Not only is the Ohio State football team getting set for its third straight post-season game, it is also preparing to take on its third-straight Heisman finalist.
Only this time, it’s the Heisman winner.
In an almost symbolic twist, the Buckeyes will face the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, Oregon redshirt-junior quarterback Marcus Mariota, in the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship game after defeating the second and third place finishers in the Big Ten Championship game and the 2015 Allstate Sugar Bowl respectively.
First came the eventual Heisman runner-up in Wisconsin redshirt-junior running back Melvin Gordon, who entered the Big Ten title game averaging 188.3 rushing yards per game and had 26 touchdowns to go along with it.
The Buckeyes held Gordon to just 76 yards rushing, in turn shutting out the favored Badgers 59-0 in a game in which OSU started third-string quarterback redshirt-sophomore Cardale Jones.
About three weeks later, OSU held the third-place finisher, Alabama’s junior wide receiver Amari Cooper, to just 71 yards receiving and his second-lowest yards-per-catch performance of the season.
With the Buckeyes looking to go 3-0 against the three Heisman finalists, OSU senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett said Tuesday that he, along with the entire defense, takes pride in shutting down such high profile players.
“They are Heisman contenders because they are either running or catching over everybody,” Bennett said. “So if you are able to shut them down, that means you had a really good defensive effort.”
Now, with the national title game less than a week away, OSU coach Urban Meyer said there is no denying that shutting down Mariota will be the emphasis on defense.
“Of course you say that’s the target and you try to simulate that at practice. You can’t simulate him,” Meyer said. “When Cooper was on the field or off the field, we knew last week, Gordon, we had stuff all over the kids’ lockers about stop this guy. It’s very clear, and if it’s not now, it’s certainly getting clearer that he’s (Mariota) the guy.”
Mariota not only won the Heisman Trophy in 2014, but he also ranks fifth in the country in total offense, averaging 346.6 yards per game by himself. As a whole, the Ducks’ offense ranks third in the country.
The staple of the Duck offense is a fast-paced attack that attempts to wear out opposing defenses, something OSU redshirt-freshman linebacker Darron Lee said he and the Buckeye defense must prepare to face.
“What we have seen on film with them is that they have eliminated teams by the fatigue factor. Some teams will be up on them, say mid-, late-third quarter and then they (Oregon) will just blow the door open,” Lee said Tuesday. “If we eliminate that (the fatigue factor) and get lined up, we will be fine.”
OSU sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa said Tuesday that adjusting from the physicality of the Alabama offense to the speed of Oregon’s offense could prove challenging.
“Alabama and Oregon are completely different animals. Alabama is, line up and come at you (with) big, physical guys. Oregon is, run across the field, spread you out and tire you out,” Bosa said. “Both are tough, both are definitely tiring and we are just preparing as well as we can with the tempo and the speed of practice has been kicked up a lot this week. It is just a mental battle having to prepare going into our 15th game of the season. It’s a grind.”
Bosa, who has been just a half sack away from tying the OSU school record since defeating Michigan in November said that even though Mariota is the Heisman Trophy winner, the Buckeye defense is not afraid of another challenge.
“(He is) the best player in college football. Obviously the Heisman winner and he is very talented in the run game, he just makes good decisions,” Bosa said. “We aren’t scared of anybody really, we just have to pay attention to where he is at all times and what he is doing at all times.”
Bosa added that even though chasing Mariota and the Duck offense around the field will likely be exhausting, that won’t affect him once the game has started.
“When there is such big stakes up for grabs, when you got the national championship, you don’t really think about how tired you are or how sore you are,” Bosa said. “You are just worried about getting that title.”
The Buckeyes and Ducks are set to play for the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday night at 8:30 p.m. in Arlington, Texas.