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Marcus Mariota

College National Championship Game Wrap Up

So I predicted a 52-24 Oregon Duck victory. What went wrong? The easy answer is Ohio State pushed Oregon around up front. This is true but had Oregon executed early on I really beleive the game was winnable.  But let’s take a look at how Oregon measured up to what I projected as the keys to the game.  First, a couple of other items from my pre-game analysis and then a review of the keys to the game.

“So if Cardale Jones is so talented why was he third string?  Mainly because of his tendency to make costly bonehead plays.”

“Bonehead” is not a term I generally would use to describe a player but with Jones it seemed appropriate. Sure enough, this played out with Jones’ bizarre effort to shove the ball back in his running backs gut long after he pulled it out and decided he should not have kept it. The train (i.e. running back) had left the station and the ball fell to the ground for Oregon to recover.  Later on he tried a poor Jameis Winston impersonation with his wild attempt to throw the ball while falling backward, resulting in another turnover.

“The vulnerability (for Oregon’s defense) will be in the middle of the field.  Both rushing and passing.”

This turned out to be very true.  Almost every big or significant play for Ohio State happened in the middle.

I know a lot of people were upset that Oregon didn’t blitz the quarterback with more people but to do that would have required them to play man coverage downfield and both Wisconsin and Alabama showed that was a recipe for disaster. Oregon tried a different strategy about like I expected but results were the same. Credit to Ohio State for adapting.

Here were my keys to the game with a grade:

“Oregon needs to protect their QB and avoid sacks.”

GRADE C-  While Mariota was not sacked or hit much he was often forced to move a lot and this disrupted the timing of passing plays.

“Oregon needs to protect the ball when running and not drop any passes they should catch.”

GRADE D  only because  the first two fumbles were recovered.  The two dropped passes that killed drives took away Oregon’s best chance to build a big lead and put Ohio State on there heels.

“Oregon needs to keep Cardell Jones from successfully throwing long to receivers.”

GRADE B  Oregon was generally successful on this with only one really deep pass on a play that was well defended.

“Oregon needs to keep Cardell Jones from faking the pass, and then rushing straight ahead for first downs.”

GRADE D-  I can only recall one time that Oregon stopped Cardell from getting a first down on a key play and in that case Ohio State got it on 4th down right afterward.

“Oregon needs to keep up the fast pace, because in spite of the talk about OSU being ready for it I don’t believe they will be any more ready for it than any other opponent that Oregon has faced.”

GRADE D  Had receivers not dropped the easy catches stopping drives early Oregon had a chance to jump to a 21 – 0 lead. Failing that, Ohio State was able to take their defense off the field and then regroup. Shortly after they were able to establish their power game.

“Ohio State will need to have a very successful running game, a mistake free game by their quarterback and a couple of huge plays for scores.”

GRADE A for Ohio State.  They were so successful on two of these three items that the “bonehead” plays by their QB and two additional turnovers didn’t hurt them.

At the start of the season I expressed concern that Oregon’s linebackers were their Achilles Heal.  But players stepped up and this group got better as the year went on.  But for the first time all season the undersized group was exposed.  Oregon’s linebackers have great heart but the fact of the matter is that they are not large enough or fast enough to stand up the assault that Ohio State put on them.  And that leads us to the future.

The Future

Bottom line: The future is bright.  Yes Oregon will likely be without Mariota (although I won’t be shocked if he comes back for his senior year).  Arik Armstedt will be off to the NFL along with Senior All-American’s Center Hroniss Grasu and Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.  But Oregon has a lot of great young players including some linebackers who should be able to improve results at that position next year.  But the position is still the Achilles Heal.  Oregon is striking out in recruiting of high profile prospects at the linebacker postion and has less than a month to try and change that before high school prospects sign commitments.

Defensive End recruit Canton Kaumatule

Defensive End recruit Canton Kaumatule

In other areas the future is very bright.  Oregon is expected to sign some NFL potential Defensive Lineman.  One these, DE Canton Kaumatule from Hawaii was considered the top recruit in the country until suffering an injury his Jr. year.  He is now recovered from that injury and and was once again looking like a major impact player by the end of this years football season.

In addition, dynamic wide-receiver Braylon Addison will be back from injury next year as will All-American offensive lineman Tyler Johnstone (oh what a difference he would have made last night).  While true freshman Tyrell Crosby struggled last night some in the Oregon program think he has the potential to eventually be the best offensive lineman that has played for Oregon. I could go on about other young players and recruits but will save that for next Fall.

While you can’t replace a Marcus Mariota I have long proposed that for Oregon to succeed they don’t need a great quarterback.  Just one that has some decent mobility, an average arm and, the key, excellent decision making skills.  Daron Thomas, who last took Oregon to a national title game, fit this mold perfectly.  So expect current back up Jeff Lockie to be the starter next year.  While on the public stage he has only been seen handing off the ball in garbage time, word is that the coaches are comfortable with handing over the keys to him.

While there is much more to be said, suffice it to say that the future looks bright for the Oregon Ducks.  While it stings to have lost the title game it is hard to be disappointed in the effort.  Winning the Pac12, ending Florida State’s 29 game winning streak on the way to the championship game and celebrating Oregon’s first Heisman Trophy winner.  What’s not to like about that?

Go Ducks!