ARLINGTON, Texas - In any other year, Ohio State's national championship hopes effectively would have been over two games into the season after a devastating home loss to Virginia Tech. But coach Urban Meyer, running back Ezekiel Elliott and the rest of the Buckeyes found another avenue to the top of the mountain thanks to the inaugural College Football Playoff championship Monday night before a crowd of 85,869 at AT&T Stadium.
Elliott carried 36 times for 246 yards and four touchdowns, and the Buckeyes' superb defense contained Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and the Ducks' warp-speed offense to score a 42-20 victory.
Fourth-seeded Ohio State was the last team admitted to the field and the last team standing, making Meyer the second coach in addition to Alabama's Nick Saban to win national titles at two schools.
This was Meyer's third overall after winning two at Florida, and it had a special significance to the native Ohioan, who took over the Buckeyes three seasons ago when they were on probation and turned a team regarded as a Big Ten plodder into an SEC-style powerhouse, earning its first national title since 2002. It was all the more brilliant because Meyer won with third-string quarterback Cardale Jones making all three postseason starts and knocking off Wisconsin , Alabama and Oregon by a combined 136-48 score.
Just as in the Sugar Bowl, Elliott was named most outstanding offensive player. He totaled 696 yards rushing in the postseason. Jones made his share of big plays, completing 16 of 23 passes for 242 yards and one touchdown.
The Buckeyes (14-1) committed four turnovers, but their defense held Oregon (13-2) to its fewest points all season. Mariota was 24-for-37 for 333 yards, two TDs and one interception.
Oregon's offensive tempo was breathtaking on the opening drive as the Ducks gained a minimum of 6 yards on six of the first seven plays. Ducks fans held their breath when Mariota was ruled to have fumbled at the Ohio State 24, but the call was overturned by a replay. Four plays later, Mariota completed a 7-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Keanon Lowe, the replacement for Darren Carrington, who was suspended for failing an NCAA drug test.
The Ducks punted on their next drive but downed the ball at Ohio State's 3-yard line. That's when Buckeyes QB Jones showed his NFL potential with a third-down pass of 26 yards to Corey Smith followed by another 26-yarder to Jalin Marshall, launching a 97-yard scoring drive that ended with a 33-yard TD run by Elliott to tie the score.
Oregon had a chance to regain momentum, but Dwayne Stanford dropped a wide-open bomb at the Ohio State 40 on third down. A 17-yard punt return by Marshall to the Oregon 46 gave OSU a short field, leading to a 1-yard Jones TD pass to Nick Vannett for a 14-7 lead.
The Buckeyes' next two drives ended with fumbles, but the Ducks failed to take advantage. Facing fourth-and-goal at the 3, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich gambled and lost when running back Thomas Tyner was stopped a yard short. Oregon survived a scare when OSU's Corey Smith fumbled after a 47-yard gain to the Ducks' 12-yard line, but after a punt, a 45-yard pass from Jones to Devin Smith set up a 1-yard TD by Jones for a 21-7 lead.
Mariota responded by piecing together a 66-yard drive, including a couple of big third-down completions. But on third-and-goal at the 9, the Heisman winner missed a sure touchdown when he overthrew tight end Evan Baylis, forcing the Ducks to settle for a 26-yard Aidan Schneider field goal and a 21-10 halftime deficit.
A stunning turnaround early in the third quarter got the Ducks back in the game. Ohio State's Marshall bobbled a pass that was intercepted by Oregon's Danny Mattingly. On the next play, Mariota came in and lofted a 70-yard TD pass down the middle to wide-open Byron Marshall, who almost dropped the ball before crossing the goal line in an early celebration.
Moments later, the Buckeyes suffered their fourth turnover when Oregon's Arik Armstead recovered a Jones fumble at the OSU 23. But the Ducks managed only a 23-yard Schneider field goal to trim Ohio State's lead to 21-20. When OSU responded with a 75-yard scoring drive, ending with Elliott's 9-yard run for a 28-20 lead at the end of the third quarter, it felt as if the Ducks were doomed after squandering so many scoring chances.