Monday, April 30, 2012

Mariota shines as White team overwhelms Green team in spring game

Tacoi Sumler (right) congradulates Marcus Mariota after the redshirt freshman put on a show during the annual spring game at Autzen Stadium. The quarterback threw for 202 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 99 yards and 2 touchdowns. (Alex McDougall/Oregon Daily Emerald)
By Patrick Malee
Published April 28, 2012, last modified April 29, 2012

In the biggest game of spring football season, Chip Kelly barely got to watch his own team.

He was busy throughout the abbreviated scrimmage, roaming from sideline to sideline and being interviewed via headset by ESPN broadcasters up in the press box. So when reporters asked about what he saw from his two prospective quarterbacks, he was honest.

“I didn’t see anything,” Kelly said with a smile. “I was running around like an idiot, to be honest with you.”

Of course, even in the midst of his hectic afternoon, Kelly had a few moments to take notice of Marcus Mariota‘s breakout performance in a 41-14 White team victory. The redshirt freshman from Hawaii completed 18-of-26 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 99 yards and two more touchdowns. The highlight of the afternoon came when Mariota broke out of the pocket, juked a man and raced down the right side of the field for an 82-yard touchdown.

“It was great that we could get them on a big stage,” Kelly said. “And play in front of a crowd and kind of see what that atmosphere was really like. I think standing there as a spectator, I thought Marcus had a great day.”

Indeed, the only blatant misstep in Mariota’s day came when he telegraphed a pass to cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who made a diving interception. Mariota and junior quarterback Bryan Bennett combined for three interceptions in all, and it was clear that both still had plenty of progress to make over the summer.

“I think there was a couple times when both those guys forced the ball a little bit,” Kelly said. “But that’s why you have days like this. It’s interesting to see how they react.

“We obviously talk about it all the time: you don’t have to make it happen, you have to let it happen.”

In that sense, Mariota certainly did a better job of letting the game come to him on Saturday, and made a distinct impression upon the Autzen Stadium faithful in the process. But first impressions, even grand ones, are just that.

“That’s going to be everyone’s first impression of him, and he needs to use that to fuel his summer, to have a great summer,” offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. “And same with Bryan; he didn’t have his best day today and the unit around him didn’t have their best day today, and so he’s gotta flip that and use that as momentum. It’s one day.”

“For me, any time to get a competition and go into the game is a big factor,” Mariota said. “I just wanted to come out and play my best, and just get the ball out to guys like Tacoi (Sumler) and Rahsaan (Vaughan) and De’Anthony (Thomas) and just to give them the chance to really showcase what they can do. And I felt that they did a good job, the offensive line held well, and the score kind of was representative of that. We did well, and just gotta continue to work.”

In all, the White team out-gained its opposition by 123 yards (398-275) on eleven less plays (50 compared to Green’s 61). For Helfrich, the spring game was a culmination of a “feeling out” period — deciding what works and what doesn’t within the fabric of this particular team. And in that sense, it was successful, no matter what the outcome of the final game was.

“So much in the spring, you’re just like, ‘hey let’s try this out, and see what happens,’” Helfrich said. “Sometimes that’s great, and sometimes it looks awful. You just have to try to pick and choose what you’re going to try to resurrect in the fall.”

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