Heisman winner Marcus Mariota recovered from a slow start to lead No. 2 Oregon to a commanding 59-20 victory over defending national champions Florida State in the first College Football Playoff semifinal on Thursday night.
After a somewhat quiet first half, a more spirited Oregon came back and outscored Florida State 41-7 in the second half as Jimbo Fisher’s team struggled to take care of the ball.
“It was a tough day out there,” coach Fisher said after his team’s defeat.
Mariota went 26 of 36 passing for 338 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, as well as rushing for another 62 yards and another score for the Ducks (13-1), who shook off being labeled as a soft team and won the Rose Bowl.
An out-of-sort Jameis Winston was 29 of 45 in passing for 348 yards and one touchdown and an interception for No. 3 Florida State, which had its 29 game winning streak snapped.
The Seminoles, who struggled to get going on offense, managed to limit the Ducks to just 18 points in the first half, but sloppy plays after the interval cost them a shot at playing for another national title.
Down 18-13 at halftime after closing out the first half action by scoring a touchdown, the defending champions carelessly turned the ball over on three successive possessions in the third quarter and the Ducks made them pay by scoring three straight touchdown to open the gap to 45-20 before the start of the fourth quarter.
Oregon’s Darren Carrington had seven catches and finished with 165 yards receiving — the 5th-most yards in Rose Bowl history.
The Ducks will now advanced to their second national title game in five years.
Ohio State Stunned Alabama
In the second semifinal, the fourth ranked Ohio State recovered from a 21-6 deficit to beat No. 1 Alabama 42-35 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and winning head coach Urban Meyer believes the Big 10 conference proved something to everyone.
“I think the Big Ten Conference, the conference that we’re a part of, certainly showed that it is getting better,” Meyer said.
“That’s not saying that the last couple of years, maybe we weren’t, because there’s one way to silence people and that’s go out and play and I say that in we all do, we’re a bunch of good coaches and players that worked their tails off and investing in a lot of resources into these traditionally great programs.”
Ezekiel Elliott rushed for a Sugar Bowl-record 230 yards and two touchdowns for Ohio State (13-1) in the shocking victory.
Trailing by 15 points with 8:07 left in the second quarter, the Buckeyes scored back-to-back touchdowns through Elliott and Michael Thomas for their team to cut the score to 21-20 at halftime.
Elliott also helped to open up the game after he ran away from the Alabama defense for an 85 yard touchdown, which gave the Buckeyes a 42-28 lead late in the fourth quarter.
Third string quarterback Cardale Jones delivered another strong performance in only his second college start after throwing for 243 yards and a touchdown with one interception on the night. He also rushed for another 43 yards.
Alabama (12-2) quarterback Blake Sims, who was intercepted three-times, threw for 237 yards and two touchdowns, including a 6-yard scoring pass to Amari Cooper with 1:59 remaining to trim the lead, but Ohio State had already done the damage.
“We’re very disappointed in the outcome of the game,” Bama head coach Nick Saban said. “But you have to congratulate Ohio State who played a really, really good game, and we probably didn’t play our best game.
“And I take responsibility for that.”
Saban added: “But I’m very proud of this team. This team excelled all year long.”
Cooper caught the ball nine times for 71 yards and two touchdowns, while Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon, who returned from an injury, each scored a touchdown for the Crimson Tide.
Ohio State will now face Oregon in the College Football National Championships on Jan. 12.