Oregon shows it’s more than Mariota by crushing FSU
PASADENA, Calif. — It wouldn’t be fair to say defending national champ Florida State self-destructed in the Rose Bowl against Oregon, because the Ducks’ talent and style certainly helped contribute to the Noles’ gaffes.
After all, the Ducks’ opponents almost always seem to have these funny ways of imploding amid some frenetic Oregon run that turns tight games into blowouts. That’s what happened in Thursday’s Rose Bowl, where the Ducks blasted FSU, 59-20, to advance to the national title game, where they will face No. 4 Ohio State, an upset winner over No. 1 Alabama.
More than anything, though, it was what happened after FSU made its mistakes. That’s where Oregon, as is almost always the case these days, thrived by seizing on every opportunity. The Noles weren’t as successful, like when Ducks star QB Marcus Mariota threw what seemed to be a sure pick, but FSU’s best defensive player, Jalen Ramsey, dropped the ball and let the Ducks off the hook.
Even though it had become the Noles’ M.O. to rally from first-half deficits — they’d trailed after halftime four previous times this season — Thursday’s game looked more like a vintage Oregon showing as FSU came unglued, low-lighted by Jameis Winston’s mad scramble to buy time under heavy pressure only to lose his footing and have the ball slip out of his hands, with Duck D-lineman Tony Washington scooping it up and scoring. The rout was on thanks to a dreadful third quarter in which FSU’s five drives resulted in: fumble, TD, fumble, fumble and INT. The Ducks answered with touchdowns every time.
Mariota wasn’t flawless Thursday. He threw his third interception of the season in addition to the near-pick by Ramsey. But the Heisman Trophy winner’s stat line still was superb: 26 of 36, 338 yards, two TD passes plus 62 yards rushing and one TD run.
Asked if Mariota’s shaky start was due to nerves, Duck offensive coordinator Scott Frost said, "He doesn’t get jitters. The (throwing) windows were just smaller than he was used to seeing.
"Our kids have five-star hearts, and our kids don’t get rattled, and they don’t get nervous. Some of them are oblivious to pressure because we go so fast."
Ramsey praised Oregon’s preparation. "They just out-executed us," he said while seated by his locker and shaking his head, adding that he would’ve never expected this result in a million years. "It was very frustrating. They were so smart. All of my blitzes, they would keep calling me out and shifting my way. That happened with their tackle every time I blitzed."
Hats also off to Frost and Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, who masterfully set up big plays all afternoon and had the Noles’ secondary seeing ghosts by the second half. The Ducks put up 639 yards on the defending national champs and did so without their fastest player, Devon Allen, who is also their most consistent wideout. The redshirt freshman was lost for the game with a knee injury and, according to a source, is expected to be out for the national title game as well.
As to the selfless nature of the Ducks, the first name out of passing game coordinator Matt Lubick’s mouth was Keanon Lowe, a 5-foot-9 redshirt senior who didn’t show up in the box score with a single catch. "Our guys blocked so well on the perimeter and that opened up a lot of big plays," he said. "Keanon played the game with a sprained knee, and I think he had three de-cleats (blocks)."
The win moves Oregon to 13-1 and gives Helfrich an eye-catching 24-3 record in his two seasons at Oregon.
"We just tried to ‘out-team’ them," Helfrich said. "I think our defense just played very, very well in the second half creating a bunch of turnovers.
"I’m truly proud of our guys and coaches and our great representation of our fans. Now we got one more."
Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FOXSports.com and FOX Sports 1. He is also a New York Times Bestselling author. His new book, The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks, came out in October, 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB.