The Ducks are first nationally in turnover margin at plus-20 and they’ve been particularly adept at forcing fumbles. Oregon opponents have allowed the ball to hit the turf 26 times this season with the Ducks falling on 18 of those fumbles, the third best mark nationally. That’s what Ohio State’s offense will have to deal with in Monday’s CFP National Championship Game.
“It's time tested in big games, special teams and turnovers are almost always the difference makers, and this was certainly the case,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said. “It was the case last week, too. If we didn't get the turnovers back on defense, we don't win that game.”
As the coach alluded to, two early turnovers led to a 21-6 Alabama lead in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, but the Buckeyes intercepted the Crimson Tide three times in the second half.
One of those Ohio State turnovers was an Ezekiel Elliott fumble. The sophomore back is not able to carry the ball in his left hand due to a preseason wrist injury, though he said that was not a factor in the ball hitting the turf against the Tide.
“It’s something I had to get used to as the season went on,” Elliott said of the brace he wears on his left wrist. “It’s become second nature, it’s easy.”
Sometime after Monday’s game Elliott will have another surgery to repair the wrist, he said.
All season long Meyer has preached the importance of keeping the football high and tight to all of his ball-carriers, something Elliott has been forced to do with just his right hand.
“Zeke lost one last week, and it was his fault,” the coach said. “It was a side shot so we're trying to do as much as we can to prepare them for the game because Oregon is great at it.”
While Ohio State’s offense has been excellent this season, one area that has not lived up to the standard set by that unit has been holding on to the football. The Buckeyes have fumbled 21 times this season and lost 11 of them, just 82nd in the country.
If the Buckeyes do cough up the ball against the Ducks, it’s likely they will pay for it. Oregon has scored 154 points off turnovers this season and converted five Florida State miscues into five touchdowns in the Rose Bowl.
“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.”