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2015 College Football Championship Game: Q&A with Land-Grant Holy Land

We're just a couple of days away from the national title game between Ohio State and Oregon. ATQ's Sean Larson chatted with Chris Kopech from Land-Grant Holy Land, SB Nation's Ohio State Blog, about the upcoming matchup between the Ducks and Buckeyes.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Addicted to Quack: Oregon was just dealt a huge blow with the suspension of Darren Carrington for the championship. Does this change anything about how Ohio State prepares for this game?

Land-Grant Holy Land: Possibly. I think Carrington was a great cog in the really stupendous machine that took out Florida State, but if this season has taught us anything about Oregon's offense, it's that, aside from Mariota, the rest of the pieces can shift in and out, and not really affect the final product on the field. The Buckeye defensive coaching staff is no doubt sighing just a bit by not needing to gameplan for Carrington, but I don't think it will be the biggest storyline in the game, nor will it play the biggest role.

ATQ: Both teams have dealt with their fair share of adversity this season. Is it just having incredible depth, (especially at quarterback), a nod to the coaching staff and how they handled it or a mixture of both?

LGHL: That's the biggest difference between the Meyer regime and the Tressel regime, in my opinion. With Tres, the starters were typically great, but the depth wasn't there, or was wearing a red shirt. Meyer doesn't play that game to the same degree - if you can play as a Freshman, then you suit up and play. By giving Barrett game-like reps and prep in spring and summer ball, he was prepared to lead the offense after Miller went down. By giving Jones the same when Miller was declared out and Barrett took over, he was able to come in and beat the Badgers and Crimson Tide. So the prep was there. And the talent, as we've seen, certainly was, too. So it was a good mix of both that really contributed to the success.

ATQ: All eyes will be on Marcus Mariota, but aside from him, who do you think Ohio State will need to focus on the most when trying to slow down Oregon's offense?

LGHL: I'm really interested to see how Oregon and Mark Helfrich use Royce Freeman in this game. The interior D-Line of the Buckeyes has been surprisingly stingy in the last few games, especially after letting Indiana and Minnesota's backs run a bit wild leading up to those games. But then they shut down Melvin Gordon, Derrick Henry and TJ Yeldon in consecutive games, and that's a nice line on a resume. But those three backs are power runners, focusing on going inside; the Oregon playbook has a few more pages and several more wrinkles. If Freeman can't get anything done on the inside, then the game can shift outside, where the extra space can be a huge asset for the Ducks, and a difficult obstacle for the Bucks.

ATQ: Ezekiel Elliott has delivered a pair of monster performances. Do you see him doing the same against Oregon, or will his magic run out?

LGHL: I've been thinking about this since the matchup was set in stone, and when you look at it, this might be Elliott's best shot easiest game based on Oregon's performance against the run this year. Certainly against stingy defenses like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Alabama, no one really expected the performances that Elliott delivered, and here we are against a less reputable defensive foe. But you can't malign Oregon's D too much - it did hold Sparty's Jeremy Langford to under 80 yards all the way in week 2. Granted, that was about a century ago, but definitely fresh in all the minds this week. I think the trend can continue in this game, and it will be something the Ducks must be more than ready for.

ATQ: Much of the focus around Ohio State's offense centers around Ezekiel Elliott, but who do you see as the biggest threat through the air to deliver on Monday among the wide receivers?

LGHL: Devin Smith would be my first answer here, because he's the best deep threat in the country, and has been for the last two years. But with Smith missing media day "due to illness", I don't know if I can keep him as the biggest threat. So I'm going to turn it to Evan Spencer, who has had an incredibly quiet year despite the stats overall for OSU's offense. Spencer can hurt you a lot of ways: he set up the block on Elliott's 85-yard TD run late in the Sugar Bowl, and threw a beautiful pass to Michael Thomas on a double reverse at the end of the first half. He can do it all.

ATQ: On the defensive side of the ball for the Buckeyes, who is going to play the biggest role in trying to stop Mariota and the Ducks?

LGHL: Michael Bennett. The media and a lot of others will clamor for the Bosa/Mariota showdown, but Bosa typically draws about 12 guys to block him. This typically frees up either Adolphus Washington or Bennett to run wild in the backfield. Bennett was mostly quiet on the Sugar Bowl stat sheet, though he did get a sack, and he harassed the Alabama line for the majority of the game.

Honorable mention to Eli Apple, who will need to have the game of his life to keep Mariota honest downfield.

ATQ: Prediction time. Who wins, why and by how much?

LGHL: In January, 2007, a 7-point favorite with a Heisman Trophy quarterback and a solid defense walked into the BCS Championship Game and got clobbered by an underdog team from a somewhat maligned conference coached by Urban Meyer. Sound familiar?

I don't want to toot the Homer Horn too much, but I've been saying Ohio State 35, Oregon 24 all week, and I think I still like that number, especially with the consideration above. I think the Ohio State defense hasn't seen an attack like Oregon's all year, but has been more bend and less break, especially lately. But you know that the Ducks will "get theirs" at least a few times, and I'm sure the coaching staff is approaching the game with that in mind. But make no mistake, this is a defense that adjusts really, really well when it needs to, and is usually a different team when the second half begins. If it can hold Oregon to three TDs all game, then things will look great for Ohio State.

On the other side of the ball, I'm not expecting Meyer or Herman to pull any punches or simplify anything for Jones - if he isn't ready by now, then that's the ball game. As long as the play-calling doesn't get "too cute" (i.e. running an option on the short side on third and 8, a slick, but ill-advised timing route against a zone coverage, etc) then I think a steady dose of Elliott and Jones on the ground, will open up the passing game for Jones's impressive cannon of an arm - if Jones can keep the ball in the hands of his own team. Turnovers will be daggers in a game like this, and Jones's inexperience might lead to one at a horrible time. But, just like the Buckeye defense, the Duck D hasn't seen an offense like Ohio State's all year, and to me that's going to be the difference in the game.