Talk about a storied season. This Ohio State team faced adversity before they took the first snap in August, losing Heisman-hopeful, starting quarterback Braxton Miller to a “season-ending” shoulder injury. When J.T. Barrett stepped in to replace Brax at the beginning of the season, Buckeye Nation had questions. Barrett had big shoes to fill, and this young Buckeye football team struggled at the start.
An unconvincing victory over the mediocre Navy Midshipmen in August followed by a loss in the home opener against Virginia Tech in early September seemed to spell doom for the rest of the season. The majority of Buckeye Nation thought any hopes for a national championship were out of the question; this team was too young and without their former leader behind them, the Bucks would have to wait ’til next year. Boy, did they prove us wrong.
The challenges didn’t stop there. Star defensive end, Noah Spence, never stepped on the field in 2014 due to eligibility issues (drugs). H-back and speedy kick returner, Dontre Wilson broke his ankle against Sparty; the list goes on. But despite the odds, despite the setbacks, these Buckeyes did what they needed to do to win out the rest of the regular season. Meanwhile, J.T. Barrett went from looking like a second-string QB, struggling to get his footing, to being a rock star behind the line, a nationally-recognized potential Heisman candidate, and the leader of this Ohio State offense. The Buckeyes somehow managed to grow together, face this adversity together and turn the season around. And then, Barrett was injured during the last game of the regular season against arch-rival Michigan.
You know the rest of the story. The Bucks won out, against the odds. The Buckeyes brutally beat up the Badgers 59-0 in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Ohio State University rolled over the Crimson Tide 42-35 in the Sugar Bowl, and shocked the world. And finally, despite a nauseating turnover margin, the Buckeyes upset the Oregon Ducks 42-20 and won the first College Football Playoff Championship game. This Ohio State team did all this with Cardale Jones, their third-string quarterback.
The road to the national title seemed plagued with insurmountable challenges for the Buckeyes, and no one thought they would come as far as they did as a team, not even coach Meyer. “Obviously, I didn’t think we would be where we are,” Meyer said earlier this week. “Not to devalue our personnel, but they were so young. If someone said Darron Lee would perform like an All‑Big Ten outside backer, Eli Apple, Zeke Elliott would be a 1,600‑yard rusher, Joey Bosa would be a premier defensive end in America, I could go on and on, and I hoped that it would happen, but I didn’t certainly foresee — no one could foresee that.”
The season the Buckeyes had deserves a major motion picture. It really does. The only real challenge would be to make the story believable!
OK! Let’s talk about the game!
First things first, Ohio State gave up four turnovers against a lauded high speed Oregon offense. Four turnovers. Four. You aren’t supposed to win games when you give up four turnovers, especially big games as the underdog. But the Buckeyes did win, despite the turnovers, and by an impressive 22 points. Let’s talk about why.
Despite a slow start, Ohio State’s offensive performance was really quite remarkable.
The offensive line played a knock-out game. The O-line gave Cardale Jones time to read the defense and make plays. The O-line created holes for Ezekiel Elliott and Curtis Samuel to power through. The Ohio State O-line punched the Ducks in the mouth.
Ohio State running back and offensive MVP, Ezekiel Elliott, ran for 246 yards and four touchdowns on a career-high 36 carries. Elliott’s explosive and powerful run game gave Ohio State the offensive edge they needed to get the W. He came through on crucial third and forth downs, and made the play, often getting more yards than the Bucks needed to convert. “With all the stuff we went through to get here, it’s just crazy,” Elliott said. “It doesn’t feel real.”
Ohio State’s “third string” QB Cardale Jones, in his third start of the season, proved that he deserved to play on the same field as Oregon’s Heisman winning QB Marcus Mariota. Jones threw for 242 yards and a touchdown, and ran one in to boot. He proved that despite his inexperience at the helm, he could run this finely-tuned Buckeye football machine, and make decisions under pressure. Injured Buckeye QB J.T. Barrett said of Jones, “His strengths are throwing the ball downfield, getting us in the right play and definitely being football smart. He played his game.” Yes. Yes, he did.
The receiving corps, Corey Smith, Devin Smith, Jalin Marshall, et al. showed up ready to play, making some incredible receptions, getting yards after catches, blocking and playing smart. Without the threat posed by the WRs, Oregon would have had a much easier time defending against the run. The Ducks had to take the Buckeyes seriously on the ground and in the air; and on Monday, the Buckeye offense, as a cohesive unit, proved why.
The turnovers were unfortunate. Can you imagine how different the score would have been if the Bucks didn’t turn the ball over at all? Ohio State’s four turnovers kept the Ducks in the game, but with OSU’s efficient offense and steadfast defense, it didn’t matter.
Defense – The Silver Bullets Are Back!
There’s an age old saying in football that “defense wins championships.” While Ohio State has been known as a defensive powerhouse, in recent years the Bucks have lacked the defensive prowess of the past. In the post-season, the Buckeyes proved that their D is back on top.
On Oregon’s first possession of the game, they moved the ball seemingly at will against the Buckeye defense, driving 75 yards in less than three minutes, putting up a quick seven. After that possession, it wasn’t so easy for the Ducks to move the ball against the Ohio State D. The only other Oregon touchdown came on a 70-yard pass against blown coverage in the third quarter.
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota threw for an impressive 333 yards, but was unable to deliver, as expected, on the ground. Mariota only ran for 39 yards on 10 carries. And really, most of these stats don’t matter, because the Buckeyes did not allow the Ducks to convert on third down.
The Buckeye defense held Oregon to 2-of-12 on third down conversions, an impressive feat considering the Ducks came into the game averaging a 51.6% conversion rate on third down. “That’s great,” said Ohio State freshman linebacker Darron Lee, “especially with the tempo they were going. They tried to go hurry-up on third down. That’s just fundamentally sound ball for everybody on defense across the board.”
“We knew that was going to be a crucial part of our game, and that’s something that we’ve been improving on this year,” cornerback Eli Apple said of stopping the Ducks on third down. “We knew coming in that if we could win first down and get them in third-and-longs, that we could take advantage of them and win.”
Stopping the Ducks on third down ended up being a bigger deal than the Buckeyes bargained for. With OSU turning over the ball four times, stopping the Ducks on offense was imperative to stay in the game. Having made a season feasting off of turnovers, the Ducks only scored 10 points as a result of the four Ohio State turnovers.
Proud of his defense’s performance, Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said, “We really could say tonight we won the game because of third downs.”
“Defense won the game,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. “I don’t want to take anything away from (Cardale Jones or Ezekiel Elliott) and the offensive line, but we lose that game if we don’t stop them after the turnovers.
“We consider that a stop when you hold them to a field goal. Championships are won with defense, and our defense has been on a difficult journey the last couple years. The future of our defense is even better because there are a lot of young guys playing.”
With Urban Meyer behind the Buckeyes, it’s no surprise that the Buckeyes are already considered the team to beat next season, but it’s not time to think about next season just yet. Let’s just take it all in. This season was the definition of a storybook season, and coach Meyer and the Buckeyes deserve congratulations.
Some Solid Numbers to Take Home…
Oregon’s 20 points was the fewest they’ve scored all season.
In the past three games, the Big Ten championship against Wisconsin, the Allstate Sugar Bowl semifinal against Alabama and the final against Oregon…
• Elliott had 696 yards rushing.
• Ohio State’s offense scored 143 points.
• Ohio State’s defense held their opponents to 55 points total.
Next up: Buckeye Nation eagerly awaits the announcement of who will be taking the snaps in 2015 – Miller, Barrett or Jones?
About Kelly Rousculp
Kelly writes reviews and contributes articles to NID Magazine.