In the end, not even four turnovers could slow down Ohio State.
The Buckeyes’ offense was too strong, too fast, and two unrelenting. OSU pulled away late against the Oregon Ducks to claim the inaugural College Football Playoff championship 42-20 at AT&T Stadium Monday night. It’s Ohio State’s eighth national title and first since 2002. Coach Urban Meyer, in his third season with OSU, joins Nick Saban as the only coaches to win titles at two schools.
For all the controversy surrounding OSU’s inclusion in the four-team playoff, especially when it came at the expense of TCU and Baylor getting a chance, the Buckeyes ended up making the 12-person committee look prescient. No. 4-ranked OSU defeated No. 1-ranked Alabama and No. 2 Oregon to win the title after routing Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten Championship game.
And that Big Ten title game is really where the Buckeyes (14-1) became an offensive machine behind third string quarterback Cardale Jones. The sophomore replaced the injured J.T. Barrett to make his first start that night and has played like a seasoned veteran ever since.
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Along with Jones, the Buckeyes’ offense has turned into a two-headed monster with running back Ezekiel Elliott, who finished with four touchdowns and 246 yards rushing Monday night, a BCS-era record in the championship game, breaking Vince Young’s record of 200 yards with Texas in the 2006 BCS Championship.
It was Elliott’s third consecutive game with 200 or more yards rushing, an OSU record. He had 696 yards and eight touchdowns in the three-game stretch. His 33-yard scoring run in the first quarter tied the game at 7-7. Jones’ 1-yard scoring pass at the end of the first quarter gave OSU a 14-7 lead and the Buckeyes never trailed again.
“Our offense just started clicking so well,” said Elliott, who averaged 9 yards a carry in the three games. “The offensive line just stepped up. None of this would be possible without them.”
The Buckeyes finished with 538 total yards, including 242 passing from Jones. He completed 16 of 23 passes with an interception and touchdown. OSU also fumbled three times, but its defense twice held the Ducks (13-2) to field goals and stuffed them at the goal line on fourth down in the second quarter. In the third quarter, Oregon turned an interception and fumble into 10 points, including a 70-yard scoring pass from Marcus Mariota to Byron Marshall, to pull to within 21-20 with 6:39 left in the third quarter.
But the Buckeyes reasserted themselves, especially Jones and Elliott. Jones led scoring drives of 75 and 76 yards and Elliott rushed for three scores on runs of 9, 2 and 1 yards.
“Both those guys were highly sought [as recruits.] They played really well and they did a very good job banging with their run game,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said.
Jones, asked how he handled the pressure after only seeing limited action up until a month ago, sounded as relaxed as he looked on the field.
“Just having faith in my teammates. Keeping faith in my defense and we got it done,” Jones said. “It’s a dream come true but it’s still an unreal feeling.”
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760