ARLINGTON, Texas — In the biggest game, on the brightest stage, the Oregon Ducks fell victim to their fatal flaw in a 42-20 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes in the College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday night.
Despite the fact that the Ducks won the turnover battle four to one, Oregon couldn’t compete up front against Ohio State on either side of the ball.
The Ducks, who ranked No. 2 in the country in points per game, only managed to score 13 points on four red-zone possessions. As Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota told ESPN's Joe Tessitore after the game, "We couldn't finish drives."
Meanwhile, Ohio State destroyed Oregon on the ground to the tune of 296 rushing yards—246 yards and four touchdowns from offensive MVP Ezekiel Elliott—and the Ducks offense was never able to establish a run game of its own.
On the night, the Ducks ran for 132 yards on 33 carries and were unable to score a rushing touchdown. While Mariota had a fine game passing—24-of-37, 333 yards, two touchdowns and one interception—Oregon didn't find the end zone with the running game, something that had only happened twice this year and hadn't occurred with left tackle Jake Fisher in the lineup.
While Mariota has gotten a lot of credit for Oregon’s success this season, it is the Ducks' running game that is the team's mainstay. Under head coach Mark Helfrich, the Ducks are 20-0 when they’ve rushed for over 200 yards.
Unfortunately for Oregon, Ohio State’s rush defense, which ranked No. 34 in the nation coming into the game, was too much.
It wasn’t just that Thomas Tyner (12 carries, 62 yards), Marcus Mariota (10 rushes, 39 yards) and Royce Freeman (10 carries, 22 yards) weren’t effective on the ground; it was that Oregon’s offensive line simply couldn’t win the battle against Joey Bosa and Co.
There were no excuses for the Ducks on Monday night. The offensive line came into the game as healthy as it had been all season, and Oregon was fresh off torching Florida State for 301 yards on the ground in the Rose Bowl. However, it seemed like the line could make no push against Ohio State’s massive front seven, which very clearly demoralized the Ducks.
The tipping point for Oregon's offensive line came early in the second quarter. Trailing 14-7, the Ducks faced a 4th-and-goal from the 3-yard line. Oregon ran Tyner right up the gut and into the arms of Buckeyes defenders, who swam through the offensive line. It may have only been a turnover on downs, but it was a sign of things to come.
On the other side of the ball, the defense couldn't stop Ohio State’s thunder-and-lightning rushing attack of Elliott, who set a National Championship Game record with four rushing scores, and quarterback Cardale Jones. While Elliott torched the Ducks all night and kept the ball away from them, Jones was called upon heavily in 3rd-and-short situations. He delivered time after time.
We knew that Ohio State could run the ball against anybody; the Buckeyes proved as much against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. However, their ability to run the ball at will against the Ducks is what really put the game away.
Oregon seemed to turn a corner this season against tough, physical teams. Not only did the Ducks run through a Michigan State team that ranked No. 8 in the country in total defense, but they also hammered a Stanford squad that ranked No. 3 in total D and which had beaten them up over the two previous years.
However, Ohio State, a team that ranked No. 17 in total defense, stuffed Oregon, especially in the red zone.
Not only were the Ducks beat down physically by the Buckeyes, but Oregon also wasn't as mentally tough as it needed to be versus Ohio State.
The Ducks committed 10 penalties for a total of 76 yards, dropped multiple passes from Mariota and seemed to relent to Ohio State’s physicality at the end of the game.
Facing a 4th-and-7 midway through the fourth quarter and trailing by 15, Helfrich decided to punt away to the Buckeyes. While a decision to go for it may have effectively ended the game, punting had the same effect.
In essence, the Ducks threw the white flag.
They were overpowered, outmanned and outcoached all night long. It wasn't the first time, and it may not be the last.
Oregon has proved that it belongs in the national conversation. The Ducks proved that they’re one of the finest football teams in the country. However, for all of the strides that Oregon has made as a program over the past decade, the finesse label that lurks behind the team has yet to be completely washed away.
Until the Ducks deliver a title to Eugene, the notion that they aren’t tough enough to win a national title will persist.
Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise stated. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.
Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.