Hey, Mike! Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike—GUESS WHAT DAY IT IS? It’s GAME DAY!
It’s time to go make that last-second stop to the gas station for your six-pack of choice (I’ll be sticking to Bailey’s and coffee in anticipation of a long “work” night) while swinging by the local grocery on the way home for some tasty finger snacks, because the first College Football Playoff Championship Game is just a few hours away.
Not only is it history in the making for its title alone, but there’s no doubt that these are the best two teams in the country—something we could have argued during the BCS era—and no one is for sure on tonight’s outcome; whether it’s the four-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes playing in the underdog role for the third straight game or the high-flying Oregon Ducks led by Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, we’re undoubtedly in for a memorable treat.
Nonetheless, both teams have a game plan in place that is expected to ensure victory tonight. And though they’re not nearly as intricate, I’ve got a pretty decent idea of the broad guidelines required for each that will bring home the trophy.
Here are three keys to a College Football Playoff Championship win:
- Win the Turnover Battle—This one is pretty simple; Oregon ranks No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin (+20), and Marcus Mariota has thrown three interceptions all year long. Ohio State has gotten into turnover trouble early in games, but was always bailed out by its opportune defense. That likely wouldn’t be the case here, and the Ducks will turn turnovers into points in an instant.
- Be Patient on Offense—Oregon’s defense hasn’t been anything special this season, but it has been effective because it forces the offense to be consistent. Ohio State can expect three- and four-man rushers and for the Ducks’ secondary to prevent the deep ball, presenting the bend-don’t-break mentality. If Cardale Jones and the Buckeyes’ offense can sustain those 12-play drives without getting impatient and risking a bad play, it will be their advantage. That might be challenging for an offense that thrives on big plays; OSU is tied at No. 4 in the NCAA with 26 plays of 40 yards or more.
- Don’t Let Mariota Run the Ball—Both of Oregon’s top pass catchers (Devon Allen and Darren Carrington) are out for the title game, and though it is a plug-and-fit, next man up kind of system, it’s hard to imagine that Mariota wouldn’t feel more comfortable with those guys on the field. He’ll have to rely on his athleticism a little more tonight, but if Ohio State can take away his running lanes, he’ll be more prone to making a rare mistake.
- Attack the Edges—This should go without saying since Oregon runs the zone-read offense, but Ohio State has struggled against teams with speed on the edges; the Ducks are by far the best team it has seen when it comes to speed utilized on the outside. If they have success early, it will open up the playbook later in the game (but you already knew that).
- Force Jones to Make Quick Decisions—It might be a difficult thing to do if they’re dropping seven or eight back into coverage, but the Ducks need their down lineman to have the best collective performance of the season when it comes to making an impact and winning the battle in the trenches. Time in the pocket is any inexperienced QB’s best friend, and Jones, who had plenty of time to throw the ball against Wisconsin and Alabama, will do the same unless he’s forced to get rid of the ball early. If I’m Oregon, I’m not letting Jones have time to think about his second and third options.
- Let Mariota Do His Thing—But seriously, just because it’s under the big lights and you’re without your two most productive receivers, there’s no reason to get away from what you do best, Mark Helfrich; allow Mariota to control the offense and make plays that we will all certainly miss at the collegiate level. Mariota has nine games with a 90-plus Total QBR this season and seven with a completion percentage of 70.0 or more. He’s the smoothest quarterback I’ve ever seen, and with a win, 2014-15 could go down as the best year any QB has had in CFB history.