The Oregon Ducks will be without several key players against Ohio State in the national championship Monday, including cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and wide receivers Devon Allen and Darren Carrington.
“I think losing Carrington is a big loss and obviously Ifo, (an) All-American corner – it’s obviously hard to replace a guy like that,” former Oregon defensive coordinator and current Pac-12 Network analyst Nick Aliotti said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “What I see is a very equal football game at every position pretty much. And now I probably give the edge to Ohio State at the receiver position with the loss of Carrington. Very equal across the board. Two good running teams, two good offenses, defenses are playing pretty well down the stretch here. But I really think it comes down to No. 8, Marcus Mariota, which will be the X-factor.”
That’s certainly not an unpopular opinion. We’ve seen time and time again in recent years that the team with the better quarterback wins in the fourth quarter. We saw it with Texas’ Vince Young, we saw it with Florida’s Tim Tebow and we saw it with Florida State’s Jameis Winston, among others.
Yes, when the game hangs in the balance, it certainly helps having a Heisman winner.
“Absolutely,” Aliotti said. “In fact, last year’s game was a high-scoring affair for the most part. And I expect it to be the same type of game: a back-and-forth (game). I see scoring. I know (defensive coordinator) Don Pellum would be upset for me saying that, but I see scoring on both sides. It’s going to come down to the final quarter. I think the team that is able to run the ball and stop the run conversely will be the team that wins. And obviously turnovers will have a great play in this game.”
While Oregon’s up-tempo attack has gotten a lot of attention, the Ohio State offense isn’t too shabby, either. The Buckeyes haven’t missed a beat with Cardale Jones under center, blowing out Wisconsin, 59-0, in the Big Ten Championship and surviving Alabama, 42-35, in the Sugar Bowl.
But with only two games of footage on Jones, do the Ducks have enough data to effectively game-plan for the 6-5, 250-pound redshirt sophomore?
“I myself went and watched the Wisconsin game and the Alabama game – both sides of the ball because I wanted to get a feel for Ohio State, but I was particularly interested in the offense,” Aliotti said. “And interesting enough, with Cardale Jones in there, they have averaged more yards offensively than they did the entire season with J.T. Barrett. So it’s kind of interesting. They haven’t lost anything. They haven’t skipped a beat. So I think Oregon has a good feel who Cardale Jones is and what type of offense Ohio State will be running.”
In the end, Aliotti believes that Oregon, which has allowed 20 points or fewer in four straight games, will win its first national championship in program history.
“I’m just hoping they get it done tonight,” he said. “I’m not trying to be a homer. I think both teams are very equal, but I really do think the defense and Marcus Mariota (will be the difference).”