Oregon Football: Marcus Mariota Will Prove He's Nation's Best QB vs. Stanford
Although it's unladylike, this is an "I told you so" article. It's particularly risky in my case because I'm often wrong.
But this time I got it right. After Oregon's first game of this season, I wrote an article where I stated that Marcus Mariota is a better quarterback than Matt Barkley. As you can imagine, at that point in the young season, I was skewered by virtually everyone including my husband. I believe his exact words were "You're nuts."
Do I look less nutty now, honey?
Sitting firmly at No. 1 atop the nation's quarterback efficiency ratings, Mariota has, week-by-week, won over any doubters with his stunning play. Especially stunning when we factor in that Mariota is a redshirt freshman.
Anyone who attended the Ducks' spring game got in on a little secret that the rest of the college football world would not discover for months: Marcus Mariota is special.
Let's look at the evidence.
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Don't take my word for it. Mariota's numbers on ESPN.com's quarterback efficiency rating show the Flyin' Hawaiian with a 177.0 rating, leading all Division I-A quarterbacks.
Mariota's passing stats for the season show that he is 180-for-251 for 2,164 yards and an 8.6 average. His longest toss is 55 yards, and he's thrown 28 touchdown passes. And Mariota plays on a "run first" team.
In my Sept. 2 article, I noted that Mariota had an other-worldly pass completion percentage of 82 percent after his first collegiate start. His throwing accuracy has thrilled Oregon fans.
While he hasn't maintained that off-the-charts percentage he displayed in his first game, he hasn't slipped much as the season has progressed. Unless you consider a drop all the way to...71.7 percent major slippage.
Many senior quarterbacks across the country would kill for that completion percentage; I can think of a couple off the top of my head.
No Slouch At Running Either
On the season, Mariota has rushed 78 times for 516 yards. His longest run was a beauty of 86 yards. Mariota's rushing average is 6.6 yards, and he's scored three touchdowns running the rock.
For comparison, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, the flavor of the week (and deservedly so after his dismantling of former No. 1 Alabama!), has rushed 156 times for 1,014 yards. Manziel has scored 15 rushing touchdowns. He is, however, No. 27 on the QB pass efficiency rating, completing only 67.6 percent of his passes.
Manziel has six interceptions to Mariota's five.
Some who question Mariota's stats suggest that he looks so good because Oregon has yet to play a good defensive team.
Tell that to USC and some of its top defenders. Defensive end Morgan Breslin is fourth in the conference in sacks, including one in the USC vs. Oregon game. USC linebacker Dion Bailey is third in the conference in interceptions, and also got a QB sack in the Oregon game.
Or, tell it to Arizona State, who is currently ranked No. 4 in pass defense in the nation and No. 29 in total defense, according to NCAA statistics.
The point is, no matter what defensive scheme opponents have thrown at Mariota this year—and he's pretty much had the kitchen sink thrown at him—he has stayed calm and cool, and found a way to win.
Will he be successful against one of the nation's toughest defenses on Saturday? Let's take a look at how Mariota might fare against Stanford.
Matchup With Stanford
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While the USC game was a major test for the Ducks, almost everyone believes Stanford's defense will give Oregon its sternest trial of the year so far.
The Cardinal currently ranks first in the NCAA in rushing defense (58.6 yards per game). You may recall that the Ducks like to occasionally run the ball. Can you say "irresistible force meets an immovable object?"
Stanford's defense also ranks first nationally in sacks (4.3 per game) and in tackles for loss (9.1 per game). Additionally, the Cardinal has held its last four opponents to under 100 yards rushing. It's hard to imagine them doing that to the Ducks, but Stanford's rushing D is not to be taken lightly.
As good as Stanford is on rushing defense, it ranks considerably lower on pass defense, coming in at No. 99, according to NCAA stats.
So, what will happen in this game?
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Stanford's rushing and passing defense statistics would lead one to believe that Kenjon Barner may have a tough day, and Marcus Mariota will be forced to throw the ball more frequently in this game.
The problem for Stanford is that in the Ducks' victories where Mariota has had to throw more, he's been practically flawless. When the opponent steps up its defensive game, Mariota has not failed to respond and has improved every week.
Will Mariota be 20-of-23 for 304 yards passing as he was in the USC road game? Maybe not, but I'm betting he'll be close to those ridiculous numbers this week in the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium.
For that reason, Mariota will secure his trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony with an Oregon win over the Cardinal's tough D.
Kay Jennings is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.