Ask any football analyst and they will tell you the difference between a good team and a championship team is timing. A great team that peaks too early can wind up crumbling while a mediocre team that peaks at the right time can win a championship. Oregon however is something very rare, a great team that is peaking at the right time.
Every team needs a good offensive line in order to be successful in the run game, in order to have a good offensive line you need an anchor. For Oregon, that anchor is senior center Hroniss Grasu. Oregon’s line has been solid for most of the season, but during the time Grasu missed it was obvious they were not 100%. With Grasu coming back in the Rose Bowl, Oregon’s line looked complete for the first time in a while. The return of both Grasu and running back Thomas Tyner has Oregons’ run game well prepared for Ohio State and the National Championship.
At the same time, Oregon’s passing game has two more weapons who have come into their own after the Rose Bowl; Darren Carrington and Evan Baylis. Carrington has been steadily getting better all season, culminating in his 2 TD, 165 yard performance in the Rose Bowl. Along with Carrington, Baylis stepped up both as a blocker and a receiver. Baylis had a solid game in the Rose Bowl, nothing too flashy, but his biggest plays were plays he doesn’t get stats for. He had some solid blocks, springing Tyner and Royce Freeman for big runs. On top of opening up holes in the run game, Baylis also worked well as a decoy getting Carrington wide open on one of his two TDs. Add to these two players versatile running back/wide receiver Byron Marshall and we see that Marcus Mariota and the Oregon passing game is going to be something unlike anything Ohio State has seen this year.
On top of this, Oregon’s defense has been suffocating as of late, allowing over 20 points just once since November. Oregon’s “bend but don’t break defense” is the perfect compliment to their offense, as it does the same thing the offense does, wear out opponents. Every time a team comes out on the field and has a long 10 play or more drive, but then comes away with only three points or less, it begins to wear them out mentally. This mental fatigue is only worsened when they see Mariota and co. running up and down the field at light speed, seemingly scoring at will. You could see this in the Rose Bowl, where the longer the game went on the more FSU tried to force things. This payed off in the second half when Jameis Winston started throwing passes he shouldn’t and panicking, resulting in two of Oregon’s five turnovers. Just as much as Oregon’s tempo on offense wears out defenses physically, Oregon’s dominating red zone defense wears out offenses mentally.
Both Oregon’s offense and defense are reaching the peak of their potential right as the team itself reaches the peak of College Football. While I expect a good game on Monday, I don’t really see a way that Ohio State walks out of AT&T Stadium with a trophy after playing our beloved Oregon Ducks.
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck