25 words or fewer: Well, that will just about cover the SEC speed question, but can the Buckeyes wing the Ducks?
25 words or fewer
Well, that will just about cover the SEC speed question, but can the Buckeyes wing the Ducks? The point is, they get their shot.
In the playoffs
Rankings don't matter anymore, now that Ohio State has advanced to meet Oregon in the first College Football Playoff championship game on Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas. But seeding order does matter. The Ducks were No. 2 going into the playoff, which means they will be the home team and wear their home uniforms du jour. The No. 4 Buckeyes will be in their road uniforms, but they did pretty well in that garb on Thursday.
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Ezekiel Elliott and the offensive line. Elliott has rushed for increasingly career highs of 220 yards in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin and a Sugar Bowl-record 230 yards against Alabama. The offensive line, with a little help from its friends, not the least of which was a crunching block from receiver Evan Spencer, paved the way for 256 yards rushing overall against an Alabama defense that entered the game best in the nation against the run (88.7 yards per game). And that 85-yard run by Elliott to the clinching touchdown - it's already a part of Buckeyes lore.
What's not hot?
Throwing a deep incompletion on first down after Spencer secured an attempted onside kick by Alabama with just under two minutes to play. Yes, Alabama was set up to stop the run, but even taking a knee there would have forced the Crimson Tide to use one of its two remaining timeouts. Instead, Bama got a freebie, then used its timeouts to get the ball back after a punt with 1:33 to play. In other words, that incompletion gave the Crimson Tide a shot.
What went right?
Cardale Jones, making just his second start, delivered another good performance, and not just because he was 18-of-35 passing for 243 yards with one touchdown (47 yards to Devin Smith) and an interception. He took three sacks and made Ohio State fans nervous with his tentativeness on several plays, especially when he was standing in his end zone, but the Buckeyes were 10 of 18 on third-down conversions, most of them the result of Jones passing or running.
Back to the drawing board
To nitpick, the Buckeyes need to be more efficient scoring touchdown in the red zone. They were 2 of 4 against Alabama - not bad, but they settled for short field goals on their first two attempts when a touchdown either time could have swung open the gates. Instead, before they knew it, Alabama was leading 21-6, helped by two turnovers (an Elliott fumble and Jones' interception) along the way. It didn't need to be a come-from-behind effort, but hey, that's what made it interesting.
Tight end Jeff Heuerman played despite aggravating the high-ankle sprain that has bothered him all season. He had to leave the game several times but returned. Center Jacoby Boren had to deal with same malady but also returned.
In the past two games, the Buckeyes have dispatched the Heisman Trophy runner-up, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon (76 yards), and the third-place finisher, Alabama receiver Amari Cooper (nine catches, just 71 yards but two TDs). Now comes the winner: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Oregon, which roared past Florida State 59-20 in the other semifinal at the Rose Bowl. The Ducks did what they do best, keeping the tempo up until finally the Seminoles and last year's Heisman winner, Jameis Winston, couldn't keep pace. Maybe TCU should have been in the playoff field, after all.
This week's challenge
Coach Urban Meyer knows his players just took part in a knockdown, drag-out game with the No. 1 team in the country, but he has to have the defense ready in 10 days to chase an up-tempo offense and have his offense ready to match scores. As he said, "This is uncharted territory" for major college teams with the playoff. Then again, you can't win it if you're not in it.