It is hard to win a football game when losing the turnover battle by three. It is nearly impossible to win that same game by three scores.
However, Ohio State claimed the first playoff-era national championship in those very circumstances. The recipe for victory was quite simple: dominance up front on both ends of the ball.
The ground-based success of Ezekiel Elliott was clear. While Elliott certainly brought his hard hat and had one of the most impressive rushing performances in national championship game history, he also strolled through some holes that even semi trucks could get lost in. Oregon showed zero ability to stop Elliott on a counter play all night long, and not much more on runs between the tackles.
Additionally, the Ohio State offensive line was just as strong in the passing game, allowing Cardale Jones solid protection most of the night. The protection was even stronger on third downs, which further opens up the running game on subsequent downs.
Also assisting the Ohio State offensive line was the fatigue suffered later in the game by the Oregon defensive front. This was a self-inflicted wound by the Ducks’ tempo offense. The Buckeyes ran three times as many plays as Oregon, and that defensive front spent most of the second half on the field.
While Ohio State controlled the line of scrimmage on offense all night long, the Buckeyes were just as dominant up front defensively. Ohio State claims the worst run defense for a national champion since 2001, allowing 142 yards on the ground per game. However, the front seven appeared to take shutting down the Oregon attack personally on Monday night. Coming into the game, Oregon averaged 241.9 rushing yards per game. The Buckeyes held the Ducks under 135 for this contest.
Along with this shutdown effort, Ohio State was able to contain Heisman winner Marcus Mariota in the rushing attack, another explosive dynamic the Ducks hoped to use to their advantage. While keeping Mariota in the pocket for the most part, OSU’s containment on the edges made Oregon mostly one-dimensional.
With this work up front, the Buckeyes were able to do something very few teams have managed to achieve in the current Oregon era: stop the Ducks on third down and get the offense off the field. The tone was set early when Ohio State forced Oregon to punt three times in the first quarter, which was the first time that happened to UO since 2009.
The Buckeyes also got stops in the red zone, which is unheard of against the Ducks. This tone was also set early in the contest, as Ohio State delivered a goal line stand early in the second quarter. Along with punting, you very rarely see Oregon fail in the red zone and kick field goals. Ohio State forced all three with its work at the line of scrimmage, and that is what gave the Buckeyes the title.
With all six of the candidates for the playoff this season being offense-minded, it should not be surprising that the top five defenses this season had an overall record of 45-21. This is compared to 58-9 last season.
Though 2014-’15 was a season for offense, it was dominance at the point of attack which allowed Ohio State to control the high-powered Oregon attack and claim the national championship. While the game saw about 1,000 total yards between the two teams, Ohio State won the game in the trenches. For the Ducks, it is back to the drawing board as they lose several players and will again hear the familiar mumblings about being soft.
It’s probably not fair to call Oregon a soft team, given that it showed Florida State the door by 39 points a week and a half ago. The proper point of emphasis — as the Buckeyes lift the new College Football Playoff trophy — is to credit Ohio State for making Oregon look comparatively weak. That hasn’t been easy to do to the Ducks over the past several seasons.
Ohio State made it look quite simple on Monday night in Texas.