ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Coming into the national championship game, there was a school of thought behind picking the best team to win.
Those who favored Oregon said that Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota was too skilled, his team was too quick and played too fast, the offense was too polished and deep and the defense too pliable for them to lose.
The backers of Ohio State figured the Buckeyes were more physical on both sides of the ball, had a horse of a running back in Ezekiel Elliott and a quarterback who seemed not just unflappable but unbeatable.
Before a crowd of 85,689 at AT&T Stadium, things couldn’t have more closely followed Ohio State’s template. The Buckeyes’ big guys up front dominated, Elliott rumbled for 246 yards and four touchdowns on 36 carries and Cardale Jones continually came up with big plays with his legs and his arm.
The result was a surprisingly easy 42-20 victory for the Buckeyes (14-1), who cashed in on their first national championship since 2002. It was a bitter defeat for Mariota and the Ducks (13-2), thwarted once again from winning their first national title.
Here’s what to know about how the Buckeyes won and why the Ducks lost:
TROUBLE ON THIRD DOWN: Oregon had trouble on third down, converting just two of 12 chances. The Ducks were 0 for 2 on fourth down, including a goal-line attempt that they couldn’t punch in. That was uncharacteristic for a team that went into the game ranked fourth in the nation for third-down conversions, at 51.6 percent.
“Third down was a big deal. And part of that was precipitated by not being good on first and second down,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said.
BRONZE STATUETTE: When Oregon was up 7-0 early and the Buckeyes were on their heels, it was Elliott — and Ohio State’s overpowering offensive line — which took over the game. The sophomore’s 33-yard burst seemed to jump start the Buckeyes and their fans.
He doesn’t shirk from talk that he might just be the front-runner for the Heisman next year.
“Just thinking that I’m going to have the opportunity next year to compete for the Heisman, it means everything,” he said. “I’m not going to change. I’m going to keep grinding. I’m going to do all I can to win it.”
RUN DEFENSE: Oregon’s run defense was mediocre this season, allowing opponents an average of 156.1 yards per game to rank 49th in the nation. Ohio State was averaging 262 rushing yards a game going in. In the end, Ohio State rushed for 296 yards against Oregon, and Ezekiel Elliott led the way with 246 yards and four scores.
“When you have him being as fast and physical as he is and then you trump that with a 200 and-whatever-he-is 55 or 60 quarterback, those are three pretty good hammers when you add the fly sweep game and some of the other stuff that they’re able to do,” Helfrich said.
OVERCOMING TURNOVERS: Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said despite the 538 yards his offense amassed, it was the defense cleaning up after the offense that won the game. The Buckeyes turned the ball over four times — three fumbles and a bobbled interception — but those gaffes didn’t hurt them badly.
The first two turnovers resulted in zero points for Oregon. The second two turned into 10 points, but Ohio State had built an 11-point lead to maintain its advantage. Then Elliott closed out the scoring with three more touchdown runs.
“Defense won the game,” Meyer said. “We lose that game if we don’t stop them after our turnovers.”
NO MARIOTA MAGIC: Known for his ability to create plays when it appears none exist, Oregon quarterback Mariota was stymied by Ohio State’s defense. He had two touchdown passes, one on the opening drive to Keanon Lowe and a stunning 70-yard scoring pass to Byron Marshall that pulled the Ducks within 21-17 in the third quarter. In the end, this season’s Heisman Trophy winner completed 24 of 37 passes for 333 yards. He was sacked twice and intercepted once — on his final pass of the game.
“It hurts. I can’t really put it into words much more than that,” Mariota said.
WHY STOP AT ONE? Meyer conceded that he thought next year was Ohio State’s year. After all, the Buckeyes are very young — half the starters are freshmen or sophomores.
“To say we had this vision back in September or even August, no not a chance,” he said. “I thought this was a team that could battle and battle and find a way to win a bunch of games and then a year later go make a run at it.”
Remember, though, that there are three top-quality quarterbacks, Elliott and two-thirds of the starters coming back.
Wide receiver Michael Thomas cautioned Ohio State fans to save their money.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “We’ll be back.”
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