Or was it?
Ohio State smothered Oregon, 42-20, Monday night in the first FBS national-title game in the new playoff format, and for the Ducks, it’s going to stir the old suspicions — that it isn’t physical enough to get it done at the highest level. Oregon’s inability to stop — even remotely slow down — Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott was the single deciding factor. And on the other side of the ball, the Buckeyes held relatively firm against Oregon’s inside run, especially after the first couple of series.
— As much as Oregon came out a runnerup in the muscle department, it’s hard to minimize two killer early third-down pass drops by Charles Nelson and Dwayne Stanford. Oregon was ahead 7-0 when Nelson had a drop on the Ducks’ second drive, and Stanford muffed a third-and-12 deep ball that was going to carry at least to the Ohio State 40 in the first quarter.
— Oregon had a severe early case of the jitters, especially early. Not only did it commit those two drops, it fumbled a couple of times on its opening scoring drive — Thomas Tyner recovering his own bobble, and Marcus Mariota being separated from the ball after his knee was down.
— It’s mind-bending that Oregon could have been the beneficiary of four Ohio State turnovers and yet lost as decisively as it did.
— Symptomatic of the Ducks’ night was that officials needed a replay look to make sure receiver Byron Marshall didn’t drop a long touchdown pass a smidge before he crossed the goal line in the third quarter. It was ruled he didn’t, but Marshall should have known better: He did the same thing in a non-league blowout early this season, then saw the big impact of the same gaffe by Utah’s Kaelin Clay Nov. 8 against Oregon.
— Surprised me how little impact UO freshman back Royce Freeman had on the game. He was a beast much of the year, a real X-factor in Oregon’s dominance to close out the last half of the season.
— Props to Ohio State’s defense, which generally got enough of a standoff with four-man pressure. And Mariota was never really able to break free and impact the game with his running.
— Oregon’s inability to bring down Buckeye quarterback Cardale Jones mirrored that of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. On one third-down, second-half play, Oregon tugged on Jones, who was three yards from a first down, and Jones was met by Oregon’s 300-pound nose tackle, Alex Balducci. Jones just charged through Balducci for the first down.
— Once Ohio State took a 35-20 lead, Oregon never really sniffed a comeback. It had an awful series, when, by my count, it had four penalties in six snaps and Mariota got hurt briefly on a questionable hit by Ohio State’s Joey Bosa.
— The impulse is to conclude that Oregon really missed receivers Devon Allen (knee) and Darren Carrington (reported drug-test failure). And maybe it did. But the argument falls flat when you think about Ohio State having to turn to a third-string quarterback.
— Some of us counted out the Big Ten early this year — mea culpa — when Michigan State, the purported favorite, fell to the Ducks. But Ohio State had other ideas.
— As it works in the NCAA basketball tournament, it’s all about who’s playing best at the end. Ohio State had a phenomenal finishing run, something that didn’t seem possible even in mid-November. Sound familiar to what Connecticut did in basketball about nine months ago?