DALLAS — The Oregon Ducks proved their depth with a 59-20 thrashing of Florida State in the Rose Bowl, but the team has thrived throughout the season on both sides of the ball.
When the Ducks take on Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Championship, there will be a number of key players on offense and defense whom the Buckeyes will have to pay attention to.
Marcus Mariota, redshirt-junior quarterback
For obvious reasons, Mariota is the main focus for the Buckeye defense heading into the College Football Playoff National Championship.
The Honolulu native accounted for 56 total touchdowns on his way to the Heisman Trophy this season, and totaled more than 4,800 yards to spearhead the Ducks’ attack. He’s been the starter in Eugene, Ore., for three seasons, but Mariota still found time to praise the players around him for the offense’s success this year.
“It’s like being a point guard on a basketball team,” Mariota said Saturday. “It’s fun to dink and dunk and watch those guys make plays.”
Byron Marshall, junior running back
Marshall is listed as a running back, but has played the part of a pass-catcher for most of the season.
He leads the team with 66 receptions and 834 receiving yards and has caught five touchdowns through 14 games. But Marshall has still been involved with the running game, racking up 383 yards and another score on the ground.
On Saturday, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said Marshall has taken the switch to receiver in stride on his way to becoming a key part of the Ducks’ offense.
“We know what he can do as a tailback, we know what he can do as a receiver, and we’ll just continue pushing that envelope,” Helfrich said. “But I think just from a selflessness standpoint, it was a great move for him and our team.”
Erick Dargan, redshirt-senior defensive back
Like Marshall, Dargan has had success throughout the season when it comes to catching the football.
The main difference is, his catches come from the opposing team.
Dargan is tied for third in the nation with seven interceptions this season, and said his ball-hawking ability comes from his preparation and increased knowledge of the game.
“I’m just around the ball,” he said. “Understanding the defense a lot better, understanding where the ball might go within the defense on certain calls, and just making plays when they present themselves.”
But forcing turnovers isn’t all Dargan can do, as he also leads the team with 90 total tackles and has added 2.5 tackles for loss.
DeForest Buckner, junior defensive lineman
Buckner and his defensive teammates might not get as much attention as Mariota and the Oregon offense, but he’s found a way to be disruptive to opponents throughout the season.
Buckner has totaled 73 tackles with a team-high 13 tackles for loss, and he sits fourth on the team with four quarterback sacks. He’s also tallied a trio of quarterback hits and forced one fumble.
OSU redshirt-sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones — the player Buckner will likely be going after for much of the game Monday night — said the Oregon defense is an underrated part of the team’s success.
“They don’t get as much credit as they deserve,” Jones said. “One thing that really sticks out to me is the way they play as a unit. They don’t blow many coverages. They don’t miss many tackles. They don’t make many solo tackles. There’s a lot of guys to the ball.”
While playing his role in that unit, Buckner has been disruptive in pass defense as well, registering four pass break-ups so far this season.
The Buckeyes and the Ducks are set to square off at 8:30 p.m. EST Monday in Arlington, Texas, with the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship on the line.