The Buckeyes went to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl at the end of the 2009 season as 4½-point underdogs to the high-flying Ducks, who were led by quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and the running back duo of LaMichael James and LaGarrette Blount.
As any Ohio State fan knows, the Buckeyes left on a high note, though, posting a 26-17 victory to claim the Rose Bowl victory. That year, Ohio State used a talented but occasionally inconsistent offense and a dominating defense to the victory, which snapped three-year BCS losing streak.
This time around, Ohio State is put together a little differently – the offense is the elite unit while the defense has its up-and-down moments – but the Buckeyes are still underdogs by seven points going into the College Football Playoff National Championship vs. the Ducks.
So, is there anything the Buckeyes can take from that victory in the Arroyo Seco five years ago this time around? The blueprint might be a little different, but achieving some of the same keys the Buckeyes hit in that game can help Ohio State get the victory and the national championship.
Control The Tempo
This is of course easier said than done. Oregon might be the fastest team in the nation, as it outgains and outscores its opponents despite having one of the time of possession marks in the country. To the Ducks, it’s not about having the ball – it’s about what you do when you do have it.
Oregon will try to get plays off within 20 seconds of each other, all in an effort to simplify and confuse defenses, which don’t have time to react, catch their breath or substitute in such circumstances.
Of course, that can be used against the Ducks, as Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer – who has recently instituted a tempo offense at OSU with the help of Tom Herman – is fully aware.
“The risk of tempo offense, which I debated for years, you (go) three-and-out them and 24 seconds you just took off the clock,” he said. “You're playing a good team, that's not good. So there's plus and minuses.”
Oregon found that out the hard way vs. the Buckeyes in 2009. Eight of the Ducks’ 10 drives that year lasted two minutes or less, and only one of those drives – a six-play, 52-yard field-goal march in a stunning 1:05 – ended in points. That allowed Ohio State – which had drives of 5:07, 8:03, 4:21, 6:01 and 5:10 – to possess the ball for 41:37 of game play, a Rose Bowl record.
If you go fast and score, it’s great. If you go fast and don’t score, you’re in trouble. A few stops out of Ohio State – which pushed Alabama into a number of short drives – and the game tilts toward the Buckeyes.
Win The Turnover Battle
In 2010, Ohio State was also able to tilt the game its way by earning two turnovers to Oregon’s one, and the Ducks also missed a field goal, which feels like a turnover as well.
One of those turnovers was particularly important. While the game is remembered for Ohio State’s suffocating defense – Oregon finished with just 260 yards – there was a point when the Ducks looked primed to take over. Oregon scored on three of four drives to take a 17-16 early in the second half before an OSU field goal put the Buckeyes back on top by two, but on the ensuing drive the Ducks marched right down the field and looked primed to retake the lead.
But Blount fumbled into the end zone and Ohio State recovered, stemming the tide. Oregon wouldn’t score again as the Buckeye defense used the momentum from that play to put the clamps down the rest of the game.
That will take on a bigger issue this year as Oregon is second in the nation in turnover margin. The Ducks have coughed the ball up just 10 times this year – thanks in part to Marcus Mariota’s stunning total of just three interceptions – and have grabbed 30 turnovers, turning them into an amazing 154 points. Its second-half run in its 59-20 drubbing of Florida State in a semifinal was spurred by 34 points off five FSU turnovers.
Ohio State, meanwhile, has been plagued by turnovers in big games but has bounced back from them nicely. That’s a plus, but avoiding turnovers vs. the Ducks is the best way to start.
“We have to eliminate turnovers,” quarterback Cardale Jones said. “We had a couple of pointless turnovers against Alabama. We know that will bite us against Oregon because of the type of offense they are.”
Take An Early Lead
Ohio State took a 10-0 lead on the Ducks in the Rose Bowl by scoring on its first two possessions. Those early points settled the Buckeyes in and showed that they belonged on the same field against an Oregon team many had predicted to roll. While this Buckeye team has proved it has no problem coming from behind, an early advantage would likely mean the defense has made a few stops and the offense has had some success, which is never a bad thing.
That Blount fumble was a key play in the 2010 game as Oregon’s offense had started to crank up. If you’ve watched the Ducks this year, you know how quickly a game can get away from the opposition – just ask Florida State, which gave up 27 points to the Ducks in the third quarter, or Arizona, which allowed 31 in a 15-minute span of the second and third quarters of the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Going in, you have to know the Ducks are gonna make some plays – they have one of the best offenses in the nation for a reason. But bowing up and turning momentum around before it becomes an avalanche is a key part of any win vs. Oregon.
Win Third Down
In 2009, Ohio State was 11 for 21 on third down while Oregon was 2 of 11. In the Sugar Bowl, the Buckeyes were 10 of 18 while Alabama was 2 of 13. Mariota is better than Blake Sims and can turn nothing into something with his prodigious scrambling abilities on third down, but if the Buckeyes can win the “money down,” they can win the game.
“You have to get him uncomfortable,” linebacker Joshua Perry said. “That means keeping Mariota in the pocket because he’s able to extend plays with his legs.”