When the Ohio State Buckeyes fell behind 21-6 to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl, most of us were sure the game was over. But Ohio State stormed back behind the arm and feet of third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, a strong 230-yard rushing game by Ezekiel Elliott and three forced turnovers against the Crimson Tide offense to win the game 42-35.
Despite defeating the No. 1 team in the country, the Buckeyes are still seven point underdogs against the Oregon Ducks in the College Football Playoff National Championship. But after seeing what they did to Alabama, Ohio State has the talent to defeat the high-flying Ducks and earn Urban Meyer his third national title.
Here are the keys to victory for Ohio State in Monday night’s national title game.
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Cardale Jones must get off to a good start
Despite falling behind early to Alabama, it would probably not be a good idea to fall behind early to Oregon. Jones got off to a slow start against Alabama missing his first five passes. While the Buckeyes were falling behind 21-6, Jones was only 5-for-13 with one interception.
Against Oregon, Jones must get off to a faster start or Oregon could run away with the game early.
Ezekiel Elliott must get at least 20 carries
There is no better way to compete against an up-tempo offense like Oregon’s than to play keep-away with your own offense. Keeping the Ducks’ offense on the sideline starts with a strong running game led by Elliott. Against Alabama, Elliott carried the ball 20 times for 230 yards including an 85-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Overall, Elliott has rushed for 1,632 yards at an average of 6.9 yards per carry and 14 touchdowns. If Elliott can have a big game against Oregon, it will take some of the pressure off Jones and keep Marcus Mariotta and the Oregon offense off the field.
Take care of the football
Nothing fuels the Oregon offense like turnovers in positive territory. In their semi-final playoff game against Florida State, the Ducks forced five second-half turnovers, all of which led to touchdowns.
When the Buckeyes were falling behind 21-6 to Alabama, they committed two turnovers (an interception thrown by Jones and a fumble by Elliott). Oregon is excellent capitalizing off turnovers so the Buckeyes need to minimize their mistakes and take care of the football.
Contain QB Marcus Mariotta and RB Royce Freeman
Much easier said than done. Mariotta is a deserving Heisman trophy winner given his ability to make big plays with both his right arm and feet. And with his calm demeanor, he is the perfect quarterback to run Oregon’s up-tempo offense.
Freeman may be the biggest key for Ohio State Buckeyes to slow down the Oregon offense. Against Florida State, Freeman only gained 44 yards on 12 carries but he still had two touchdowns.
If Ohio State can contain both Mariotta and Freeman in the running game, it will lead to difficulty in the passing game where the Buckeyes excel on pass defense.