Ohio State caps memorable season with national championship victory

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State caps memorable season with national championship victory

ARLINGTON, Texas – The hits just kept coming.

Five yards … 11 yards … eight yards. Bam, bam, bam. Over and over and over. Oregon was bloodied, bruised, and by the fourth quarter, largely disinterested in trying to stop the newest college football star: Ezekiel Elliott.

When Elliott finally unbuckled his chinstrap and looked up at the scoreboard, he had rushed 36 times for 246 yards and four touchdowns—and could call himself a national champion after Ohio State posted a 42-20 win over Oregon.

“This is a surreal moment,” Elliott said. “It’s why we all came here. After all we went through, this is crazy. It doesn’t feel real.”

It is. This is a pinch-yourself moment for an Ohio State squad that had to overcome not one, but two, season-ending injuries at quarterback to arrive at this improbable point. This team’s obit was written a few times. But it wouldn’t die.

“We play football for a lot of reasons,” Urban Meyer said. “This is one of the closest teams in football history.”

The Buckeyes are close—and very good. Elliott was the battering ram in Ohio State’s dominating win, taking home the first title in the new College Football Playoff despite committing four turnovers.

It was the Buckeyes’ first national championship since the 2002 season—which also is the last time the Big Ten won it all. And just think: Some questioned if Ohio State–the No. 4 playoff seed–belonged in the new four-team playoff ahead of the likes of TCU or Baylor.

This was a much-needed title for the Big Ten, a conference that has been maligned for almost a decade for its shortcomings on college football’s big stage. The Big Ten watched the SEC rip off a run of dominance that saw it win seven national titles in a row from 2006-12. But this may be the start of a new era.

“Even though I made some stupid turnovers, I knew I didn’t have to do too much and just have faith in my teammates and faith in our defense” Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones said.

Having a coach like Meyer also helps. This is his third national title and second with another school, winning it all with Florida in 2006 and 2007. He joins Nick Saban as the only coaches with titles at different schools. Meyer is now in rare company and poised to be an all-time great coach.

“It is extremely impressive what (Meyer) has been able to accomplish,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “Ohio State is a proud program with tremendous tradition. And he has added to it.”

And, ironically, the coach who began that run of success for the SEC was Meyer, who coached Florida to the 2006 crown with a win over Ohio State. Now, it’s Meyer—who is 38-3 overall and 24-0 in the Big Ten–who has turned the worm in the Big Ten’s favor.

Meyer and the Buckeyes aren’t going anywhere, welcoming back many key players from this team: Jones, Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett, Elliott, Taylor Decker, Michael Thomas, Joey Bosa, Eli Apple, Vonn Bell and Darron Lee, among others.

Michigan State will continue to roll under Mark Dantonio, Penn State is gaining steam under James Franklin, Wisconsin should be as strong as usual with a new coach … and then there is the arrival of Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, which figures to take a big step forward under his stewardship.

But this night is about Ohio State and its star running back Elliott, who was named the offensive player of the game.

This was a fitting culmination for Elliott, whose effort on this night capped a sensational three-game run that spearheaded the Buckeyes to the national championship. Elliott came into this game on a massive roll, rushing for over 200 yards in each of the last two games. The sophomore gashed Wisconsin for 220 yards in the Big Ten championship game. Next came an emasculation of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, which got ripped for 230 yards rushing by Elliott.

Tonight, Elliott saved his best for last, busting up Oregon for a career-high 246 yards rushing. Add it all up, and Elliott tallied 696 yards rushing the last three games on 76 carries with eight TDs, averaging 9.1 yards per carry.

“He’s a tremendous player,” Helfrich said. “He is fast and physical. And add a 250-pound quarterback with their fly-sweep game … it’s tough. Their line did a nice job, too.”

Few knew much about Elliott when 2014 dawned. As a true freshman last year, he ran 30 times for 262 yards and two scores. This season began modestly for Elliott, who failed to rush for more than 65 yards in any of Ohio State’s first three games. But he picked up the pace after that, rushing for over 100 yards nine times in the last 12 games. Now, he’s a household name and top Heisman contender for next season who is rained with chants of “Zeeeeekkkkkkkeeeeeeee” when he carries the ball.

As surprising as Elliott’s emergence from relative anonymity has been, it’s nothing compared to the fairytale of Jones. Back in early August, Jones was a third-string nobody sophomore signal-caller, a persona non grata who had to wonder if he ever would play much significant time after getting passed up by redshirt freshman Barrett when Miller was lost for the season with a shoulder injury before the season.

Jones stayed focused—and his day finally arrived after Barrett went down with a season-ending broken ankle vs. Michigan in the regular-season finale. That’s when the magic began for Jones.

First up, the Big Ten title game vs. Wisconsin. Was Jones—who never had started a game—ready? Yep. OSU had 558 yards in a 59-0 win over Wisconsin with Jones hitting 12-of-17 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns.

Next came the Sugar Bowl vs. playoff No. 1 seed Alabama. Could Jones beat a Nick Saban-coached team that had over a week to prep? Yep. OSU had 537 yards with Jones completing 18-of-35 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown with a pick.

Now, this, a dominating effort vs. Oregon that saw OSU tally 538 yards in a game billed by some as “The Heisman winner” vs. “The third-stringer.” Jones more than held his own vs. Marcus Mariota, who hit 24-of-37 passes for 333 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. Jones completed 16-of-23 passes for 242 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

“It’s even better than I thought,” Jones said. “It’s an unreal feeling. The seniors never could win a bowl game in four years. This is for them.”

Oregon opened the game like it was gonna roll, marching 75 yards in 11 plays for a TD after taking the opening kickoff. The Buckeyes then punted back to the Ducks. Things didn’t look good early for OSU. But the Buckeyes dominated the rest of the half in taking a 21-10 lead. Oregon closed to 21-20 in the third quarter, but Ohio State scored the final three touchdowns in largely containing the Ducks’ prolific go-go offense that ran for just 132 yards and was 2-of-12 on third downs.

This Ohio State team isn’t going anywhere. Meyer is three years into his tenure in Columbus, and you still can count his losses on one hand. His fourth team in 2015 could be every bit as good as this club.

“The chase is complete,” Meyer said. “These guys accepted their final mission and did it. It was our final mantra the past few weeks and I’m very grateful for the work these guys put in.”

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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