Oregon turns turnovers into touchdowns

Published 3:28 am Friday, January 2, 2015

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Touchdown. Turnover. Touchdown. Turnover. Touchdown.

And on it went for Oregon.

Marcus Mariota and the Ducks are built for speed and in a flash they turned the first College Football Playoff semifinal game into a Rose Bowl rout.

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The Ducks dusted Florida State 59-20 on Thursday and now it’s on to Texas to try to win their first national championship.

“It’s incredible. I’m so proud of these guys right here,” Mariota said. “We’ve got one more to take care of.”

The second-seeded Ducks (13-1) scored six straight times they touched the ball in the second half, with five of the touchdowns covering at least 21 yards and the last four coming after Florida State turnovers.

In a span of 12:54 on the game clock, the score went from 25-20 to 59-20.

“A lot of fun,” said Oregon coach Mark Helfrich of the Ducks’ run, “but at the same time these guys were able to retain a tremendous focus.”

In the matchup of Heisman Trophy winners, Jameis Winston matched Mariota’s numbers, but the Seminoles were no match for the Ducks. The Pac-12 champions will play the winner of the Sugar Bowl semifinal between Alabama and Ohio State on Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas.

Third-seeded Florida State’s winning streak ends at 29. In Winston’s first loss as a college starter, maybe his last game in college, he threw for 348 yards and turned the ball over twice.

“I think what he did as a competitor and what he does with his teammates, he’s one of the great players in not only college football, but college football history to me,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “It was a tough day out there.”

Mariota was mostly brilliant again. Directing the Ducks’ warp-speed, hurry-up offense, the junior passed for 338 yards and two touchdowns. When he sprinted for a 23-yard touchdown with 13:56 left in the fourth quarter it made the score 52-20 and it made the Ducks the first team to reach 50 points in Rose Bowl history. This was game No. 101.

“The longer you go, the stronger you get,” said Ducks safety Erick Dargan, who forced a fumble and intercepted a pass. “We went longer and we stayed stronger. Everyone kept demanding more out of each other.”

The Ducks fans spent much of the final quarter mockingly doing the Seminoles’ warchant and tomahawk chop. After it was over the players sported T-shirts that read “WON NOT DONE.”

The first playoff game at college football’s highest level, the type of postseason game fans have longed for forever, looked like it would be a classic for about two and a half quarters.

Under a cloudless sky, on a chilly day in Pasadena, the Rose Bowl featured the third matchup of Heisman Trophy winners and a couple of quarterbacks who could be vying to be the first overall pick in April’s NFL draft.

On the same field where Florida State erased an 18-point deficit against Auburn to win the national title last year, the Seminoles trailed at half for the sixth time this season.

And then the hole got deeper.

Seminoles freshman Dalvin Cook was stripped by Derrick Malone Jr. with Florida State in Oregon territory. The Ducks quickly flipped the field and Royce Freeman scored his second touchdown of the day from 3 yards out to make it 25-13.

Helfrich had called the Seminoles “unflappable” during the week leading up to the Rose Bowl — and they showed it on the next drive.

Winston threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to freshman Travis Rudolph to make it 25-20 Oregon with 8:07 left in the third.

Then the Ducks took off.

Mariota zipped a pass to Darren Carrington for a 56-yard touchdown pass.

Then another fumble by Cook, and the wave of big plays and points the Ducks do better than any team in the country started rumbling.

Mariota hit Carrington for a 30-yard touchdown and the Rose Bowl, filled mostly with green and yellow, was rumbling, too.

With the sun just about set behind the San Gabriel mountains, the Ducks put the ‘Noles away.

On fourth-and-5 in Oregon territory, Winston had lots of time but couldn’t find a receiver. He was flushed from the pocket and as he loaded to throw his foot slipped and the ball popped out of his hands.

“It kind of looked like he slipped on a banana, like in cartoons,” Oregon linebacker Torrodney Prevot said.

The fumble bounced into Tony Washington’s arms and the defensive end went 58 yards for a score.

“It was just a crazy play,” Winston said.

The wave had washed over Florida State.

Florida State had not lost since Nov. 24, 2012, to Florida. Winston had never lost a college start in 26 tries.

Turnovers were a problem all year for Seminoles, who came into the game 84th in the nation in turnover margin (minus-3), and in the playoff it was ultimately what doomed them.

“We beat ourselves,” Winston said. “We were never stopped at all.”

Winston, whose two years at Florida State have been filled with spectacular play on the field and controversy off, still has two years of eligibility left, but he has nothing left to prove.

Mariota and the Ducks are moving on, with a chance to add the biggest prize of all — the only significant one missing — to their trophy case.


Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoap