Audibles at the Line
Unfiltered in-game observations by Football Outsiders staff

College Football Championship Audibles

College Football Championship Audibles
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

compiled by Andrew Potter

For this special inaugural College Football Championship edition of Audibles, as with our regular Audibles feature, the FO staff sends around e-mail comments about the game. We share information, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed as we watch. We then compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these e-mails are written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of the game. That means we aren't going to cover every incident, or every important play. We watch as fans of college football as well as analysts, so the discussion may be more colored then usual by our rooting interests and aspects of the game may not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all.

Ohio State Buckeyes 42 vs. Oregon Ducks 20

Cian Fahey: ESPN are doing a €1 deal to watch this game on WatchESPN over here. Got it and am watching the game on the Spider Cam. This is how football should be shown. Can see the safeties and all of the running lanes. Can see how tight the pockets are and how Marcus Mariota is making his decisions more easily. It's simply wonderful.

Mariota was on point during the first drive. Whole Oregon offense was really, except for that fumble.

Aaron Schatz: Official replay in this games takes longer than an entire Oregon drive.

Scott Kacsmar: This was a few months ago, but something I started looking at in our 2013 charting was three-man rushes on third-and-long. Defenses rarely use it in the NFL, but offenses converted just under 40 percent of the time when they did. That's not good. Oregon only rushed three with Ohio State backed up and the Buckeyes converted with the quarterback having all day to throw. Like to send at least standard pressure there to maybe get a safety or fumble for a touchdown.

And Ohio State just capped off the 97-yard drive with a nice touchdown run to tie the game.

Cian Fahey: Cardale Jones obviously isn't a Mariota type of player right now, but for a guy who has barely started in college he shows off some incredible poise. Not to mention that strong arm that has been on show for a couple of early passes.

Aaron Schatz: Is it just because I don't watch a lot of college football that I feel like the Ohio State receivers are REALLY thin?

Tom Gower: Great drive by Ohio State to tie the game at 7. Jones hit a couple deep passes, which was one of my keys to the game for them. The first one, to get them out from the goal line on third down, was a nice sail route from trips to overload that side of the field. The overhead all-22 shoot on the ESPN2 Film Room broadcast offered a nice look at the design. It popped open, and Jones made a nice throw. Good protection, too. I think they kept seven in to block, at least initially, so even if Oregon brought a heavier rush Jones might've had time anyway. The touchdown run was a spectacular job by Ezekiel Elliott and really the first time Oregon hadn't been tackling in space.

Scott Kacsmar: Maybe we forget it after a barrage of scoring, but that drop on third-and-12 by Oregon was huge. That was on the Limas Sweed level of dropped passes with no one around you down the field.

Tom Gower: And it was their second drop on third down -- they dropped the stick on third-and-short earlier. 14-7 game right now, but Oregon can think "they haven't stopped us yet" and they'd be right.

Cian Fahey: The one big negative with college football games: Length. We're over 50 minutes gone in real-life time and there's still 1:00 left in the first quarter.

Vince Verhei: Part of that is Oregon's offense. Even though they like to keep the clock running, you're going to get more clock stoppages just because they run so many plays.

You gonna make it through? It's going to be after 4 a.m. in Ireland before this is over.

Ben Muth: How does Ohio State have a better third-string quarterback than the Cardinals?

Vince Verhei: Watched the first quarter on ESPN2's Film Room Channel. Liked it, didn't love it. Too many shots of six men sitting around a table, while there was a football game going on in the background. And they often went to a split screen with the live shot in a small window and the replay in a big window, but it should have been the other way around. But the analysis of big plays by the coaches was SO GOOD. I'm thinking here of Elliott's touchdown run, where they broke down, instantly, what the key block was, which linebacker missed his assignment, and how the safeties missed the tackles. Going to watch the second quarter on Spider Cam.

As far as the game goes, Buckeyes are very lucky Ducks only have seven points. Ducks have only been stopped by drops by wide-open receivers on third down. On the other side, I think Oregon's linemen have gotten a good pass rush at times, but Ohio State has looked so much more physical on the second and third levels. Shaping up as a great game.

