If you were one of the few who missed the inaugural College Football Playoff’s National Championship, you missed one of the more entertaining four hours college football has given us. The awe of the game (and Jerry’s World) left us incoherent Monday night, so we decided to re-watch the game and actually pay close attention this time.
There were so many storylines with this game that it would take days to break down every single aspect of what made it such an enjoyable kick off to the college playoff era. But first, our takeaways from the big game. The Ohio State Buckeyes have now won eight national titles, so here are the eight things we are taking away from Monday night:
1. So that playoff system is pretty legit.
When it was first announced that college football was going to move to a playoff system, the majority of pundits and fans agreed it was a smart move. However, as Deadspin points out, there were a few who thought it was a poor decision. Man were they ever wrong.
Let’s back up, well before the National Championship. Over the last two weeks of the regular season, the sports world was dominated with talk surrounding college football’s playoff rankings. Who was going to be in and who would miss the cut? Then, when the Buckeyes jumped up to unseat TCU, everything exploded – the controversy that the new system needed was secured. It gave the game exactly what it needed to reach new heights.
Then you have the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl – two games that were exciting and shocking in many different ways. They not only gave ESPN crazy good ratings, but they were entertaining and eventful. This wasn’t a Super Bowl 48 blowout from beginning to end – we were given six insanely competitive quarters (and two in which Jameis Winston and the Seminoles imploded – which was entertainment in its own right).
The National Championship gave fans and critics a tight game that was much closer than the final score would indicate. A game full of suspense, excitement and entertainment. It was everything you could hope from a championship game.
Regardless of what you thought about the final top four rankings, the playoff committee gave the nation four weeks of excitement in a fresh, new way.
2. Urban Meyer has achieved greatness.
After unceremoniously leaving the University of Florida, Meyer became as well-known for his “health issues” as he did the two titles he won with the Gators. While many would consider Meyer a very good coach before this season, very few would have him on the same plateau as Nick Saban and others who are labeled “great” college coaches.
Now, there is no way to deny his greatness. The job that Meyer and his staff did this season in the face of much adversity was second to none and will go down as one of the single greatest performances by a coach and his staff in college football history.
Joining the aforementioned Saban as the only two to win national titles with two different teams, Meyer has become one of the top coaches of his generation. It’s one thing to win a title, it’s another thing to do it with a third string quarterback.
Meyer and his staff re-built a defense that was prone to giving up big plays last season into a squad that would bend but not break in 2014. A team that folded in 2013’s biggest games (BIG10 Championship vs. Michigan State, Orange Bowl vs. Clemson) quickly became a team that rose to the occasion when the stakes were highest.
Not only that, but Meyer re-defined an offense that withstood three drastic changes. While the transition from Braxton Miller to J.T. Barrett was not totally jarring, the move from Barrett to Cardale Jones could have been. Instead, Meyer and coordinator Tom Herman crafted an offensive mindset around their strengths – Jones’s arm and Ezekiel Elliott‘s
It cannot be overstated enough – 2014’s Buckeyes were a team of destiny that will cement Meyer as one of the game’s greatest coaches.
3. Marcus Mariota is superb, but must adjust.
The Heisman Trophy winner threw for 333 yards and two touchdowns (and that last play interception) but it felt like an inferior performance. After being held to just 39 yards on the ground in 10 attempts, the Buckeyes’ defense successfully found a way to contain Mariota.
Meyer knew you couldn’t completely shut down the Oregon offense, so he simply prevented it from making the big plays many are accustomed to seeing. In return, we saw a different Mariota. While he received little help from his receivers (a few big drops early), the quarterback also missed a few open receivers – including a touchdown to his tight end.
There is no doubting the skill that Mariota possesses, but the Buckeyes gave him his closest look at a pro-style defense and the result was not a positive. Known for making plays on the run, the OSU defense exploited his one small weakness – throwing from the pocket. While Mariota has moments of brilliance in the pocket, he also struggles at times as well. Blame the pressure or the lack of his main receivers, but this Mariota looked different than the one who took home the Heisman.
With that being said, he is still a huge talent and will be an upgrade for whichever of the top three teams select him in the NFL Draft. Like any prospect, he will need to adjust. While those on-field adjustments might be a few more than Winston, the future is still bright for Mariota.
