Throughout the week players and coaches for Oregon and Florida State were peppered with questions about the Ducks’ supposed West Cost “softness.” Compared to the more meat-and-potatoes style of power football the likes of the Seminoles, the label went, the Ducks were in over their heads.
Both sides took turns saying the right things, but you got the feeling that the Florida State defense thought the Ducks were in for a rude awakening come Thursday at the Rose Bowl.
Instead, it was Oregon that flexed its muscle while turning in the most lopsided Rose Bowl victory since the inaugural game there 100 years ago.
The Ducks (13-1) showed they are much more than an up-tempo spread offense and pulled away against the defending national champion Seminoles (13-1), 59-20, in the inaugural College Football Playoff semifinal in front of 91,322 at the Rose Bowl.
It was No. 3-ranked Florida State’s first loss in over two years. No. 2 Oregon advances to the national championship game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Jan. 12. It’s the Ducks’ second time to reach the championship game. They lost to Auburn in 2010.
After a relatively even first half in which Oregon claimed an 18-13 lead, the Ducks exploded thanks to a flurry of Florida State turnovers in the third quarter. After a fumble, Oregon zipped down the field 69 yards on five plays with Royce Freeman scoring on a 3-yard run. He dragged 320-pound FSU defensive tackle Eddie Goldman into the end zone, providing one of many examples of Oregon’s power and toughness.
But the defending national champion Seminoles, winners of 29 consecutive games and nine comeback victories in 2014, are no strangers to this scene, not the Rose Bowl and not trailing in the second half.
After Freeman’s score, quarterback Jameis Winston led FSU on a 75-yard, 10-play drive capped by his 18-yard scoring pass to Travis Rudolph. That pulled the Seminoles to within 25-20 with just over eight minutes remaining in the third quarter. For FSU and Winston, who won the school’s third national championship at the Rose Bowl a year ago after winning the Heisman Trophy as a freshman, it seemed to be business as usual.
Oregon, however, has its own Heisman winner in quarterback Marcus Mariota. He answered Winston with a 56-yard scoring pass to Darren Carrington on the Ducks’ next possession, stretching their lead back to 32-20.
On FSU’s next series, as the sun was going down over the Rose Bowl, the same was happening to the Seminoles’ run of excellence. Dalvin Cook, who fumbled on FSU’s first possession after halftime, fumbled again after a reception and Oregon took possession near midfield. Two plays and 21 seconds later Mariota hit Carrington for a 30-yard score to make it 39-20, FSU’s largest deficit since trailing Oklahoma in Sept. 2010.
“The defense played incredible,” said Mariota, who finished with 338 yards on 26 of 36 passing with two touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed for 62 yards and a score. “Those guys have been doing it all year. They always kind of find ways to get the ball.”
Oregon entered the game third in the nation in turnover margin. FSU, on the other hand, was near the bottom of the FBS with 27 turnovers, including 17 Winston interceptions.
It just got worse for the Seminoles, who committed four turnovers in the third quarter and five in the game. Winston, flushed out of the pocket near midfield, lost the ball, which was picked up by Oregon linebacker Tony Washington, who returned it 58 yards for the score to put the game away near the end of the third quarter.
“One of the worst quarters we’ve had,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “And every time we were moving the football and had a chance to score points. [Oregon] is a very good football team all the way across — offense, defense, linemen, the whole team.”
Mariota and Thomas Tyner added scoring runs of 23 and 21 yards in the fourth quarter to put an added stamp on the Ducks’ statement.
“I already saw their heads go down,” former Houston Alief Taylor star and Oregon linebacker Torrodney Prevot said of the Seminoles’ demeanor after Oregon took an 11-3 lead early in the second quarter. “We saw the physicality and their endurance is not that strong. We noticed on film that they play people that can’t finish. That’s what we do. We finish here.”