Scott Kacsmar: Huge goal-line stand by Ohio State, but Oregon didn't make it overly challenging with those plays on third and fourth down. Do you really want your star quarterback trying to knife his way in there for a few yards on third down? Run on fourth down really wasn't even close, but it's cool to see a team go for it in that situation. Just think they were a little too far away for those run calls.

Cian Fahey: Oregon is struggling as an offense, but Mariota is showing off why he's a top NFL prospect. Pocket movement has been excellent, decision-making has been excellent, and accuracy has been very consistent. Two critical third-down drops have hurt his numbers, but the performance is certainly there right now.

Aaron Schatz: Oh, Oregon. We don't have to send angry e-mails about your fourth-down decisions, do we?

Vince Verhei: Oregon's drives are ending because guys are dropping passes. Ohio State's are ending because guys are fumbling the ball in space. What a sloppy game.

Aaron Schatz: Oregon's bringing all kinds of pressure when they bring extra guys, but then when they don't it seems Jones has plenty of time to throw.

Tom Gower: 21-7. Buckeyes started on the short field, and then they schemed another great deep shot, using presnap motion to draw the safety out of the right area and throwing the deep post where he would have been. I was very worried about Oregon's ability to take away those deep shots, and my fears have been completely unfounded up to this point.

Cian Fahey: Lots of talk about Cardale Jones and whether he should declare for the draft or not after just three games. It's a ludicrous first. However, considering how much the NFL loves big guys with big arms at the quarterback position and because the intrigue will exist more now than after another full season, it may not be that crazy.

Scott Kacsmar: Speaking of small receivers, Charles Nelson for Oregon looks like a high school kid. Just made a really tough grab on third-and-9. Had to absorb a hit. I've seen plenty of talented pros drop that one before.

Cian Fahey: Believe Oregon is missing their two best receivers, one through injury and one through suspension.

Bill Connelly: Missing their top two receivers AND their top tight end, yeah. Those early drops were killers. (Well, maybe not KILLERS, but they hurt.)

Ben Muth: Story of the first half to me is Ohio State's offensive line killing Oregon's front seven. Jones has all day to throw and Zeke has some big holes to run through.

Other big story is Mariota looked tight when Oregon went down. Missed some reads in the run game (looks like he's trying to do too much) and missed an easy throw on a third-and-4 that forced Oregon to kick a field goal. He needs to play looser if Oregon is gonna win this one.

Vince Verhei: So, Spider Cam review. For Oregon's offense, it's a trip. It is exactly like playing a video game where you're just hammering the no-huddle mode over and over again. There are no announcers, which is good and bad, but the crowd is mic'd badly and you couldn't hear the referee at all. So the sound is just a soft buzz of cheers and occasional pads popping.

The camera shot, for me, was too zoomed in, and I found myself wondering where the receivers were, or what side they were on. This, to be fair, improved as the game went along. The other big flaw is that there's no first-down line. I had a real hard time gauging how many yards a play had gained.

But, like Cian said, for watching running plays, and understanding how they develop, and who's doing what job (and how well they're doing it), there's nothing better. It's fantastic.

It is good for certain passing plays too. I assume Nelson is No. 6? When he came onto the field and lined up in a wingback, I thought the "6" represented his age. He looked so ridiculously small out there. Then he came out of the backfield on a Texas route, cutting outside to the right and then crossing all the way back to the left, leaving the linebacker in his dust.

Oregon badly, badly needed that field goal late in the half. More specifically, they needed that drive. They finished with 49 plays in the half (Ohio State had 39). It's funny, I saw Matt Hinton mention on Twitter that he thought Ohio State's size would wear Oregon down in the second half. That may well happen, but Oregon's whole damn point is to wear teams down in the second half, by making them chase people all day. So they really needed the extra dozen plays on that drive to make the Buckeyes take those extra reps.

Aaron Schatz: I've never seen a quarterback get stonewalled on a sneak, pull out, and then decide to try to go around the defense instead. And it worked. That's a first.

Too bad Ohio State can't hold on to the damn ball. Tip-drill pick.

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Tom Gower: I mentioned this on Twitter, but I never thought that Jones was actually going to sneak that between the tackles unless Oregon didn't defend the quarterback sneak. Body lean didn't look right, and they're not an under-center team.

