How can one sum up the view from Eugene in the wake of Oregon’s shocking Rose Bowl blowout of Florida State?
It’s a view defined by refutation.
Oregon spoke loudly on a picture-postcard New Year’s Day afternoon in the Arroyo Seco… but not with any words. The Ducks were as gorgeous and crisp as the scenery in the shadows of the San Gabriel Mountains. With this masterpiece in college football’s greatest gameday setting, Oregon said all it needed to say to the legions of doubters (this one included) who thought the Ducks wouldn’t measure up in the first-ever College Football Playoff semifinal against the defending national champions.
Oregon’s tempo-based offense would have to deal with a long layoff. Remember the 2011 BCS title game against Auburn?
Oregon’s offensive line wouldn’t be ready for an FSU defensive front that had a chance to get healthier during the previous three weeks.
Florida State was going to be rested and renewed.
The Seminoles were going to be much better than their living-on-the-edge identity, which had been manifested so many times during the regular season.
How was Oregon’s secondary going to handle Florida State’s passing game with Ifo Ekpre-Olomu out?
Mark Helfrich against Jimbo Fisher? Mismatch. The Noles win big.
You name it, there was a convincing reason to doubt the Ducks in this game. Yes, Oregon looked better and played better — quarter by quarter, snap by snap — over the course of the full season, much as Heisman winner Marcus Mariota played better than Jameis Winston did on an individual level. Yet, bowl games give teams a chance to reset the dial, and while Oregon remained a strong betting favorite all the way to kickoff time, the reality of Florida State being able to get healthier — combined with the Noles’ championship pedigree — stood to give the defending champions a better chance than the Vegas line suggested. The fact that Florida State was returning to the scene of its 2014 BCS National Championship Game victory over Auburn figured to make the Seminoles even more confident in their ability to answer whatever challenge Oregon offered.
The Ducks had a simple response to all these thoughts, all these statements expressing belief in FSU’s proven winning identity: Whatever.
What’s most impressive about Oregon’s win is that it was achieved in the part of the game when Florida State had so thoroughly excelled over the course of the regular season.
The fundamental insight at the heart of the 2015 Rose Bowl is that after a regular season in which Florida State constantly owned the second half — erasing several double-figure deficits with unflappable offense and resolute defense — Oregon scored 27 third-quarter points and delivered knockout blows to the Noles without delay. The Ducks added 14 more in the fourth, refusing to let up the way any elite team should in a playoff game against the best team and player of the previous college football season.
Florida State, beginning with its win over Auburn 51 weeks ago, established a reputation in 2014 of being the toughest out in college football. Oregon made the process of taking out Florida State look easy, and it did so not by breezing to a huge lead out of the gate — the first half was uneven and sloppy, especially in the red zone — but by having all the answers after a prolonged halftime break (as is typical in a bowl game).
All season long, Jimbo Fisher made defining and immensely successful halftime adjustments for Florida State. On New Year’s Day, Helfrich — Chip Kelly’s successor — had his offense primed and ready to roll. It was easy to think that Helfrich has enjoyed a ride on Mariota’s coattails, but this game — in which Helfrich clearly outcoached Fisher — offers substantial and convincing proof of a very contrary line of thought.
The layoff, the Florida State reputation, the works — Oregon took all those worries and what-ifs and shoved them in the dumpster. The Ducks, having refuted their critics and the doubts that have hovered over the program for many years, can now play for a national championship in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 12.
After this display, you wouldn’t be inclined to bet against them.