Darrien Coleman| BKD TV Insiders
The first season of the College Football Playoff will end with the Ohio State Buckeyes taking on the Oregon Ducks, led by their Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Marcus Mariota. While both talented, the two teams have taken different paths to the National Championship game. Oregon was a heavy favorite in the Pac-12 and won by an average of 25 points per game with their only defeat being against Arizona, which they later avenged with a 38 point victory in the Pac-12 Championship. Ohio State was viewed by many as a highly talented team capable of getting to this point in the preseason, but a season-ending injury to senior quarterback Braxton Miller caused doubt by many pundits and analysts. His replacement J.T. Barrett played at a high level and with the help of running back Ezekiel Elliott, the Buckeyes got through the regular season virtually unscathed, with their only blemish being an early season loss to Virginia Tech. The Buckeyes had another unfortunate injury when Barrett broke his ankle in the final regular season game against rival Michigan. Head coach Urban Meyer led his team to a blowout 59-0 victory against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship and followed that with a 42-35 victory over Nick Saban’s Alabama team in the Sugar Bowl with third-string sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones guiding the offense.
1. Be Prepared for Oregon’s Tempo – The Oregon offense is led by speed and tempo as they run a play every 16 seconds on average. The Ducks wear the opposing defense down by constantly running plays and not allowing many substitutions. If Ohio State is ready and conditioned enough to handle the pace, they put themselves in a position to control time of possession and keep Oregon’s potent offense on the sidelines.
2. Contain Marcus Mariota – Mariota is the decorated quarterback and driving force of the Oregon offense. He is a dual threat quarterback with great speed, but he also makes good decisions from the pocket as his 40:3 touchdown-interception ratio indicates. If Urban Meyer’s defense can minimize Mariota’s effectiveness and efficiency they greatly increase their chances to win.
3. Stop the Run – True freshman running back Royce Freeman leads the Oregon rushing attack and is a key part to their offense. Freeman has over 1,300 yards and almost 20 touchdowns on the ground, so stopping him won’t be easy but if they can do so it will minimize Mariota’s fakes and his ability to shift the secondary in pass attempts or his runs off of read options.
The keys for Oregon are:
1. Control the Trenches – Ohio State is viewed as the stronger, more physical team on the offensive and defensive lines. If Oregon wants to shed the “finesse” label that follows their program, they need to win the battle up front and establish the run on offense and stop the run on defense.
2. Attack the Football – Oregon’s defense was the story in their blowout victory in the Rose Bowl against the defending champion Florida State Seminoles, as they forced five turnovers and scored 34 points from those turnovers. If they can force Ohio State to turn the ball over and create more opportunities for the offense, the game will be much easier.
3. Get to Cardale Jones – As impressive as Cardale Jones has been, this is still only his third career start. If the Ducks defense can rattle him in any way, they may be able to make the Ohio State offense one dimensional, and they can focus on stopping Ezekiel Elliot and the rushing attack.
The Insiders at BKD TV have given their predictions and here they are: Byron Dixon – Ohio State, Darrien Coleman – Oregon, Demarus Dye – Oregon, Chris Moore – Ohio State, Shubasz Gordon – Oregon, Roger Herring – Ohio State