This year’s Rose Bowl is a momentous occasion for everyone involved. The teams are fighting in the inaugural College Football Playoff, FSU is attempting to keep a 29-game winning streak alive and defend a national title, and the Ducks are fighting for their first national title in school history. Naturally much of the burden and attention is falling onto the shoulders of Heisman winner Marcus Mariota and the explosive Oregon offense, but the defense may be called upon to win the day.
Chris Low of ESPN.com asked a question that is on many fans’ minds: does defense still win championships? It appears that the offensive era in college football has taken over. Oregon, FSU, Alabama and Ohio State all average more than 34 points per game and three of the four teams rush for more than 200 yards per game.
Despite the big names in the College Football Playoff on the offensive side, Low argues that defense will be the answer, and always has been. During the BCS era there was a single occurrence of a team winning a national title and giving up more than 20 points per game (Auburn in 2010). While all four hover around the 20 points allowed mark, only Alabama is sitting below with 16.6 points allowed.
These numbers could spell doom for Mark Helfrich and his defense that has not received the credit they deserve this season. The Ducks are allowing 413.8 yards per game but only 22.5 points, the 29th best team in that category. The Ducks defense flashed its skills in the Pac-12 championship game, crushing a Wildcat team that handed the Ducks their single loss earlier in the season. A team that rushed for 183 yards per game and scored nearly 35 points per game was held to 111 yards rushing and a mere 13 points.
The loss of senior Ifo Ekpre-Olomu put the Oregon defense at a disadvantage against an FSU team that doesn’t know how to lose, and the defense will have its share of work cut out to replace him. Adversity does not mean defeat, however, as the Ducks are well aware. The secondary seemed to be the only place that the Ducks were not affected by injuries this season until now.
With young players such as Chris Seisay stepping up and the continued production from seniors Troy Hill and Erick Dargan, the secondary is down but not out. Jameis Winston and the FSU offensive line will have to work to contain juniors Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner who will be swarming Winston, trying to put a stop to FSU’s winning ways.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline