Mariota Shines in Ducks Debut With Near Perfect Accuracy
Two things were settled on Saturday night at Autzen Stadium. One was that Chip Kelly made the right decision in who should lead the No. 5 Oregon offense this season at quarterback. The second was the correct pronunciation of that quarterback’s name. Marcus Mariota’s mother called the university to inform them it’s pronounced “Mar-ee-oh-TAH” not “Mar-ee-ohtah.” Let’s learn to say that one, because we’re going to be saying it a lot from now on.
Mariota made his first collegiate start on Saturday, but you wouldn’t have known it by the way he played. In Oregon’s dominating 57-34 victory over Arkansas State, Mariota displayed near perfect precision on his passes in his relatively short appearance, completing 18 of his 22 pass attempts for 200 yards and three touchdowns.
After completing his first pass attempt for 13 yards, Mariota was sacked for a nine yard loss. The Honolulu native said that it was good to get that first hit out of the way though, as it had been the first time in about a year that he had taken a hit.
Mariota shook off the sack like it was nothing, completing passes of 21 yards and 22 yards to set up the Kenjon Barner rushing touchdown to get Oregon on the board with less than two minutes into the game. What had fans in awe wasn’t just the big throws Mariota was making, but the accuracy at which he threw them. On seemingly every pass, the ball hit the receivers right in the numbers, something many people probably didn’t expect from a kid making his first ever collegiate start. One throw stuck out in particular. With the ball on the 12 yard line and Oregon threatening to score again, Mariota zipped in a perfect pass to De’Anthony Thomas between three Arkansas State defenders for his first career touchdown pass.
With his first sack out of the way and his first touchdown pass in the books, Mariota played like a man on a mission. Although quite premature, the word Heisman was definitely thrown around at Autzen Stadium on Saturday night.
Aside from the ability to throw accurate passes all night, Mariota showed the ability to know when to scramble out of the pocket and take the ball himself, carrying the ball four times for 33 yards, including an impressive run of 17 yards. For years, Oregon has been about the dual threat quarterback. Guys like Dennis Dixon, Jeremiah Masoli, Darron Thomas all showed during their time here that they could gain yards on the ground when needed, and Mariota is no different.
Tonight didn’t just reveal the fact that Oregon head coach Chip Kelly made the right choice in the quarterback battle between Mariota and Bryan Bennett, but also that his decision might have been easier than we initially thought. As expected, the announcement of who would lead the Ducks at quarterback this year didn’t come until the final day when depth charts had to be released. But after Bennett got his reps in to end the first half, it seemed to appear as if this battle was over long before the depth charts were released.
Of the five passes Bennett attempted in the second quarter after coming in with a 47-point lead, only one was completed with another one being intercepted. As Kelly said, the decision came down to Mariota’s strong ability to make good decisions, and that difference between the two quarterbacks became blatantly obvious as the game went on. Bennett made poor, inaccurate throws that led to a stall in the Oregon offense for the rest of the game. After the Ducks jumped out to a 50-3 lead, Arkansas State was able to outscore Oregon 31-7.
The Most important stat of the night: Mariota’s-led offense scored each of the first seven drives of the game. Their offense was literally unstoppable. The Bennett-led offense only scored one touchdown for two-and-a-half quarters.
Granted, these were the reserves that were in the game. Either way, Bennett did not seem as comfortable and poised as Mariota did for the night. In his two and a half quarters of action, Bennett completed 10-of-17 passes for 107 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. When it came to decision making, Mariota had the clear edge.
The next challenge for Mariota will be the Fresno State Bulldogs (1-0), who will come into Autzen Stadium next week with their trademark, “We’ll play anyone, anywhere” attitude. The Bulldogs are coming off a 37-10 victory over Weber State at home, but Mariota and the Ducks shouldn’t have much to worry about. The last time Fresno State defeated an opponent ranked in the top 25 was in 2002 when they knocked off No. 21 Colorado State 32-30.[Sports-Poll]??