Ohio State's drop turned into an interception, and then their blown coverage leads to the long Oregon touchdown. 21-17, close, but this has been a very sloppy game for a national title, and without the "really long layoff" excuse.

Scott Kacsmar: I've seen Andy Dalton get stuffed on a sneak, turn to his right and pick up 17 yards in that direction, but yeah, not even close to that effort. Then Jones made a fine pass that was tipped into a pick. Killer stuff for Ohio State tonight. Oregon only needed one play to get the touchdown, which nearly didn't count because of a DeSean Jackson situation. Don't drop the ball until you're deep in the end zone.

Cian Fahey: Both of these quarterbacks are awesome, but both have awful nicknames. Super Mariota and 12 Gauge.

Ben Muth: Disagree. 12 Gauge is a sick nickname.

Aaron Schatz: The 12 Gauge had a misfire and mistakenly dropped a live shell under pressure. That's four turnovers for Ohio State.

Cian Fahey: *Shows self out*

Scott Kacsmar: 12 Gauge sounds like a character you'd pick in a beat-em-up arcade game made by Konami or Capcom.

Very fortunate to have a 1-point lead when you're minus-4 in turnovers. Doubt we've seen the last of the mistakes tonight too.

Aaron Schatz: Loving the "Off The Ball" station. Great explanations on the run-blocking schemes. Ohio State is just killing Oregon with counters.

Cian Fahey: Mariota attempted just two passes in the third quarter. Obviously a product of that huge touchdown pass and the deep fumble by Jameis Wins...I mean Cardale Jones. Yet, it also highlights how the Oregon defense simply can't stop the Ohio State running game.

Tom Gower: Ohio State's drive to extend their lead to 28-20: pretty much unbalanced line with jet sweep action, counter handoff to Elliott off of that. When it's working every time, why change what you're doing?

Vince Verhei: Welp. Elliott just scored to put Ohio State up 35-20 in the fourth, and it feels like ball game. Not that I don't trust the Ducks to score, but I have no idea how they can stop the Buckeyes' offense anymore.

Scott Kacsmar: A chance to hold Ohio State to a field goal and Oregon again sent a three-man rush on third down. Easy pickings for Jones.

Oregon: 2-of-10 on third down, 0-of-1 on fourth down.

Ohio State: 8-of-13 on third down, 3-of-3 on fourth down.

Vince Verhei: You know the Ducks defense is hopeless when Mark Helfrich is getting killed on Twitter for punting on fourth-and-7 deep in his own end.

Cian Fahey: I can't believe Oregon punted the ball with around eight minutes left in the fourth quarter while down by 15. There is no justification for that decision based on how the game had developed to that play.

Scott Kacsmar: The bigger coaching error was Urban Meyer punting on fourth-and-1 from just outside the 45-yard line. We know Oregon can drive the field in a minute, so why not go for it and drain their timeouts, if not the entire clock? Gaining 31 yards of field position doesn't beat that, not to mention this run offense looks more than capable of getting a yard.

Aaron Schatz: Well it isn't like Ohio State has run the ball well tonight or anything.

Tom Gower: Oregon got pretty much the reasonable best case scenario after punting: ball back at their own 15, down 35-20 with 4:23 to play. Is that worth the risk of going down 18 and knowing you're down three scores, instead of pretending you're still down two scores needing to get a two-point conversion? It was obviously an "All Options Suck" scenario, as I like to call them, but I still don't like the punt.

Vince Verhei: Well, we can question this strategy or that, but I think by the end it was clear: Ohio State was the bigger, stronger team and deserved to win.

Scott Kacsmar: If anyone wants to place a big bet on a college championship game for football or basketball, consult with me first.

