For a college football program with a blueblood heritage, No. 4 Ohio State has been remarkably successful in the underdog role under coach Urban Meyer.
The Buckeyes (13-1), considered seven-point underdogs to No. 2 Oregon (13-1) in Monday’s national championship game in Arlington, have fashioned a 5-0 record when playing as the underdog in three seasons under Meyer. Included is a 3-0 mark this year, with wins over favored teams from Wisconsin (59-0) and top-ranked Alabama (42-35) in their last two outings.
Meyer said he adopts a different approach to each matchup. But he will wait until after Friday’s arrival in Dallas-Fort Worth to finalize his emotional appeal to his team for Monday’s showdown at AT&T Stadium.
“It depends where we’re at, what kind of team you’ve got and who we are playing,” Meyer said. “We’ve gone berserk with it a few times, and there’s other times, like this last one [against Alabama], we didn’t really play it up much.”
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The bottom line to players is that Meyer has an uncanny skill at pushing the right button in these situations.
“What else is new? Nobody expected us to be here,” said safety Tyvis Powell, who made the game-clinching interception on the final play against Alabama. “We still don’t get the respect we deserve. I looked on the Internet and saw that 66 percent of the world is picking Oregon to win. But that’s just motivation to come out here and get the job done.”
Defensive tackle Michael Bennett said: “We’ve been underdogs for a while now. That’s OK with me. It doesn’t shape the way we play. We always have a chip on our shoulder. The coaches do a great job of motivating us, and we do a great job of motivating each other.”
The efficiency of the Oregon offense, which ranks third among the nation’s FBS teams in total yards (552.9 per game) and second in scoring (47.2 avg.), has caught the attention of more than the Buckeyes’ defenders. Running back Ezekiel Elliott said a greater burden of proof will fall on the Ohio State offense in Monday’s title game.
“The key to beating Oregon is scoring on every opportunity we can,” Elliott said. “Some times, we’re going to have to grind out longer possessions to keep our defense off the field and get them some rest.”
Elliott, who has topped the 200-yard rushing mark in the Buckeyes’ past two games, admits he likes to check big-screen displays in stadium end zones to monitor opposing defenders and know when to protect the ball with both hands “if they’re close enough.” He plans to adapt his approach at AT&T Stadium, where the Jumbotron hangs from the domed roof, by channeling a movie character.
“I’m just going to have to go. It’ll be, ‘Run, Forrest, run,’” Elliott said, reflecting on the football scenes from the movie Forrest Gump.
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Left tackle Taylor Decker, the most experienced member of the Buckeyes’ offensive line, said he plans to return next season for his senior year regardless of Monday’s outcome. Decker said his NFL evaluation projected him as a late second-round draft pick and he hopes to boost his stock with his efforts next season.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760