Blame it on the colorless uniforms. Blame it on the practice limitations. Blame it on the drops. For whatever reason, the Ducks weren’t able to come away with the win in their second national title appearance in the last five years.
Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott ran all over the Ducks for 246 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns. Cardale Jones threw for 242 yards and a touchdown, but more impressively he earned 38 yards and a score on the ground by bulldozing his way over Oregon defenders en route to the 42-20 win.
The stats for the Ducks were not terribly far off from their typically dominating performances, though the scoreboard didn’t comply. Heisman-winner Marcus Mariota threw for 333 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Oregon rushed for 132 yards on the night. The defense forced four turnovers, but Ohio State was the aggressor barring the opening drive by that famed Oregon offense when the Ducks went the length of the field in less than three minutes to go up 7-0.
After that, it was a heavy dose of Elliott behind a dominating offensive line, and Oregon had no answer.
The season, nor the program, was not lost for the Ducks, though. In fact, there’s an outside chance the quarterback isn’t either. Mariota said after the game that he would take the upcoming days to think about returning to Oregon or entering the NFL draft. The ending of his junior season coupled with his character and personality makes one hesitant to assume he’ll jump to the next level now without some serious thinking about what this squad could be next season.
Regardless of Mariota’s status, this Oregon team overachieved this season. That’s right, they were better than they should have been. The Ducks were one of the most injury-riddled teams in the country dating back to spring football when they lost their top returning receiver and a starting linebacker for the season. Those hardships continued into the season as the offensive line fell victim to a slew of injuries in the first half of the year. Then came the postseason, when Oregon was missing two of its top four receivers in both the Rose Bowl and the National Championship.
These aren’t excuses for a loss but rather praises for an incredible, even unlikely season. It’s difficult to imagine Oregon as an underdog, but these Ducks had to take an “us against the world” approach to this season since spring practice began. The season set up perfectly, but the circumstances quickly became imperfect. And yet, Oregon brought home its first Heisman Trophy, won the Rose Bowl, and played in the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
The program isn’t going anywhere either. Mark Helfrich has made his mark on this offense and the Oregon football program. He was out-coached on Monday night, but he will not be outworked in returning Oregon to similar spots in the future.
It may take on the underdog mentality once again, but Oregon is unquestionably one of college football’s elite now. A 42-20 score last night doesn’t erase the 60-7 record it’s compiled over the last decade. The next decade won’t be far off from that mark, and you can bet one of those wins will be a national title.