Here are the records (since I started paying attention to college sports in 2003-04 or so) in the championship game for the team I wanted to win that night:

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Football: 1-11 (only win: 2005 USC over Oklahoma, which is vacated now)

Basketball: 1-12 (only win: 2008 Kansas over Memphis, because of missed free throws and Mario Chalmers)

I sure know how to gravitate towards a loser, eh? Without getting into armchair sports psychology, I know there's more to this than a crazy coincidence though. As a fan I tend to favor teams with great players instead of great teams with better coaching and all-around rosters, and that goes for more than just college sports. Look at tonight. Oregon had the Heisman-winning quarterback, but Ohio State's team played far better. The offensive line was outstanding. Elliott was dominant on the ground. There were mistakes with turnovers, but Oregon did little to stop them all night. Jones played great, but there wasn't as much pressure on him to deliver as there was on Mariota, who suffered some pretty bad drops tonight. I also thought he got less help from his line and running game. Maybe he didn't play great, but the cards were stacked against him. Meyer had a better team ready for this one.

And that's just how team sports work. The more-rounded roster, the more defensive-minded team and the better-coached team will usually win in the postseason over the team that is carried there by star power that's largely on the offense. That's why the Spurs usually beat LeBron, Patriots usually beat Peyton, why the Penguins crash and burn in the postseason except that one time, and I guess I also don't care for coaches that come off as prickish like Nick Saban. I also can't stand UConn and wanted Butler to beat Duke, but that's just personal bias.

At least I'm not losing money on these games, but my rooting interests are usually met with disappointment year after year.


19 comments, Last at 15 Jan 2015, 8:49am

1 Re: College Football Championship Audibles

I didn't see anything last night which was different from the other three or four games I've seen Mariota play, which was a great college qb who hasn't shown upper echelon NFL throwing ability. He just doesn't throw the ball well enough to warrant a top 10 pick, which of course, given the number of teams in a desperate search for a qb, doesn't mean he wont be a top 2 pick. Who knows, he may end up being great, but I'm glad I don't root for a team which takes him that high. Hell, I was more confident that Russell Wilson would be above average, although I had the benefit of seeing every game he played his last year in college.

I'd like to see some film of Roethlisberger from his first two years in college, because Jones reminds me of him, with a lot more speed, and perhaps a faster release. If he learns to make reads quickly and good decisions, he's definitely going to be above average in the NFL, because that guy can see over the pass rushers, and his nickname is apt, as would be "quick draw". It's ridiculous that Urban Meyer can recruit such depth at qb.

4 Re: College Football Championship Audibles

I still think Jones was benefiting quite a bit from the "early days of a new QB" effect. Alabama's defenders were quoted as saying preparing for Jones was different, because there was no film on him. You couldn't see any of his tendencies or problems.

And then Oregon really just apparently didn't want to blitz Jones at all. Absolutely no pressure. It was ridiculous. They apparently shifted the deep coverage after halftime to limit Jones's downfield passing, but that really just seemed like a mistake, giving Jones a ridiculously clean pocket and as much time as he wanted.

There were a few plays where only 2 defensive linemen attempted to rush the passer. Two! How the heck was that play ever going to work?

5 Re: College Football Championship Audibles

I think their thought was that having so many guys drop into coverage would result in Jones getting confused, and making throws to the wrong spot, resulting in ints. They didn't seem to fully consider the danger of having a big guy with tremendous throwing ability, sit back there with no pressure, with fast receivers with good ball skills to toss it to. Also, once you start hitting throws more than 20 yards downfield, then your great running back and good offensive line has a lot easier time running between the tackles. To be fair to Oregon's coaches, when the other guys are obviously bigger and faster, strategy and tactics have their limits.

I don't know how that qb situation in Columbus is going to shake out, obviously, but I really want Jones to be in a situation where he learns to make good reads quickly, because THAT guy would be a lot of fun to watch for the next twelve to fifteen years.

14 Re: College Football Championship Audibles

I think their thought was that having so many guys drop into coverage would result in Jones getting confused, and making throws to the wrong spot, resulting in ints.

Well, I think they were trying to make sure receivers didn't get open deep, because they were terrified of Jones hitting deep passes. But you can't do that to a young QB. You have to pressure him. The few times they did send pressure, Jones did start to look rattled and made mistakes - most notably the unforced fumble. Yeah, they also got burned a few times, but they had two choices: gamble and possibly lose big, or don't gamble and definitely lose.

While watching the game the first time, it always felt "woah, the OSU line is giving him tons of time" - then glancing at it again, it's more like "wait, that's 5 guys blocking 3."

