Wednesday, January 7, 2015

And then there were Two

Well I think that it is safe to say that the implementation of the playoffs has been a tremendous success. While you can argue that TCU or Baylor had a claim to the final playoff spot that Ohio State secured, there is no denying that the playoffs have made the postseason much more fair and competitive. Under the BCS system, Florida State would have played Alabama. As you are well aware, both of those teams will be watching the championship game from their couches. Ohio State and Oregon each won their games in impressive fashion and are on their way to Dallas for what could turn out to be an instant classic. Here's how they did it.

Rose Bowl
No. 2 Oregon Ducks beat No. 3 Florida State Seminoles 59-20

Oregon's 2015 National Championship Jerseys
This game was total domination on both sides for the Ducks who completely embarrassed the Seminoles and ended their 29 game win streak. Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston figure to go in the top two picks of this year's draft, but their order is undetermined. If you were going off of just this game, Mariota would be the first overall pick. He completely annihilated Florida State's defense, especially in the secondary as he threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns against only one pick. On he ground, he picked up another 62 yards and a touchdown on one carry. He was in command of the offense from the opening drive. They only managed 18 points by half time, but the second half was a completely different story as they scored five touchdowns unanswered in the third quarter and into the fourth. His receivers did a better job of finding space and Mariota was able to get into a rhythm and just picked apart the secondary. Freshman receiver Darren Carrington had the game of his life as he hauled in 7 passes for two touchdowns and 165 yards. He was practically uncoverable against a very athletic secondary that had some issues this year. Outside of him, tight end Evan Baylis was his most reliable target with six catches and 73 yards. The Ducks were equally dangerous on the ground as they ran for 301 yards and five touchdowns against a weak front seven. I figured that Royce Freeman would have the biggest game out of all the rushers, but this time it goes to Thomas Tyner. Tyner put in easily his best game of the season when given the touches in this game. He carried the ball 13 times for 124 times and two touchdowns. Florida State's front seven had been exposed numerous times this year, so it wasn't inconceivable for one of Oregon's backs to have a big night. Freeman only managed 44 yards on twelve carries, but still managed to reach the endzone twice. It took them a while to do it, but eventually Oregon's offensive line and tempo was able to wear down on the Seminoles front seven. If this team gets into their rhythm, it will be a tall order for Ohio State to stop.

Defensively, Oregon played a great game of bend but don't break. Florida State still managed to rack up 528 yards of offense, but that translated to only 20 points. For all the mistakes he made, Jameis Winston threw for 348 yards and a touchdown, but was also picked off. He had a really tough day as the offensive line that has had so many issues wasn't able to protect Winston on a fair amount of his dropbacks. The front seven also forced two turnovers that really put Oregon ahead in this game. Dalvin Cook fumbled twice in this game after two long runs that killed very promising drives. Karlos Williams played a bit better than I predicted, but wasn't able to find space consistently. You could tell the Ducks really missed Ifo at cornerback, but were able to prevent most of Jameis's shots down the field. His longest pass only went for 24 yards since he didn't have much time to throw nor a lot of room for his passes. Oregon is going to have a much more difficult time going up against an Ohio State offense that has averaged 45 points and 509 yards per game. Their knack for explosive plays could prove too much for a slightly depleted defense.

Sugar Bowl
No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes beat No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide 42-35

All hail King Cardale! All hail E-Z-E! It doesn't matter who is under center or who is running the ball for Ohio State because Urban Meyer can turn them into a star. Ohio State completely dominated Alabama's defense and roared back from a 21-6 deficit to score four unanswered touchdowns that gave them the lead for good. The star of this game was true sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, who put up some monster numbers and set a couple of firsts against Alabama. His start line for the day reads twenty carries for 230 yards (11.5 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. He is the first running back to go for over the century mark on Alabama this season and the first to rush for over two hundred yards against the Tide in over a decade. From the very first serious, he was able to rip off big chunks of yards as his early fifty yard run resulted in a field goal and gave the Buckeyes all the confidence they needed against a defense that had been exposed a bit against faster offense. Even when he wasn't hitting home runs, Elliot was able to pick up four or five yards on first down on most series that really made it easier for the rest of the offense to play efficiently and open up the playbook. But easily his biggest carry of the night came with only three and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter. Sweeping left, he found the tiniest of creases and was able to pull away from the secondary for an 85 yard touchdown that almost assuredly closed the door on the Tide. This made the game 42-28 and put a huge burden on Alabama's offense. King Cardale didn't have the best day statistically as he completed only 51% of their passes and threw a pick. However, he connected on 18 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown, so most of his passes were moving the chains throughout the game. Some of his drives stalled and you could tell he was being a bit overly cautious during the first half, but eventually he was finding targets down field every other play. Devin Smith had another big game, turning two receptions into 83 yards and a touchdown that gave Ohio State the lead for good early in the third quarter. Michael Thomas had the biggest game out of all the receivers after he hauled in seven passes and 66 yards with a circus catch for a touchdown on a trick play. Thomas beat his man to the sideline and then kept his left foot in by less than an inch which closed the lead to one just before halftime. With the way the offense was hitting on all cylinders, you can expect this national championship to be a shoot out.

Ohio State's 2015 National Championship Jersey
The defense played a great game that is slightly misrepresented by the box score. They played a hell of a game and got put in some pretty tough situations early on. A fumble to Elliot and a pick thrown by Cardale put them in a tough spot to defend early in the game right after they had gotten off the field. Outside of those two gifts, Alabama only scored one more time in the half and was kept out of the endzone until the end of the third quarter. Every unit of the defense played well, but the most outstanding was the secondary which limited Blake Sims to just 237 yards through the air. He threw two touchdowns to a wide open Amari Cooper, but he also tossed three picks. All of those came in the second half and completely changed the momentum of the game. His first came when Alabama took over at Ohio State's 23 yard line, but was immediately picked by Vonn Bell while trying to throw to OJ Howard. His second was a real morale crusher as he didn't see defensive end Steve Miller drop back into coverage. Miller stepped right in front of Cooper and returned the pick 41 yards for a touchdown to make the game 34-21. Sims's last pick came on the hail mary at the end of regulation that sealed their fate. For the most part, the secondary was able to contain Cooper who caught nine passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns. He definitely made some plays, but was kept in check for a lot of the game. No other receiver had more than three receptions. Alabama was more successful on the ground, but they couldn't always rely on it to convert third downs. Yeldon wasn't at full health and Derrick Henry got too few touches once the Buckeyes got the lead. The linebackers played very sound defense and made some good plays in open space which they will have to do against Oregon. If the secondary or defensive line is able to generate even a single turnover in this game, it could mean the difference. The whole defense has been great at generating turnovers this whole season and I don't expect that to stop against the Ducks.

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