Leading up to the first ever College Football Playoff, The Players’ Tribune reached out to current NFL players from Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Oregon to preview their alma mater’s roster and provide a prediction for their game on New Year’s Day.
Oregon Offensive Preview
Oregon always tries to get off to a fast start. That’s the key. Everything at Oregon is based on speed. It’s all about getting out to a lead and I’m confident we’ll do that.
Offensively, Oregon’s been such a juggernaut. You don’t have a better guy, or a guy who’s smarter with the football, than Marcus Mariota. He’s able to use the entire field to his advantage. If you take away 98% of his options, he’ll find that other 2%.
But the guys aren’t thinking about themselves as favorites. There are some similarities to my final season at Oregon, in 2012. We were undefeated when we lost to Stanford late in the season. It was like winning 10 rounds of a fight and getting knocked out in the 11th round — and not being able to go to the national championship. We had one loss but when we went to play Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl, it was less about Kansas State and more about making a statement about the Oregon Ducks. I remember the first play of the game, De’Anthony Thomas took it back 100 yards for a touchdown. It was a reminder for us that we have the baddest group of guys on the field — we’ve got the fastest, most athletic, toughest guys. And we’re the best coached group on the field.
When you have a bowl game or a playoff game, you have an extended amount of time to prepare for it, a larger body of work to study about your opponent, and time to come up with a plan. You also get time to get your guys healthy. When you have a guy like the center, Hroniss Grasu, a senior who’ll be going to the NFL, you’ve got an extra coach on the field. He was injured toward the end of the year — now this gives them an opportunity to get him back. People really underappreciate the things that a center can do for an offense. He understands all the pre-snap reads. And while Marcus Mariota is tremendous pre-snap and does a great job at making reads, it gives you another guy. In essence, you have a brain trust on the field and on the sideline.
It’s the one-on-one matchups that I’ll be watching. It’s 11 games within one game. If I’m playing the Lions, I know my matchup is going to be Ndamukong Suh. On the line of scrimmage, watch out for offensive lineman Jake Fisher versus Florida State’s Mario Edwards. What you have to look at is this team’s track record when the offensive line was healthy. When they’ve had their guys healthy, Marcus has been protected. These guys have been with Mariota since his freshman year.
The other matchup I’m really excited about is Keanon Lowe, #7 — he’s an absolute killer receiver on the outside. He’s such a competitor. If you’re looking for a good matchup on the outside, Lowe and whoever they put on him is the one.
FSU has always been known as a team with physical, smashmouth linebackers. But we’ve got a good rebuttal with our young stable of backs, primarily Royce Freeman and Byron Marshall. I think Oregon has to run the ball for well over 100 yards if we’re going to win.
Usually, offensively and defensively, a team has a plan for what the first drive or two will look like from a playcalling standpoint. Oregon’s warp speed tempo comes into play because it botches the defense’s ability to relay calls in from the sideline. You can’t change personnel or the play or the alignment. They’re already on the ball and ready to run a play. So if Oregon can get out to a fast start and put some points on the board, it enables you to slow the offense down as the game progresses — and keep Florida State’s offense, and Jameis, off the field.
My final score is Oregon 35, Florida State 24.
Oregon Defensive Preview
The X factor for Oregon’s D is going to be stopping the run. If they can do that, they’re going to have a big day. Florida State’s game plan will definitely be to run the ball a lot. If you remember the Arizona State game, that was Oregon’s only loss. ASU ran the ball really well in that game.
Defensive linemen DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead are going to be big factors. They’re huge, dynamic players — they not only stop the run well but they get after the QB really effectively. They’re going to have to disrupt Jameis Winston with the pass rush.
Another factor is going to be linebacker Joe Walker. He’s a big play guy, a momentum guy. He could make a play that changes the game in a big way.
Oregon definitely took a big hit losing cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to injury. Erick Dargan is going to have to step up. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dargan had two interceptions in the game. I think the big matchup to watch will be Troy Hill versus FSU’s WR Rashad Greene, #80.
Florida State is known as a second half team, a comeback team. But both teams are great second half teams. The mark of a great team is whether it can keep getting better. Our defense has progressed each game this season, and I think they’re tired of not being mentioned when people talk about Oregon. The way Oregon practices has prepared them for a long game — they are extremely conditioned, probably one of the best conditioned and trained defenses out there.
My final score prediction is 38-30 because I think Oregon is going to jump out quick and our D is going to get a lot of stops early. FSU is going to rally late — but it’s not going to be enough.
Photos via Getty Images