Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Oregon’s rookie quarterback is on the fast track to success QB Marcus Mariota will likely set multiple freshman records

UO Football

By Bob Clark

The Register-Guard

Published: October 24, 2012 12:00AM, Today

In attendance at Autzen Stadium on Saturday will be high school teammates of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, the guys who helped the UO freshman win a Hawaii state title for Saint Louis School.

“I haven’t seen them in a while,” Mariota said. “I’m really looking forward to it.

“I want to put on a good show for them.”

Well, that certainly won’t be anything unusual.

Mariota’s freshman season has been nothing but a success. He’s quarterbacked the second-ranked Ducks to seven victories entering Saturday’s game against Colorado, and his individual numbers are headed for the record books as well.

If he throws three touchdown passes against the Buffaloes, he’ll match the conference record of 19 touchdown passes by a freshman. Mariota is within 115 yards of the total offense record (rushing and passing yards) for a UO freshman. His completion percentage of .683 currently exceeds the UO record for a season.

What hasn’t he done already? His 86-yard touchdown run against Arizona State was the longest ever by a UO quarterback. That run also helped him become the first UO player since Joey Harrington in 2000 to run for a score, throw for a touchdown and have a touchdown reception in the same game.

Wait, he’s a receiver, too?

“I wasn’t totally expecting that,” Mariota said of the flip in his direction from Bryan Bennett, in the lineup along with Mariota for one of Oregon’s two-quarterback alignments. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

Which could aptly describe his situation with the Ducks. Could a player better fit physically into what Oregon wants from a quarterback — strong arm, fleet feet — than the 6-foot-4, 211-pound Mariota?

And that doesn’t fully describe his abilities as a quarterback.

“He’s just been a guy who kind of got it,” UO offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. “We haven’t had to limit anything (offensively) because of him.

“It doesn’t make sense to do something your quarterback can’t do or doesn’t have confidence in, but you can advance your unit if that guy can handle a few more things.”

Handle it? Mariota usually excels at it.

In the Pac-12, he ranks third in passing efficiency (155.0) which puts him 20th in the nation, and tops among freshmen. That’s a statistic that combines factors such as yards per attempt and touchdowns (16) compared to interceptions (five) to determine the overall rating of a quarterback, rather than simply raw yards, and it’s usually a category dominated by veteran quarterbacks.

Well, and a player with the ability of Mariota.

Nationally, only two freshmen really compare statistically to Mariota. Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M — who was once committed to Oregon, and attended a camp in Eugene with Mariota — and UCLA’s Brett Hundley both best Mariota in total yards and passing yards. But they’ve both attempted more passes, neither has as good of a completion percentage and each has two fewer touchdown passes than Mariota.

It’s likely Mariota’s numbers are never going to set records on a national basis anyway, simply because of the balance of Oregon’s offense. Think of some of those marks: Sam Bradford of Oklahoma holds the NCAA record for touchdown passes by a freshman with 36, but the Sooners threw the football considerably more often than Oregon. In his freshman season at Missouri, Brad Smith ran for 1,029 yards (a record for a freshman quarterback) and passed for 2,333 yards, but he was virtually the entire offense for his team.

Perhaps a more valid comparison for Mariota’s freshman season would be what Andrew Luck of Stanford accomplished in his first college season. With an offense built around the running of Toby Gerhart, Luck still set a Stanford freshman record with 2,575 passing yards while throwing for 13 touchdowns to lead the Pac-12 in passing efficiency. Luck’s total offense average as a freshman of 244.1 yards is virtually the same as Mariota’s current average of 243.3.

And that’s after a game at Arizona State in which Mariota only passed for 48 yards, as the Ducks emphasized their running game, including Mariota’s 135 rushing yards.

“It depends on the game plan,” Mariota said of his role. “Whatever the coaches ask me to do, I’ll do it. If I have to (keep the football) more like last game, I will. It’s a lot of fun for me to run the ball.”

Again, the beauty of Mariota is his ability to handle anything thrown his way, including adversity. After an interception, he’ll analyze why it happened, and then move on, Helfrich said. After a fumble on Oregon’s second offensive play at ASU set up a touchdown for the Sun Devils and put the crowd into a frenzy, Mariota moved the Ducks up and down the field to a 43-7 halftime lead before he departed.

So even when he’s not his usual unstoppable self, he remains unflappable.

“That’s what he is, it’s one of the great qualities he has,” UO coach Chip Kelly said. “One thing we have been aware of since he got here is he has a way of not worrying about the last snap, whether it was positive or negative, and just put it behind him.

“He is an even-keel guy and has a great approach to the game. What people see on a weekly basis is what we see every day out of him.”

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