On Monday night, No. 1 LSU and reigning national champion Clemson will go at it for the national championship. It will be the sixth national title game of the College Football Playoff era.
The first was won on this day five years ago.
It wasn’t without controversy, but No. 4 Ohio State entered championship Saturday ranked fifth and did enough to impress the voters in a 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship to leapfrog TCU and earn a sport in the inaugural College Football Playoff. After that, the Buckeyes topped No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, 35-28.
Even without starting quarterback J.T. Barrett, head coach Urban Meyer’s team was rolling as it arrived in Arlington to take on No. 2 Oregon for the national championship on Jan. 12, 2015. Led by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Ducks had steamrolled reigning national champion Florida State in the Rose Bowl, 59-20. With both teams 13-1, Oregon was the favorite, but when all was said and done, Ohio State reigned supreme in New Orleans, 42-20.
As a 7-point favorite, the Oregon offense hadn’t been stopped all year and early on, that didn’t appear to be changing. The Ducks needed 11 plays and less than three minutes to draw first blood as the Heisman winner found Keanon Lowe for a 7-yard touchdown. Unpredictably, that would be Oregon’s only touchdown of the first half.
Before the end of the first quarter, Ohio State led 14-7. With less than five minutes remaining in the opening quarter, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott capped a 97-yard drive with a 33-yard touchdown run. After a nice punt return from Jalin Marshall set the Buckeyes up in Oregon territory, it took just four plays to find the end zone as Cardale Jones connected with Nick Vannett from a yard away.
Ohio State fumbled the ball way on the next two possessions, but Oregon could not take advantage as the Ducks punted twice and turned the ball over on downs. With less than five minutes to play in the first half, Jones extended the lead to 21-7 on a 1-yard keeper. Oregon moved inside Ohio State’s 10-yard-line late in the second quarter, but was forced to settle for a short Aidan Schneider field goal.
Down 21-10 at halftime, it looked as though Oregon may be the beneficiary of a dramatic momentum swing. After Jones was intercepted by Oregon’s Danny Mattingly at the Ducks’ 30, it took just one play for Mariota and company to find the end zone as the Heisman Trophy winner connected with Byron Marshall for a 70-yard touchdown.
With the score 21-17, Jones fumbled on the next Ohio State possession for his third turnover of the night and the Buckeyes’ fourth in six possessions. The Ducks started inside the Ohio State 35, but again stalled inside the 10-yard-line as Schneider’s second field goal of the night cut the lead to one at 21-20 with less than seven minutes to play in the third period.
That would be the final score of the night for Oregon as Ohio State found the end zone on three of its final four possessions. Elliott’s 9-yard touchdown run on the final play of the third quarter capped a 12-play, 75-yard drive and gave Ohio State a 28-20 lead heading into the final period.
After an Oregon punt, Elliott scored from two yards out to give Ohio State a 35-20 lead with less than 10 minutes to go. Following a pair of Oregon drives that lasted a total of nine plays and netted just 15 yards, Elliott put the exclamation point on the victory with his fourth touchdown on the night with less than a minute to play.
Despite four turnovers and playing without its starting quarterback, Ohio State was national champions. Entering the game, Mariota had thrown just three interceptions all season but his final pass would find the hands of a Buckeye defender as Eli Apple claimed the team’s only forced turnover.
The teams combined with more than 1,000 yards of offense as the Buckeyes put up 538 total yards to 465 for Oregon. To go with the four touchdowns, Elliott rushed for 246 yards while Jones passed for 242 yards. Mariota finished with 333 yards through the air, but Oregon went just 2-for-12 on third down conversions and 0-for-2 on fourth down. Marshall led all receivers with 169 yards.
A season that witnessed an unthinkable 35-21 home loss to Virginia Tech had culminated in Ohio State’s first national championship in 12 years and Oregon’s second national title game loss in five years. It happened on this day five years ago.
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