7 Re: College Football Championship Audibles

Meyer is good at recruiting QBs, but Jones committed to OSU in 2011 under the previous regime and was only a three-star recruit. There was actually a thought that he wouldn't be a good fit for Meyer's offense, since he was recruited as a pro-style QB and was thought to be a plodding runner (4.93 in the 40). I guess nobody knew that he was a battleship until he got playing time.

2 Re: College Football Championship Audibles

The bigger coaching error was Urban Meyer punting on fourth-and-1 from just outside the 45-yard line. We know Oregon can drive the field in a minute, so why not go for it and drain their timeouts, if not the entire clock? Gaining 31 yards of field position doesn't beat that,

If I had to guess, Meyer was probably hoping for a better punt. OSU's punter (Cameron Johnson) is a rugby kicker playing punter, so the ball bounces back when it hits - making downing inside the 10, or even 5, pretty reasonable, especially from there. The downside is that Johnson isn't particularly consistent, and ended up with a relatively short kick (his average is more like 45 yards).

He still downed it inside the 20, but he's shown all year that he's capable of getting punts inside the 5. He had a phenomenal 60-yard punt versus Alabama that they downed at the 1, so if I had to guess, he was probably hoping he'd do it again.

Well, we can question this strategy or that, but I think by the end it was clear: Ohio State was the bigger, stronger team and deserved to win.

Honestly, I'd say that Ohio State's depth really did it. The two teams looked pretty evenly matched in the first half. In the second half, the fact that Ohio State's defense stayed fresh (due to constant rotation) and kept after the Oregon offensive line just flat wore on them.

By the end of the game they were just completely out of sync, and getting chippy and frustrated. Oregon got the ball back with 9:44 remaining, down 15. Bad, but not crazy. They pick up 8-9 yards on first down, and rush up to the line. Oops, guy moves... now it's 2nd and 7. They still pick up the first down, but any advantage of trying to put the defense on its heels is gone. Then Joey Bosa slips through the line, forces Mariota out of the pocket and drives him to the ground, and the line gets all chippy and vocal and earns a personal foul, putting them in 2nd and 21. Then, oops, false start again, and its 2nd and Forever.

To me, that sequence there just said it all. OSU's defense looked fresh and not tired at all by the end of the game. On the flipside, Oregon's defensive line by the end just might as well have been lying down.

3 Re: College Football Championship Audibles

The play of the OSU front seven was such a difference maker as that OSU secondary is pretty ordinary. But you need time to go after them obviously.

And did Oregon even throw downfield? I remember the one drop early but to Will's point that throw was a rainbow versus more on a line.

I just thought it was odd to keep doing stuff that didn't force OSU to cover more territory.

8 Re: College Football Championship Audibles

Ohio State's defense hasn't been this good all season. They allowed 35 points to Virginia Tech, 28 to Cincinnati, 24 to Maryland, 24 to Penn State, 37 to Michigan State, 24 to Minnesota, 27 to Indiana, and 28 to Michigan, and none of those are top-shelf offenses. They've just managed to turn it up in the past three games, and I'm not sure what the difference has been.

10 Re: College Football Championship Audibles

Two things told for me in the game:

-Oregon's lines were simply outplayed by Ohio State's lines.
-Once an Oregon player got to a runner (Jones/Elliott), they bounced off them too much. Oregon was very poor in tackling. A couple of those 3rd down conversions would've been stopped if Oregon tackled better. The yards after first contact has to be huge for the Ohio State offense last night.

15 Re: College Football Championship Audibles

The first few drives it looked like Oregon was unstoppable both on offense and defense, and Ohio State managed to score because everything went right; I figured a switch would flip and Oregon would kill Ohio State. Switch flipped the other way, and it's like the Buckeyes' offensive line doubled in size and simply obliterated Oregon.

I'm not a huge college football guy so haven't watched Mariota much, but he does certainly have the pocket presence I like; he moves around well, keeps his eyes downfield, and makes quick decisions. No idea if he can digest a full offensive playbook or read defenses at an NFL level, but there's enough there that I'm looking forward to Goodell calling his name as the first pick in the draft.