college football championship: the mother of all breakdowns.

And then there were two. Ohio State vs. Oregon for all the marbles on Monday, Jan. 12 in Dallas. Here’s how I’d break down the general match-ups:

Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott is a LOAD, averaging 6.5 YPG this season. He’s one of the biggest reasons Ohio State beat Alabama, posting his best rushing game of the season. Oregon’s Royce Freeman is no slouch, averaging 5.6 YPG. But Oregon’s offense is not devoted to the run.

Ohio State’s Devin Smith is a legitimate deep-ball threat. He doesn’t catch many passes per game, but when he does, it’s usually for big chunks of real estate. But he’s not their bread-and-butter receiver like Michael Thomas, who helps the Buckeyes move the chains.

Oregon’s receiving corps is anchored around Byron Marshall and Devon Allen. They average 13.3 and 16.7 YPG, respectively. Problem for Oregon is Allen went down with a knee in the Rose Bowl Game and is expected to miss the National Championship Game. Normally, that might be a problem, but not for the Ducks. They’ve got plenty of options on offense and a quarterback who knows how to spread the ball around. Allen’s absence will be missed, but it won’t be a liability.

Offensive Line
Clearly, Ohio State’s front five is doing something right if Elliott is posting such gaudy rushing stats. They clearly controlled the line of scrimmage against Alabama. Given that Ohio State’s gameplan relies heavily on the run, the Buckeyes offensive line has to play superior football. They’ve been improving with every game.

Oregon’s O-line has been battered and bruised all season long, but they’ve found their groove at the right time, helping Oregon put up 639 total yards against Florida State, including more than 301 yards on the ground as well as yielding zero sacks. The Ducks offensive line does what it needs to do in this high-powered offense. But it’s been proven they can win even if the line has a bad game. I’m not so sure Ohio State has that same luxury.

It’s impressive to see Urban Meyer achieve such success with his M*A*S*H unit of quarterbacks. Cardale Jones has definitely risen to the occasion and his improvements are happening in-game, rather than week-to-week. His performance in the B1G championship game and the Sugar Bowl are truly career-defining moments. Jones has been great. But he is nowhere near the level of Heisman winner Marcus Mariota. Not even close. Oregon’s offense is built around and lives and dies with Mariota. He can pass. He can run. He keeps this uptempo machine of an offense humming like an IndyCar.

Both teams have high-powered scoring attacks. Ohio State relies more on the ground game while Oregon brings a balance of rushing and passing. While the Buckeyes offense has improved vastly from where it was early in the season, Oregon’s offensive assault is a thing of beauty; a work of art. Their speed, precision and balance have proven to be too much for all their opponents.

On paper, the Ducks and Buckeyes are pretty evenly matched. Oregon gives up 22.3 points per game while Ohio State gives up 22.1 with the Buckeyes yielding less rushing yards (139.8 ypg) than the Ducks (154.2 ypg). Total defense? Not even close. Ohio State is ranked No. 14 nationally while Oregon is No. 81, just ahead of Purdue. But total yards don’t paint the whole picture. In terms of red zone defense, it’s a virtual tie. Where Ohio State has the edge is in tackles for loss and turnovers gained. The Buckeyes are simply more active on defense.

Special Teams
Ohio State is a bit more aggressive on kickoffs and punts than Oregon. Bear in mind, Oregon puts all its eggs in its offensive basket, so they rely less on special teams than most programs. I wouldn’t say the Buckeyes are much better, though. Oregon’s kicking game is more reliable.
ADVANTAGE: TIE (who cares?)

Oregon’s Mike Helfrich is in his second year as head coach and has already posted a 24-3 total record. Impressive. He is a Chip Kelly disciple who, more importantly, was the Ducks’ offensive coordinator before becoming the head man. In many ways he is the architect of this creative, high-flying offensive machine.

Urban Meyer seems to get more invincible with every game. Before coming to Ohio State, Meyer won two national championships at Florida. He’s won 84 percent of the games he’s coached, including a 37-3 record at Ohio State. Widely regarded as one of the smartest coaches in college football, there’s no denying Meyers’ acumen. Opponents may beat Meyer’s teams by outplaying them, but I don’t think anyone in the game right now can out-coach him.

I’ve watched quite a bit of both of these teams play this year. Both boast powerful offenses, creative game plans and intelligent players and coaches. But at the end of the day, Oregon’s offense has proven to be too much for everyone they’ve played this year. Ohio State will be able to hang with them, but not for four quarters. Oregon’s ability to score fast will press Ohio State’s Jones to try and match Mariota, which he won’t be able to do. Oregon controls the tempo of the game and will win by at least 10 points when all is said and done.

If Ohio State Wants to Win…
They have one of three choices to beat Oregon:

1) Control the tempo.
Slow it down and grind out possessions. If the Buckeyes try and make it a slugfest, they’ll go down like Tommy Hearns stepping into a Marvelous Marvin Hagler uppercut.

2) Outgun them.
If Braxton Miller or JT Barrett were playing, I’d say Ohio State truly has a fighting chance. But they don’t. And even then, Oregon’s offense is too fast and too potent. Cardale Jones has been impressive, but he won’t be able to keep up with Mariota.

3) Out-physical them.
Ohio State’s defense might be the best one Oregon faces all year. If they can get to Mariota and rough him up, it might slow down his out-of-pocket creativity. Ohio State has to push around Oregon’s much-maligned O-line and hammer away at Mariotta, his receivers and his running backs. The problem will be sustaining that intensity for four quarters. But if they can do that, they have a puncher’s chance of winning.

My advice to Ohio State, focus on Nos. 1 and 3. Forget about keeping up in this arms race. Hold Oregon to under 40 points and you have a chance to win.

But it won’t happen.

If I Were A Betting Man
The early line, Oregon -7. The over/under is anywhere from 70.5 – 74.0. Ohio State will be able to put points on the board and hang with the Ducks for at least the first half, but I see Oregon pulling away in the third quarter. Their uptempo offense is too much to handle. Ohio State’s defense is better than Florida State’s, but that means they might hold Oregon to about 50.



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