Four Downs: Oregon blasts Florida State in Rose Bowl, advances to title game

The second-ranked Oregon Ducks ran the defending national champions off the Rose Bowl field on Thursday night, beating No. 3 Florida State 59-20 to advance to the national championship game. Here are four observations from the game:

The Oregon Ducks arrived in Pasadena, Calif., as the better team. This statement was supported by advanced statistics, Vegas odds and common sense … and it was underscored by an absolute rout in the first-ever College Football Playoff semifinal, a game that wasn’t competitive from the early part of the third quarter on. In a game that pitted two of the top four teams in the country — as designated by the playoff committee — the Ducks were able to rest the top quarterback in the country with nine minutes remaining.

On multiple occasions during the regular season, the undefeated Seminoles, a team that remained in the headlines both on and off the field after refusing to lose a game since Jameis Winston took over the starting quarterback job (29 straight wins), continuously mapped out their escape routes. They trailed on far too many occasions to be considered a similarly dominant team and won seven games by fewer than seven points, including their past four games to reach the inaugural four-team playoff.

The warning signs were there entering the Rose Bowl: If Florida State fell behind against the top offense in college football it would be a much steeper hill to climb.

Florida State fell behind early on.

Oregon brought the hammer down.

The Ducks put up a Rose Bowl-record 59 points before calling the dogs off early on in the fourth quarter. They ran up 639 total yards of offense, scored touchdowns on the ground, through the air and on defense, forced five turnovers and buried a second-half team by going on a 41-7 run after halftime. In the process, Florida State’s claim to college football preeminence came to a screeching halt.

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said after the game that Oregon tried to "out-team" Florida State in its preparation and execution. The better team won on New Year’s Day, and it wasn’t even close.

There was a reason that Marcus Mariota was invited to New York City and won the 2014 Heisman Trophy and Jameis Winston did not. The difference in the two quarterbacks’s numbers and season-long performances was staggering: Mariota put on a clinic in efficiency (52 total TDs, two interceptions) while Winston refused to lose but struggled with turnovers and consistency (24 touchdowns, 17 interceptions). In just the third game between Heisman winners in college football history, Mariota got better as time went on.

For the first 30 minutes of the game, neither Mariota nor Winston played particularly well. Mistakes were made, throws were missed. It was an 18-13 game at the half, as both teams left points on the board and struggled with execution. In that moment, it looked like the type of game Florida State wanted to be in.

The second half was a different story, and for the first time in his collegiate career it did not go in Winston’s favor.

Mariota erased a quiet first half that included a rare interception and finished the game the typically efficient stat line: 26 of 36 passing, 400 total yards, three touchdowns and one interception. As for Winston? It was another turnover-prone outing that went from bad to worse and ended with him being visibly dressed down by FSU coach Jimbo Fisher on the sidelines. Winston committed two turnovers, including a lost fumble that resulted in Oregon taking a 25-point lead.

Mariota and Winston are projected to be the top two quarterbacks taken in the NFL Draft, so there’s a good chance this won’t be the last time these two meet on a football field. Mariota can claim Round One bragging rights, though.

When Oregon lost All-American candidate Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, one of the top cornerbacks in the nation, to an ACL injury during bowl practice, it looked like a severe blow to the 29th-ranked defense going against a potent offense. If there was a crack in Oregon’s armor, it was considered to be, per the usual, the defensive side of the ball.

Coming off an outing in which they forced five turnovers and allowed just seven points after halftime, the Ducks’ defense deserves some credit for getting the back into the hands of Mariota & Co. time after time. Those five turnovers turned into 34 points. It was the first time the Seminoles had committed that many turnovers since 2012 against Florida … the last time they lost a game.

Winston framed it differently after the game: "We beat ourselves. We were never stopped at all."

There’s some truth there. Part of the problem was the Seminoles’s lack of ball security, particularly dynamic freshman running back Dalvin Cook, who lost two crucial fumbles with the game still competitive, but Oregon’s speed on that side of the ball posed problems for Florida State. The Ducks were on the scene on nearly every play. They came up with goal-line stops, forcing field goals and turnovers inside the 10-yard line, and repeatedly kept Fisher’s group off the scoreboard.

That’s the other half of a 39-point blowout.

Known as the speedy, creative offensive juggernaut in the Pacific Northwest, the Ducks are rarely recognized for their ability to line up and hit their opponent in the mouth. The 2014 season has offered some evidence that they can, though, including Thursday night’s bowl win.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Oregon rushed for 206 yards inside the tackles against Florida State, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Four of their five rushing touchdowns came on inside hand-offs. That’s the most inside rushing yards the Seminoles have allowed in the past two seasons.

Working off the threat of Mariota (62 yards rushing) pulling the ball and bolting around the edge, backs Thomas Tyner, Royce Freeman and Kani Beniot each eclipsed 40 yards rushing. Tyner led the way with 124 and two scores, while Freeman added another two scores. Oregon can line it up and run it down your throat. They’ll now look to do it again in the national title game in Dallas.