The words of Urban Meyer rang true as confetti came down at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, after the Ohio State football team completed an unlikely run with a 42-20 victory against No. 2 Oregon in the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship.
With a third-string quarterback leading a young squad that most thought was one year away from contending for a national title, the Buckeyes pummeled the Pac-12 champions with their running game. Sophomore Ezekiel Elliott capped an unforgettable three-game stretch with a 246-yard performance with four touchdowns. Elliott sliced and diced the Ducks, averaging 6.8 yards per carry and was the obvious choice for the game’s offensive player of the game.
Not to be overlooked is the efforts of third-year sophomore Cardale Jones, who will likely never be forgotten by OSU fans after leading the Buckeyes to a 59-0 rout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, a 42-35 win against No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and a national title win against the Ducks. He completed 16 of 23 passes for 242 yards with a touchdown and an interception against Oregon.
Seven receivers caught Jones passes. Redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall led OSU with five receptions for 52 yards. Sophomore Michael Thomas caught four passes for 53 yards, and junior tight end Nick Vannett caught a TD pass.
Ohio State’s attack was a balanced one. The Buckeyes rushed for 296 yards and threw for 242. That helped OSU overcome four turnovers.
The Ohio State defense allowed 465 yards but did a masterful job limiting the high-powered Oregon offense. The Buckeyes excelled in key situations, allowing just two of 12 third-down conversion attempts and also stopping the Ducks twice on fourth down. Sophomore safety Tyvis Powell led the way with nine tackles, while redshirt freshman linebacker Darron Lee added eight stops. Sophomore safety Vonn Bell and junior defensive lineman Adolphus Washington both recorded a sack.
Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota capped his impressive season by completing 24 of 37 passes for 333 yards and two touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed for 39 yards. Thomas Tyner led the Oregon rushing attack with 62 yards, while Byron Marshall caught seven passes for 169 yards and a score.
Oregon dodged a pair of bullets on its first drive. The first came when Tyner fumbled on a 10-yard gain that moved the ball into OSU territory. He fell on it, allowing the drive to continue. Later, Mariota appeared to have the ball stripped by OSU linebacker Curtis Grant in the red zone, but upon review Mariota’s knee was down.
The Ducks scored the game’s first touchdown four plays after the Mariota overturned fumble. On first-and-goal from the OSU 7, Mariota eluded pressure and found a wide-open Keanon Lowe in the end zone for a score. Aidan Schneider added the extra point to give the Ducks a 7-0 lead with 12:21 left in the first quarter.
The drive was quintessential Oregon. It went 75 yards in 11 plays but elapsed just 2:39 off the clock. The Ducks never faced a third down and averaged 6.8 yards per play.
The Buckeyes failed to answer the score. Ohio State did record a first down on a third-down run by Jones, during which he bowled over Oregon inside linebacker Rodney Hardrick. He attempted to scramble for another first down three plays later but was stopped short by defensive back Reggie Daniels.
The Ohio State defense held Oregon to a punt on its second time on the field. After allowing a 28-yard gain on a Lowe reception up the middle to the UO 38, the Buckeyes forced a punt from the 45 that was downed at the OSU 3.
Ohio State took momentum thanks to a 97-yard drive that resulted in the Buckeyes’ first touchdown. It did not start well, as the Buckeyes faced a third-and-8 at the 5 before Jones founds Corey Smith for a 26-yard gain to the OSU 31. The march advanced to the UO 35 before the Buckeyes faced a fourth-and-2. Ohio State’s offense remained on the field and Jalin Marshall got the necessary 2 to continue the drive.
Two plays later, Elliott took a handoff, got a key trap block by junior tight end Nick Vannett broke through some arm tackles and raced for a 33-yard touchdown. Freshman Sean Nuernberger added the extra point to knot the game 7-7 with 4:36 remaining in the opening quarter.
After the Buckeyes forced another Oregon punt – marking the first time since 2009 that the Ducks had three punts in the first quarter – the Buckeyes marched down the field to take their first lead. Jalin Marshall gave Ohio State great field position following a 17-yard punt return to the UO 46. It took Jones and company just four plays to reach the end zone, helped in part to a pass interference penalty on Oregon that moved the ball to the 18.