4. Don’t forget Luke Fickell.
Enough cannot be said for the job Fickell and co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash have done this season. After the Buckeye defense seemingly crashed and burned in each big game during the 2013 season, many called for Fickell’s head. However, 2014 saw new life breathed into that OSU defense.
Let’s be honest, if you would have been told after the Orange Bowl last year that the Buckeyes’ defense would be the main reason for stifling Mariota in the National Championship after he won the Heisman, you would have laughed your head off. Yet that is exactly what happened.
Perhaps most impressive with the defense was the physicality in which they displayed. In the trenches, the Buckeyes were often overpowering – not just in the title game. Against Alabama and Wisconsin, the defensive line set the tone. With their constant barrage of penetration, the line stuffed running games and forced errant passes from opposing quarterbacks. Such pressure allowed the Ohio State secondary to tee off on opposing passing attacks.
In their last three games (BIG10 Championship, Sugar Bowl, National Championship), the Buckeye defense has allowed four touchdown passes and 757 yards through the air (252 yards/game) while compiling seven interceptions. In addition, opposing quarterbacks during that stretch has posted QBRs of 4.4, 25.8 and 60.3.
Raise your hand if you saw that one coming.
5. Additional reinforcements to help repeat.
In case you haven’t heard, 2016’s top running back, Kareem Walker, committed to Ohio State during the National Championship. Considering Walker also had an offer from the Ducks, it was a double victory for the Buckeyes.
Winning the title not only gave Ohio State the most important win in college football, it also gained the attention of recruits around the nation. As BleacherReport points outs, committed recruits and potential recruits alike were fawning over the performance of Meyer’s Buckeyes. As if Meyer and the Ohio State marquee were already not enough to land recruits, such a performance in college football’s biggest game gives the Buckeyes even more ammunition when it comes to signing the best incoming stars.
6. Old school vs. New age? These hips don’t lie.
Ezekiel Elliott emerged as one of the top runners in the nation this year, especially after taking off in the second half of the season. However, while his talent is indisputable, there was one run in particular that showed just how special the game’s MVP really is:
As Shakira once said, “hips don’t lie”. Just watch Elliott on this run. His fluid cuts are a thing of beauty, and something that cannot be taught. Just watch as he eludes defenders effortlessly en route to the touchdown. Shifting through a defense has never looked so natural.
Another area of note – just look at that burst of speed as soon as he sees a hole open up on the offensive line. He’s a blur in that gif momentarily because of who quickly he accelerates through the whole. It truly is astounding to watch.
7. Return of the…trio?
The talk of “who will start” for the Buckeyes in 2015 is already here. With three legitimate options on the roster, it is an inevitable talking point. Rumors have circulated that Braxton Miller was possibly looking into transferring while Cardale Jones toyed with the idea of declaring for the NFL Draft. But according to J.T. Barrett, all three may be on their way back.
“I’m not leaving,” Barrett said. “I don’t think Braxton is leaving. I don’t think Cardale is leaving. That’s being honest. With that, I mean, it’s just competition. It’s part of football. It’s what we’re about to do.”
It’s amazing to think that of the three, Miller could be last on the depth chart. After many were left wondering if he would declare for the draft following the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson, it is a turn of events that is rather jarring. While we aren’t going to get into the specifics of who should start and why (we’ll save that for another column), it is a good problem to have for Meyer and the Buckeyes. Each quarterback brings something unique to the table, and all three could be a starter wherever they went.
But it is really hard to go against Jones right now, right?
8. Mark Helfrich seems like an awesome dude.
One big takeaway from the title game was that both coaches seem like two dudes worthy of grabbing a drink with. Not just that, but you can see why their players admire them so much – particularly Helfrich. The world knows about Meyer and has for quite some time, but Helfrich is relatively fresh to the average audience.
Watching Helfrich on the sideline and in his interviews, it was refreshing to see his approach to the game of football. In an area full of screaming degrading, these two coaches have found a way to coach with respect. It’s amazing how players will respond when you give them the same respect that is demanded in return.
While the outcome is hardly what Helfrich and the Ducks wanted, hats off to an organization that is run the right way and to a coach that is just as admirable in defeat as he is in victory.
Cover Photo: Eric Gay/Associated Press
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