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Ohio State defense told to lose weight to defend Oregon

Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett (63) huddles

Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett (63) huddles with Urban Meyer, left, during practice at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Monday, Dec. 29, 2014. Credit: AP / Gerald Herbert

DALLAS - Basking in the glow of Ohio State's Sugar Bowl upset of No. 1 Alabama, coach Urban Meyer was jarred back to reality when he heard the news of Oregon's 59-20 demolition of defending national champion Florida State in the Rose Bowl. "I've gotta go get to work," Meyer joked.

After watching the game video of the Ducks' high-tempo attack, which ran 94 plays against the Seminoles and hit them with a burst of 34 points on offense in a span of 16:41, Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell told his players to lose weight as a means of getting in better shape for the test they face in Monday night's College Football Playoff championship game.

"In 10 days, they're not going to be in that much better shape, but it's what losing weight does mentally for you," Fickell said. "By me telling you that you're in better shape because you dropped seven pounds, it helps your mind."

Ohio State has the most talented defensive line Oregon has seen all season with two All-Americans in end Joey Bosa and tackle Michael Bennett combining with tackle Adolphus Washington and end Steve Miller.

As Washington sees it, the key to controlling the Ducks and quarterback Marcus Mariota is to shut down the running of backs Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman because their success sets up Mariota's play-action passing.

"They don't really want to run the ball too much," Washington said. "They want to get four or five yards, and then they want to go for the big bomb. As long as we're stopping their run and making them only pass, then that's where our advantage comes in that we can rush the passer.

"Their tempo is a whole other beast. We decided to drop weight for the game to try and get in the best shape we can. If we stop that running game, you can't go tempo when you're getting stopped on first down and tackled for a loss."

Washington said the defensive line has to pay attention to Mariota's scrambling because he's "like a lightning bolt" when he leaves the pocket. He expressed confidence that he and his defensive linemates can contain Mariota but said the Buckeyes might have a linebacker tracking Mariota on every play as a precaution.

The Heisman Trophy winner's ability to scramble and extend plays has been a big part of Oregon's offense, putting pressure on defensive backs to hold their coverage longer than usual.

"Mariota's the best I've ever seen," Buckeyes cornerback Doran Grant said. "It's like two phases for me: one, from the snap, and then the scramble is phase two. He scans the field as well as any quarterback running and completing the ball. We have to have tight coverage for that."

Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee, who was the most outstanding defensive player in the Sugar Bowl, said the Buckeyes gained confidence by overcoming a 21-6 deficit to beat Alabama.

"We were really resilient, and we have to have mental toughness for this game like we did for the last game," Lee said. "When they get their tempo going, you've got to be mentally tough to get lined up."

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