Offense, Defense, Special Teams, and X Factor
As we gear up for Monday’s College Football national championship, let’s delve into an analysis of how each team measures up in all three aspects, along with a unique factor to consider for each.
There are some misconceptions about how these offenses operate.
It’s commonly believed that the Ducks rely exclusively on a fast-paced, finesse-style offense, while Ohio State is seen as a powerful, physical team that primarily emphasizes the running game over speed.
However, these offenses are remarkably similar when we look beyond the personnel.
Both Ohio State and Oregon rank among the top 5 in points per game and yards per game.
Oregon is known for its swift play execution, averaging a mere 21 seconds between plays.
Yet, Ohio State is no slouch, moving swiftly with a play every 25 seconds.
Both offensive lines boast an average weight of 300 pounds per player, utilizing their size to create openings for the run game.
Furthermore, both offenses maintain a balanced approach, prioritizing establishing the running game to open up opportunities for the passing game.
Royce Freeman for Oregon and Ezekiel Elliott for Ohio State are both robust runners known for their ability to rack up yards even after the initial contact.
Elliott showcased his explosive speed against Alabama with an impressive 80-yard touchdown run, playing a crucial role in securing the Sugar Bowl victory.
Regarding wide receivers, both teams possess players with exceptional speed and big-play potential.
For the Ducks, contributors like Devon Allen, Darrin Carrington, and Byron Marshall have played significant roles.
However, it’s worth noting that Allen and Carrington will be unavailable due to an ankle injury and a failed drug test, respectively.
On the other side, Ohio State relies on targets like Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, and Michael Thomas, who have consistently demonstrated their ability to stretch the field and get behind defenders throughout the season.
When it comes to the quarterback position, Oregon holds the advantage.
Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota accounted for an astounding 56 touchdowns with just six turnovers this season.
He possesses a comprehensive set of intangibles, including accuracy, intelligence, athleticism, sound decision-making, and a high level of consistency.
His synchronicity with offensive coordinator Scott Frost is critical to the Ducks’ offensive success.
Buckeyes quarterback Cardale Jones is set to make his third career start.
Standing at an imposing 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Jones is known for his physical prowess and has a powerful arm that allows him to complete deep throws.
So far, his relative lack of experience hasn’t been a glaring issue, but I anticipate it may become more apparent in this game, especially if the Ducks take an early lead.
Notably, Ohio State’s offensive coordinator Tom Herman earned the Assistant Coach of the Year award for his instrumental role in preparing three different quarterbacks to lead the Buckeyes to the national championship game.
While Oregon will feel the absence of Allen and Carrington, I firmly believe that Marcus Mariota is a genuinely exceptional player, and when compared to Jones, he deserves the advantage.
Advantage – Oregon
In terms of defensive strategies, the teams couldn’t be more distinct.
Ohio State employs a 4-3 scheme, primarily geared towards stopping the run, a prevalent style in the Big Ten, known for its powerhouse running teams.
On the flip side, Oregon opts for a 3-4 scheme with various adaptations to get an additional defensive back on the field.
This strategic choice is tailored to counter the spread of offenses commonly seen in the Pac-12.
Looking at the front line, Ohio State boasts a versatile and agile defensive unit that ranks among the top 15 nationally in both sacks and tackles for losses.
Notably, defensive end Joey Bosa has been a standout performer with an impressive 13.5 sacks this season, while defensive end Steve Miller has contributed 6.5 sacks and even scored a touchdown off an interception in the Sugar Bowl.
Joshua Perry, who has accumulated an impressive 118 tackles this season, is leading the charge for the fast-flowing linebacker corps.
Ohio State’s secondary has also demonstrated their prowess with 24 interceptions, placing them fourth in the nation in this category.
The Ducks have faced challenges in their defensive performance, particularly struggling to stop conversions on third down, allowing them at a rate of 42 percent.
A notable weakness lies in their secondary, giving up an average of 265 yards per game, ranking 108th in the nation.
Adding to this, the loss of All-American cornerback Ifo-Ekpre Olomu to a knee injury before the Rose Bowl further heightened their vulnerability.