Elliott then rushed 17 yards on another bruising run to the UO 1, and on the next play, Jones found Vannett for touchdown. Nuernberger’s PAT made it 14-7 with 1:08 left in the quarter. It was another quick scoring drive, lasting just 1:27.
Ohio State committed the game’s first turnover early in the second quarter. A botched handoff between Jones and Elliott caused a fumble that was recovered by UO’s Alex Balducci at the Oregon 41.
The Buckeye defense prevented a momentum swing on the ensuing drive. The Ducks earned a first-and-goal at the 10 but was stopped on downs. On fourth down from the 3, Tyner rushed up the middle but was stopped short.
Ohio State committed its second turnover after the defensive stand. The Buckeyes drove the ball to the UO 36 and looked primed to get into the red zone. Corey Smith caught a deep ball from Jones and raced down the right sideline toward the end zone. Oregon defensive back Troy Hill popped the ball from out of Smith’s hands, however, and Hardrick fell on it at the UO 9 with 8:46 left before halftime.
Again, the Buckeyes prevented the miscue from turning the momentum. Ohio State forced a three-and-out, capped with a sack by Washington.
Jones helped the Buckeyes extend their lead after the punt. Thanks in large part to a 45-yard catch by Devin Smith that advanced the ball to the 6. Three plays later, Jones barreled into the end zone on a 1-yard TD, which after the Nuernberger PAT, gave Ohio State a 21-7 lead with 4:49 left before halftime.
Oregon got back on the board on its next drive. Mariota engineered a 12-play, 66-yard drive that lasted 4:01. It ended short of the end zone, however, with Schneider booting a 26-yard field goal to make it 21-10 with 48 seconds on the clock.
Both teams had one additional possession in the final minute but neither team scored, giving the Buckeyes an 11-point lead at halftime.
Ohio State marched down the field after taking the second half kickoff before committing its third turnover. Spurred by a key Jones fourth-down run to keep the drive alive, the Buckeyes advanced to the 37 before Jones looked to find Jalin Marshall on a first-down pass. Marshall bobbled the catchable pass right into the hands of Oregon linebacker Danny Mattingly, who came down with the ball at the UO 30.
This time, Mariota made the Buckeyes pay. On the first play after the turnover, Mariota dropped back to pass and found an open Byron Marshall on a skinny post racing down the middle of the field. He hauled in the pass and reached the end zone. Schneider added the extra point to make it 21-17 with 11:23 left in the third quarter.
The Buckeyes continued to shoot themselves in the foot on the next drive. Ohio State drove to midfield before Jones dropped back on a first-and-10 at the OSU 49 and had the ball slip out of his hands while scrambling backpedaling. Oregon’s Arik Armstead fell on the ball at the OSU 23.
Oregon narrowed the OSU lead to one after the fumble. The Buckeyes held the Ducks to a 23-yard field goal by Schneider to make it 21-20 with 6:39 left in the third quarter. Redshirt freshman Eli Apple made the biggest play of the possession, pushing Baylis out of bounds before he was able to come down with a potential touchdown pass.
Up one and without the momentum, the Buckeyes answered the bell with their best drive of the night. Elliott’s talented legs carried the way, as the sophomore rushed for 35 yards on five carries – the last of which going for an 11-yard touchdown run on the final play of the third quarter. Nuernberger added the PAT to give the Buckeyes a 28-20 lead.
The OSU defense forced a three-and-out, and Elliott followed that with the knockout punch. The Buckeyes marched 76 yards on nine plays – seven runs – and boosted their lead to 15 with a 2-yard touchdown run by Elliott against a tired Oregon defense that struggled to stop the run in the second half.
Nuernberger added the extra point with 9:44 showing on the clock to give Ohio State a 35-20 lead.
The Ohio State defense did the rest. The Ducks were held to a punt and turned the ball over on downs on their next two possessions following the Elliott TD. The sophomore tailback then provided the exclamation point after the first and only Oregon turnover. He concluded the scoring with a 1-yard touchdown run with 28 seconds remaining.
Nuernberger added the extra point to set the final score and give Ohio State its first national championship since the 2002 season.
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