Column

Ohio State beats Oregon for national title with an Urban renewal

Ezekiel Elliott rushes for 246 yards and four touchdowns to lead Ohio State to a 42-20 win over Oregon

It was a momentum rush, all right, a wave that couldn't be stopped.

The game plan Monday was to get a lead and wear the other team out in the fourth quarter.

Everyone who thought Oregon would be taking the lead on this, however, had the wrong team, the wrong color, and definitely the wrong score.

It was the scarlet and gray of Ohio State that dictated the terms and the tempo, not the green from Eugene.

A tall quarterback with a strong arm made all the big plays when they counted, but it wasn't the Heisman Trophy winner. It was a third-stringer who didn't make his first college start until after Thanksgiving.

Such is life, such is sport.

Ohio State capped one of the most improbable runs in recent history when it defeated Oregon, 42-20, to win the first College Football Playoff championship.

A crowd of 85,689 witnessed it at AT&T Stadium even if the state of Oregon didn't want to believe it.

It marked the third national title for third-year Buckeyes Coach Urban Meyer, who won championships at Florida in 2006 and 2008.

Meyer joined elite company by becoming only the eighth coach to win at least three national titles.

“The chase is complete,” Meyer said after the win. “The guys accepted their final mission and did it.”

What a chase.

In the end, with only one game to decide everything, one dream season always takes out another.

This wasn't the huge upset Ohio State pulled off against Miami in the 2002 season at the Fiesta Bowl, but in some ways this one was more impressive.

Ohio State's starting quarterback played the entire game in that game.

“This team wasn't supposed to do this,” Meyer said.

Monday, the Buckeyes were led all the way home by Cardale Jones, a third-year sophomore who started the season third on the depth chart behind Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett.

When both those players were injured, Jones was forced into the role of a lifetime.

“It's even better than I thought,” Jones said. “It's an unreal feeling.”

Jones stepped up when Barrett got hurt against Michigan, in late November, and finished off the job.

Jones then defeated, in succession, Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon to win the national title — not a bad first line to have on your resume.

Jones completed 16 of 23 passes for 242 yards and ran 21 times for 38 yards. He only averaged 1.8 yards per carry, but many were key gains to extend drives.

He used his size, 6 feet 5 and 250 pounds, to push piles forward.

Ezekiel Elliott provided the put-away by rushing for 246 yards and four touchdowns. It was his third straight 200-yard rushing performance.

“They did a good job of banging at us with their run game,” Oregon Coach Mark Helfrich said.

Meyer had another term for Elliott: “a beast.”

It was a tough night for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota who, if he opts to turn pro, will finish his career at 36-5.

He finished with fine stats — completing 24 of 37 passes for 333 yards, while rushing for 39 in 10 carries.

Mariota's last pass, if it was the final one of his career, was a meaningless interception on the game's last play.

It was only his fifth intercepted pass of the year and 14th of his career.

He ended his Heisman Trophy season with 42 touchdown passes — and an empty feeling.

“I don't care about legacies, that's other people's opinion,” Mariota said. “My goal was to be a great teammate.”

Ohio State's chances of winning a national title appeared laughable when the Buckeyes lost at home, by 14 points, to Virginia Tech on Sept.6. It was the same day Oregon defeated Big Ten foe, Michigan State, by 19 in Eugene.

Ohio State was almost an afterthought in the new four-team playoff for most of the year and only sneaked into the fourth spot after an unexpected, 59-0 win over Wisconsin to win the Big Ten championship.

The Buckeyes advanced to the Final Four with no reasonable expectation of taking down No. 1 Alabama with a third-stringer at quarterback.

Yet, Ohio State rallied from a 21-6 deficit to shock the Crimson Tide in New Orleans, then continued the shock treatment in Texas.

“After all we went through, this is crazy,” Elliott said after Monday's game. “It doesn't feel real.”

Ohio State did to Oregon what Oregon does to most teams — it wore the Ducks out.

Meyer said it was the biggest improvement he's seen from one of his teams, from first game to last.

“I've never seen anything like it,” he said.

Oregon's offense feeds off momentum, but didn't get it going early, and then was stripped of it.

The Ducks raced 75 yards on the opening drive and scored on Mariota's seven-yard pass to Keanon Lowe.

It was hard to believe Oregon, a team that averages 47 points per game, would only score another 13.

The Ducks converted only twice on third down in 12 tries.

Oregon couldn't take advantage of four Ohio State turnovers, two in the first half.

The Ducks settled for field goals instead of touchdowns and were stopped once on fourth and goal.

Ohio State's 21-10 halftime lead felt like a lot more.

Oregon caught a break when Ohio State fumbled early in the third quarter. The Ducks finally answered, with a 70-yard scoring strike from Mariota to Byron Marshall. That reduced the lead to 21-17, and then Oregon got the ball back when a Jones fumble was recovered by Arik Armstead.

Again, though, the Ducks' stalled and settled for a field goal to cut the lead to 21-20.

Meyer said holding Oregon to that field goal was the key to winning the game. Ohio State answered by scoring the final 21 points.

Elliott's power running wore Oregon down. He scored on a nine-yard run on the last play of the third quarter and added fourth-quarter scoring runs of two and one yard.

During the course of the game, after runs, Elliott motioned “feed me” to the Buckeyes' sideline.

They did, he got full, Ohio State took home the title and Oregon went home hungry.

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