It’s important not to be convinced by the Rose Bowl statistics; Florida State managed to move the ball with relative ease despite turning it over four times in Oregon territory.
The Ducks were fortunate to regain possession. Furthermore, the rapid pace of Oregon’s offense forces their defenders to spend more time on the field than most other teams.
In truth, the Ducks don’t seem to possess the same level of defensive talent.
They’ll rely heavily on DE DeForest Buckner and OLB Tony Washington to apply pressure on Jones.
On the back end, safety Erick Dargan will aim to maintain deep coverage.
Ohio State holds a slight advantage with defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, who effectively devised strategies against Heisman hopefuls Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin and Amari Cooper of Alabama.
This was evident in the Buckeyes’ resounding 59-0 victory over Wisconsin, where Gordon, the All-American running back and Doak Walker Award recipient, was held to his second-lowest rushing yardage of the season (26 carries, 76 yards).
While Fickell couldn’t keep the Fred Biletnikoff Award winner Cooper out of the end zone, he did limit the All-American receiver to just seven yards per catch.
Ohio State’s defensive setup may not perfectly align with what’s most effective against the Ducks.
However, it wouldn’t be surprising if Fickell introduces some variations and employs three-man fronts.
Throughout the year, the Buckeye defense has been under pressure to provide stability for a team that’s started three different quarterbacks.
Yet, I’m confident that the Buckeyes are well-equipped to meet this challenge.
Advantage – Buckeyes
Let’s examine the “hidden yardage” in this matchup by looking at the net punting average, kickoff return average, and defense.
Oregon’s net punting average is 36.6 yards, with a kickoff return average of 20.3 yards and a kickoff average of 21.37.
On the other hand, Ohio State boasts a net punting average of 41.78 yards, which ranks them fifth nationally.
They’re also averaging 22.71 yards per kickoff and allowing 17.50 yards per kickoff return.
In simple terms, the Buckeyes are gaining an approximate 10-yard advantage per game in field position.
With the Ducks missing return specialist Allen due to a knee injury, this discrepancy will be even more significant, especially considering Allen’s impressive average of 26 yards per return.
Charles Nelson, who is expected to fill in for Allen, has an average of 20 yards per return. This further tilts the balance in favor of the Buckeyes.
Now, let’s take a look at the kickers. Ohio State’s placekicker, Sean Nuernberger, has made 13 out of 20 field goals, showing some variability in his performance.
In contrast, Oregon’s combination of Aidan Schneider (9-10 FGs) and Matt Wogan (7-9 FGs) has been more consistent in their field goal attempts.
However, Nuernberger has been flawless on PATs, with a perfect 82 out of 82, whereas the Ducks have missed four.
Additionally, Nuernberger has successfully kicked a 49-yard field goal this season, surpassing the longest field goal by the Ducks, which stands at 42 yards.
Although it may not always be evident on the field, the statistics paint a clear picture.
The absence of Allen gives the Buckeyes a significant advantage on special teams.
Advantage – Buckeyes
With two national championships under his belt at Florida, Urban Meyer leads Ohio State’s coaching staff, bringing a wealth of experience to the table.
The Buckeyes hold an undefeated 8-0 record against Oregon while the Ducks are pursuing their first national football title.
Ohio State’s strength coach, Mickey Marotti, excels in athletes’ physical and mental preparation for competition, arguably surpassing any coach in the country.
Marotti has been alongside Meyer since their time at Notre Dame and continued with him at Florida.
The conditioning of Ohio State’s athletes is unlikely to be a determining factor, especially considering how Oregon has worn down its opponents.
Instead, the mental fortitude will prove pivotal in this game. This is why I believe Marotti gives the Buckeyes the edge in the quest for the national championship.
Advantage – Buckeyes
With a 3-1 advantage in various aspects, it’s surprising to see on paper that Ohio State seems well-positioned to win not only this game but also the national championship.
This might have seemed improbable just a few months ago. However, the actual game still needs to be played, making college football captivating.
It promises to be a thrilling contest and a fitting conclusion to an eventful college football season.
Enjoy the game!