Ducks Power Past Red Wolves as Mariota Shines
And so begins the Marcus Mariota era.
The Ducks’ newly minted starting quarterback passed his first test with flying colors, throwing for 200 yards and three touchdowns while completing 18-of-22 pass attempts, as Oregon bulldozed the Arkansas State Red Wolves 57-34 at Autzen Stadium Saturday night. Mariota’s coming out party drew wild cheers from a typically rabid Autzen crowd, though fellow offensive standouts De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner put their own stamps on the opener as well. Thomas netted 119 yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns, while Barner collected 74 yards of his own, paired with two scores.
Mariota opened his much-anticipated collegiate debut by orchestrating a seven play, 73-yard touchdown drive, augmented by a Barner 4-yard touchdown run. The redshirt freshman quarterback connected on his first pass to junior wide receiver Daryle Hawkins for a gain of 13 yards, and then faced his first third-and-long after suffering a 9-yard sack at the hands of Red Wolves’ defensive end Shervarius Jackson.
Lauded by coaches and teammates for his cool and collected nature, Mariota connected with sophomore Keanon Lowe for 21 yards for the first down.
“They blitzed him a little bit early and he took a sack on the first drive but then he came back,” said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. “He made some real quick decisions and that’s the one thing you love about him.”
After Thomas caught Mariota’s next pass for a gain of 22 yards, Barner forced his way through a mass of Arkansas State defenders for the Ducks’ first touchdown of the season. Thanks to a successful two-point conversion on a “swinging gate” pass from punter Jackson Rice to defensive end Dion Jordan, the Ducks took an 8-0 lead with 13:22 left in the first quarter. It wasn’t long until the Ducks added on. And that they did, again and again in a first quarter that became a processional of perfectly placed Mariota passes and big Barner gains.
With 9:19 remaining, Mariota connected with Thomas for a 12-yard touchdown pass. A minute and twenty-two seconds later, Mariota hit Josh Huff in the back of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown.
“Honestly I was very nervous, but after the first snap, it’s gone,” said Mariota. ” My dad used to always tell me when I was playing high school football that nerves are a good thing, it’s just human nature. I just went and rode with it, and I had so much fun out there today.”
With 5:21 to go in the opening quarter, Barner took a handoff from Mariota and curved around a slew of Arkansas State defenders for a 17-yard touchdown run.
Just like that, it was 29-0, Ducks. The Red Wolves mustered their first scoring drive in the closing minutes of the first quarter and opening of the second. The twelve-play, 57-yard drive came to a close with a 32-yard field goal by kicker Brian Davis.
And then the onslaught continued. Thomas caught a 12-yard pass from Mariota for a score, and followed with perhaps his first signature moment in what is sure to be a Heisman campaign of a season. The diminutive Crenshaw product took a handoff, stepped to his right, and then cut suddenly to his left through the Red Wolves defense to the end zone, breaking a tackle attempt at the goal line for his third score of the night.
“Whenever 6 (Thomas) touches the ball – I’d like to take credit for coaching him, but we just line him up and let that kid go,” said Kelly.
Midway through the second quarter, it was second unit time for the Ducks. True freshman Byron Marshall, from San Jose, California’s Valley Christian high school, took over the running back duties and scored a 3-yard touchdown on fourth down. Marshall appeared stopped short of the goal line, but the 5’10”, 201-pound back stayed on his feet long enough to be pushed in from behind by Mariota.
And so ended Mariota’s night, replaced by Bryan Bennett, the redshirt sophomore who appeared primed to take over quarterback duties following Darron Thomas’s departure for professional football. Bennett did little to prove Kelly’s decision wrong in the early going, completing just one pass out of five attempts in the second quarter. Bennett threw an interception to cornerback Chaz Scales on his final throw of the half, though the pick came on a deflection off of redshirt freshman B.J. Kelley’s hands.
“If I get my opportunity, I just want to keep building from this first game,” said Bennett. “That starts tomorrow, really.”
With 3:20 remaining in the first half, Aplin connected with Julian Jones on the right sideline for a 72-yard score, the Red Wolves’ first of the night. Oregon cornerback Troy Hill played the pass aggressively in an attempt to intercept, but Jones gathered the throw and saw only open fields ahead, cruising in for the touchdown. The Red Wolves continued to chip away in the third quarter, when Davis nailed a 29-yard field goal to bring the tally to 50-13.
With 1:53 remaining, the Red Wolves scored again, by way of a 6-yard touchdown pass from Aplin to fellow preseason Sun Belt All-Conference pick Josh Jarboe. In the fourth quarter, Bennett finally put his stamp on the final score, connecting with senior Rahsaan Vaughn for a 7-yard touchdown. He finished with 107 yards passing on 10 completions out of 17 attempts, along with 34 yards rushing.
On the ensuing possession, Aplin responded with a touchdown of his own, hitting Carlos McCants on a pretty lob pass for a 38-yard score. Later in the quarter, Aplin snuck in for a 1-yard run to bring the score to its final, 57-34.
Last year’s Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, Aplin finished with 305 yards passing on 29 of 44 attempts, and four total touchdowns.
The Ducks (1-0) continue their 2012 campaign next Saturday at 3:30 PM when they welcome the Fresno State Bulldogs to Autzen. Arkansas State (0-1) will play Memphis next Saturday at 6:00 PM.
Oregon continued their sellout streak with an attendance listed at 56,144. It makes the 83rd consecutive sellout.
Running back De’Anthony Thomas finished the ball game with 125 total yards and three touchdowns. Kenjon Barner finished with 74 total yards and two touchdowns.
Arkansas State committed three turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble) will the Ducks committed just one (interception).Total Yards Oregon: 605 Arkansas State: 531 Passing Yards Oregon: 316 Arkansas State: 305 Rushing Yards Oregon: 289 Arkansas State: 226