ohio State has played.
Meyer credited the sophomore’s work ethic, something he said has rubbed off on freshman running back Curtis Samuel, for the success he is having this season.
“Ezekiel Elliott is a great player,” the coach said. “And just probably as good a work ethic tailback as we've ever had. And that's contagious throughout our program.
“Tough, rugged guy that has the breakaway speed.”
Elliott has showcased that speed lately. He has five runs of 50 or more yards this season and four of them have come in the last two games.
He’s also showcased his toughness, running through tackles at the first level to create big plays.
“(Running backs coach Stan Drayton) put a lot of emphasis on gaining yards after contact this year, that contact speed and being a back like Carlos,” Elliott said. “Carlos was a very powerful back and that's something that he didn't really see in our room, so that's something he really wanted to work on in the offseason.
"I just think it's the mentality you have to have. You just have to go out there and have that mentality that you won't be brought down, that you're going to get those tough yards.”
That mentality has paid off even when Elliott doesn’t have the ball. While the sophomore will have to get plenty of carries against Oregon for Ohio State to keep the Ducks offense off the field, he’s just as important a piece when the ball isn’t in his hands.
“He's the best back I've ever seen without the ball, as far as effort, down the field, making cuts, making blocks, pass protection,” Meyer said. “Takes great pride in being a great player.”
Elliott entered the season an unknown, highly recruited but with little on-field college success to back up the stars next to his name. This season he’s proven to be a player worthy of extreme praise from his coaching staff, a player that will play a key role if the Buckeyes are to take down the Ducks.
How do you stop Oregon’s high-powered offense? Giving the ball to one of the best running backs in the country is a good start.