Rosenthal: On any other night, Mariota takes home the game ball

World, meet Marcus Mariota.

You probably didn’t notice him, thanks to Kenjon Barner’s record-breaking performance, but Mariota had the best game of his career Saturday night when the Ducks topped the Trojans in a 62-51 shootout.

As a unit, Oregon’s offense needed to be near perfect — and they were. Their quarterback was no different.

The redshirt freshman from Hawaii had more touchdown passes than incompletions and threw for more than 300 yards on 20-of-23 passing. He didn’t quite match his season high of 308 yards set against Tennessee Tech, but his four-touchdown, 304-yard performance is better than the 182 yards and three touchdowns he had in his last two games combined.

Oh, and he did this in the biggest game of the season to this point — not that anybody on the Ducks’ squad buys into any one game being bigger than the others.

But all of that was lost on most of us — present company included — before the postgame stat analysis began, thanks to some dude wearing No. 24 rushing for more yards and getting more touchdowns than anybody had ever done against USC. Mariota, however, wasn’t missed by the coaching staff.

“It wasn’t quiet to me, I can tell you that,” said head coach Chip Kelly. “When we needed big plays, Marcus had them. I didn’t see his final stats, but he didn’t seem like he missed too many passes. And his ability to run really makes this an offense tough to defend.”

Of course, how could we forget Mariota’s ability to run. In addition to his career night passing the ball, he picked up 96 rushing yards on 15 attempts, reading USC’s defense flawlessly and executing the zone read to perfection. With as good as the Trojans were offensively — his counterpart had 484 yards passing — the Ducks’ offense needed to be near perfect, and under Mariota’s leadership, well, it was.

“We felt like if we could hold serve,” Kelly said. “That was a big deal for us. If they answered, then we answered.”

While Mariota finished with fewer yards and fewer scores than Matt Barkley, it’s what the former didn’t do that led the Ducks to victory. Barkley threw two picks (three, really, but a phantom pass interference call bailed him out), and Mariota threw none. Take away one of Oregon’s scoring drives and give USC’s Marqise Lee another chance to run rampant over the Ducks’ defense, and this becomes a different game entirely.

Luckily for the Ducks, that’s just a hypothetical.

Saturday was the first time the Ducks were challenged for 60 minutes (Mariota was out of the game so early the last two weeks that he even had more passing attempts on Saturday than he had the previous two weeks combined), and their quarterback responded. In just the second game where he played start to finish, Mariota showed he’s not as good as advertised, he’s better.

Oh, and world? He’s a freshman.

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