The Ducks’ defense had seen enough, but more importantly, they had felt enough. The Ohio State offensive line was unrelenting, and sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott was punishing. He ran with equal parts speed and malice, a man in a hurry to dish out some more punishment to a defense that wanted no part of him.
If this were a boxing match, it would have been stopped when he plowed into the end zone for his third score to make it 35-20. Instead, Oregon was forced to endure almost 10 more minutes and one more touchdown.
The last touchdown of the game came with 28 seconds left. The outcome was already decided, and the Oregon section of AT&T Stadium was a ghost town. As OSU lined up on the 1-yard line, Ohio State fans howled in unison to serenade their running back before the ball was snapped.
Even when the Ducks knew the stake in their heart was coming, there was nothing they could do to stop it.
“I was telling (running backs coach Stan) Drayton, ‘I’m feeling it, I’m feeling it. Me and this O-line, we’re ready to take this game over. Tell Coach Herman to put the ball on the ground,’” Elliot said.
“I think everyone in the stadium knew we were going to run the ball. It’s mythical. I can’t even believe we’re at where we are now.”
It was that kind of night in Arlington, Texas. Elliott carried the ball 36 times for 246 yards and four scores. Throughout the second half, an Ohio State team plagued by turnovers called upon him to deliver them to the end zone. More often than not, he did so.
After three straight drives that ended in a punt, an interception and a fumble, Elliott went to work. The score was 21-20 at that point, but the St. Louis native plowed into the end zone on the final play of the third quarter and then found paydirt again on the next drive to increase the lead to 15.
When asked if he thought they could control the game for good with a score on that drive, Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman simply said, ‘Yes,’ before cracking a knowing smile.
That possession was just another star turn for Elliott, who carried the Buckeyes into the playoff during a 59-0 win against Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and then carried his team into the CFP National Championship with another virtuoso performance in the Sugar Bowl. On Monday night, Jerryworld was his PlayPlace. His vision turned crevices into gaping holes, and his power turned defenders into puddles.
“He’s a disciplined back,” Drayton said. “You give him footwork, you give him landmarks, he’s going to stay true to that. The vision and the instincts come natural. That’s what happens with great backs.
“We knew we had to ride him and that offensive line toward the end of the game to win this thing. He did it. He did it.”
After carrying the Buckeyes to New Orleans and Dallas and then putting on the performance of a lifetime, there was nowhere else to go but the championship podium to hoist the trophy. It was his last run of the night, and it was the easiest.
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