Ohio State: Five keys to a championship

First Posted: 1/6/2015

1. Make sure quarterback Cardale Jones is relaxed and give him time to make good decisions.

After the terrific performance in his first start in a 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones was also exceptional in the last 2½ quarters of a 42-35 win over No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Thus, it’s easy to forget how little game experience he has.

Jones threw a costly interception and was nearly sacked for safeties twice by Alabama’s defense.

Ohio State had to come back from a 21-6 deficit to beat Alabama. It doesn’t want to dig itself into such a hole against Oregon.

2. Get big games from the playmakers.

There have been so many contributors to the 12-game win streak that has carried OSU to the national championship, but two big-play guys stand out – running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver Devin Smith.

Elliott has rushed for 230 yards and 220 yards in his last two games. His 85-yard touchdown run was the game winner against Alabama. He hit Wisconsin with an 81-yard TD run when it was still a close game. And his 44-yard touchdown run against Michigan gave OSU some breathing room when it led only 28-21 after J.T. Barrett went down with a broken ankle.

Seventeen of Smith’s 32 catches this season have gone for 30 yards or more. He has saved his best for the toughest teams on the schedule, pulling in 12 passes for 353 yards and five touchdowns against Michigan State, Wisconsin and Alabama.

3. Affect Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Heisman Trophy winner Mariota has 4,121 yards passing with 40 touchdowns thrown and only three interceptions. He has rushed for 731 yards and 15 touchdown.

OSU will be hard pressed to shut him down, but it has to affect him. The Buckeyes have 43 sacks this season. But with the help of some short, quick passes, Oregon does a good job of keeping pass rushers away from Mariota.

4. Give the ball to Ezekiel Elliott 25 times or more.

The OSU sophomore proved he can carry a heavy workload earlier in the season when he carried 28 times for 182 yards against Cincinnati, 26 times for 109 yards against Penn State, 24 times for 139 yards against Maryland and 23 times for 154 yards at Michigan State.

The longer Elliott has the ball in his hands, the fewer plays Oregon can run.

5. Don’t settle for field goals.

If Ohio State had scored touchdowns instead of field goals on its first two trips inside Alabama’s 10-yard line in the first half, it might have dominated the Sugar Bowl from beginning to end.

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