Sunday, January 11, 2015

BUCKEYES WILL OUTMATCH DUCKS IN INAUGURAL CFP CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

DALLAS — If you would have told me in mid-August — following news that senior quarterback Braxton Miller would miss the entire season — that Ohio State would make it to the inaugural College Football Playoff Championship game in Dallas some five months later, I would have been scurrying for my bag of magic beans to sell you.

Following the Buckeyes' two-touchdown loss to Virginia Tech in September, if you would have told me the Buckeyes were still going to the title game, I would have reserved a room for you, equipped with padded walls and 24-hour surveillance by top medical professionals.

But ... here we are. 

The Buckeyes (13-1) have shocked the world, ripping off 12 straight victories, including a dismantling of the No. 1 team in the nation (Alabama) in the Sugar Bowl last week, catapulting themselves into that 'crazy' title game next Monday night (8:30 p.m. ESPN) against No. 2 Oregon (13-1). 

While the Buckeyes are considered the underdogs to the high-powered Ducks, it's almost ridiculous not to consider Ohio State as favorites with all of the obstacles they have faced and overcome.

Sure, Oregon possesses this year's Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is the catalyst for the Ducks' fast-paced attack, leading the nation in pass efficiency. Their high-octane offense overmatches many of the teams they have come across in 2014.

But unlike many of the teams that the Ducks have faced this season, Ohio State can match them in offensive tempo, and pass efficiency, ranking second in the nation in that category themselves.

"Yeah, I've watched a lot of their offense," OSU head coach Urban Meyer said of Oregon. "We run similar offenses, a lot of similar plays. 

"Their tempo; the Heisman Trophy winner (Mariota), and he should have been Heisman Trophy winner, I'm glad he got it. For a lot of reasons, I'm glad he got it. I just love who he is."

Where the Buckeyes can overmatch the Ducks, however, is in the trenches. The Buckeyes have rushed for 262.2 yards per game this season, led by one of the hottest tailbacks in the nation in sophomore Ezekiel Elliott.

Ohio State has faced five of the top 12 defenses in the country this season, and Elliott has dominated all of them, going for more than 100 yards in each contest (over 220 twice), while averaging 167 yards per game and totaling nine rushing touchdowns. His average per carry against those top 12 defenses is nearly eight yards per tote.

"We had big plans. We had a lot of confidence in him," Meyer said of Elliott. "His last two games are really productive. He's a little tougher than I thought he would be. His post-contact yards are probably a bit more than I thought they would be. He's a really tough runner."

Another area where the Ducks usually overwhelm the opposition is with their speed. Monday night's showdown with the Buckeyes may give the Ducks a dose of their own medicine.

The Buckeyes have perhaps the fastest defense in the nation, and the stats back up that claim. Ohio State has allowed just 35 plays this season of more than 20 yards — tops in the nation. That fact can help immensely going against an up-tempo offense like Oregon's.

"The risk of tempo offense, which I debated for years, if you three-and-out them and 24 seconds you just took off the clock and you're playing a good team, that's not good," Meyer said. "So there's plus and minuses."

Bottom Line

Oregon and Ohio State each have explosive weapons on their respective offenses. There are going to be points a plenty on Monday Night in Cowboys Stadium.

So what gives?

Defense! 

While the two teams match up quite similarly on the offensive side of the ball, the defensive side swings greatly in Ohio State's favor. The Buckeyes are 17th nationally in total defense, while Oregon is 84th. 

Each team can throw the ball as well as any squad in the country, but only one has proven they can defend it, as the Buckeyes are 16th in the nation against pass, opposed to Oregon which is ... 108th.

Oh, and did I mention that there isn't a better big game coach over the past decade in college football than Urban Meyer?

Yes, the best coach in the game will win his third national title in as many tries, and takes the Buckeyes, and the Big Ten conference back to the college football mountain top.

Lee's Prediction: OSU 49-42