by Daniel Poulter, EDN
The University of Oregon football team is heading to the national championship game after dismantling previously unbeaten Florida State 59-20 on New Year’s Day at the 101st Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
The Ducks were led by a solid team defensive effort forcing Florida State’s offense, guided by 2013 Heisman trophy winner Jameis Winston, to commit five turnovers with all five turnovers converted into touchdowns by Marcus Mariota and the Oregon offense. The Ducks set a Rose Bowl record with 639 in total yardage passing the previous record set by USC (versus Illinois) of 633 in 2008. “We knew coming in that they were a great team,” Mariota said, “They were undefeated the last two years, and I mean just that in itself says a lot about what they’ve been able to do.”
After a kickoff injury to speedy wide receiver Devon Allen the Ducks first drive ended with a quick, and out of sync, three and out. Winston took no time driving the Seminoles down the field, but Florida State was unable to exit Oregon’s red-zone with a touchdown, settling for a 28-yard field goal by kicker Roberto Aguayo. This would be the last time the Seminoles would lead all afternoon. Mariota and the Oregon offense quickly went to work marching 73-yards on nine plays finishing off the drive with a 1-yard score by Royce Freeman. The Ducks converted the two-point-conversion on a Taylor Allie to Christian French fade pass. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world to be around these guys,” Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich commented, “That’s probably the biggest blessing of all is we get a few more days together.”
After a quick three and out by Florida State, Oregon looked to jump out to an early double digit lead but the Ducks failed to convert on a fourth-and-7 deep in Seminoles territory. Once again Winston drove his offense down the field with strong runs by true freshmen Dalvin Cook. On fourth-and-1 on the 1-yard line Winston took a quarterback run around the left side of the offensive line and stretched out the football for the apparent score. However the call was reversed giving Oregon the ball on their own 1-yard line and the Ducks started one of the most impressive drives of the 2014 college football season. Oregon went 19 plays in less than five minutes ending with an Aidan Schneider 28-yard field goal putting Oregon up 11-3. “We knew going in that our tempo can be a weapon,” Mariota noted, “We kind of feel that way in every game.”
Florida State was able to move the ball easily all afternoon, but Winston and company continued to run into trouble whenever they entered Oregon territory. On the Seminoles fourth drive of the game once again the Seminoles added only a field goal this time a 36-yard kick from Aguayo. Oregon got back to work on the shoulders of Thomas Tyner as the often hurt sophomore running back punched in a run from 1-yard out with two minutes remaining in the half. Tyner seemed as good as new Thursday rushing for 124-yards on 13 carries for two scores. “A healthy Thomas helps everybody out,” Helfrich observed, adding, “It helps Marcus, it helps Royce, it helps Byron be truly versatile and not have to lean one way or the other as far as a game plan approach.”
Less than two minutes is all Florida State would need to respond storming 70-yards, primarily on the ground, finishing a minute thirty drive on a Karlos Williams 10-yard run up the middle. Mariota seemed off his game in the first half and on the resulting drive, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner threw an interception to defensive back Nate Andrews, only Mariota’s third of the year. Just as strange with 0:03 seconds remaining before half time Florida State’s kicker Aguayo missed a 54-yard field goal bouncing it off the left upright. The redshirt sophomore has only missed three field goals all year. “I just missed a couple throws here and there, but that’s the thing with our offense is you start building a rhythm up, the offense has to go a little bit.” Mariota remarked, “Hats off to the guys because they’re finding ways to get open, that defense is very athletic and it’s tough to kind of find spots in the zone or run away from man coverage.”
The wheels came off for Florida State in the third quarter and the Seminoles never recovered. Florida State received the ball first to start the second half and as they had done all afternoon, the Seminole’s offense started to pick up big chunks of yardage on the ground with Cook. The true freshmen had only had two fumbles all year, but coughed up the football right into Derrick Malone Jr.’s hands. Oregon wasted no time and less than a minute later Freeman cruised into the end zone putting the Ducks up 25-13. Winston and Florida State responded with what would be their last touchdown of the Rose Bowl and possibly Winston’s last at Florida State, an 18-yard pass to true freshmen Travis Rudolph.
Oregon had been throwing a short screen pass multiple times during the game and it finally paid off on a 56-yard score for Darren Carrington. With the scoring connection to Carrington Mariota passed for a touchdown for the 40th straight game, every game of his career, a streak that is the second longest in FBS history. The 2014 Heisman winner is also the first player in FBS history to pass for 40 touchdowns and rush for 15 in a season. “We’ve got a pretty good quarterback,” Helfrich said, “And we have a ton of confidence in him, and a bunch of young guys that have done great things on the perimeter.”
The bad luck for Florida State continued early on the Seminoles next possession when Cook fumbled again doubling the freshmen’s total for the season to four. Reggie Daniels recovered for the Ducks and after the turnover Mariota quickly connected with his favorite target on the afternoon with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Carrington. The redshirt freshmen from the San Diego area had 165-yards on seven catches to go along with his two receiving scores. The weirdest play of the 2015 Rose Bowl happened on Florida State’s next drive as, on fourth-and-5, Winston rolled out, dodging pressure from both sides before appearing to slip and fling the football backwards. The fumble was picked up by outside linebacker Tony Washington and returned 58-yards for the game clinching score. “It’s incredible, growing up in Southern California, the Rose Bowl has always been a big game to me,” Washington remarked, “So just being able to play in it, and just winning with my teammates, there’s no feeling like it.”
As Florida State’s offense came crawling to a stop, Oregon kept the pressure up scoring insurance touchdowns by Mariota and Tyner to put the Ducks up 59-20. Oregon’s 59 points are the most ever scored spanning all 101 Rose Bowl Games and it also was the most points allowed by Florida State since Auburn scored 59 behind another Heisman Trophy winner (Bo Jackson) in a 59-17 win in 1985.
The Oregon Ducks return to action on January 12th when they face Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes at AT&T Stadium in Arlington Texas. The first ever playoff-decided national championship game comes down, somewhat curiously, to the traditional Conferences that normally battle for the Rose Bowl.