Each of the past three Heisman Trophy winners—Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel—compiled eye-popping statistics as dual-threat quarterbacks. Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota is a doubly capable playmaker in the same vein, but with an interesting twist. Because of the multifaceted look the UO offense offers in its run game, Mariota doesn't need to be a primary ball-carrier.
The Ducks backfield goes deep, evident in Saturday's season-opening 66-3 rout of overmatched Nicholls State. Preseason All-American De'Anthony Thomas was as good as advertised with a pair of touchdown rushes and 128 yards. Byron Marshall was not far behind with 124 yards and a score.
Mariota will have both to rely on when the Ducks face stiffer competition in the Pac-12 Conference season, and his ability to break out on the ground will give them a devastating supplementary weapon in the already scary-good offense.
The aforementioned trio of superstars were all outstanding rushers, though the run worked for them as jabs, a consistent facet of the game plan. For Mariota, the rush is a haymaker. Imagine the energy bar in video games that, when fully charged, allowed the user to fire off a devastating special move.
Mariota's rush is something like that.
Listen closely enough, and you might hear head coach Mark Helfrich and offensive coordinator Scott Frost shout, "Finish him!" Mortal Kombat-style when the time for Mariota to run comes.
Every Ducks quarterback during the Chip Kelly-Helfrich era was dual-threat, but Mariota differs from his predecessors in the same way he has from the recent class of two-way Heisman winners the UO sophomore could join.
Jeremiah Masoli and Dennis Dixon carried more and averaged less. Darron Thomas rushed less and also produced less. Of the three, only Dixon passed with the same confidence and ability as Mariota. Not coincidentally, Dixon was a Heisman Trophy contender before going down with a torn ACL in 2007.
One game into the 2013 campaign, Mariota is taking up that mantle.
The Ducks' victory over Nicholls State demonstrated just how dangerous a weapon the quarterback's ground game is. Mariota rushed just five times, but two went for touchdowns. He gained a whopping 113 yards on those five carries for an average of 22.6.
The quarterback's staggering production was not just the result of playing an inferior opponent, either. Mariota averaged nearly eight yards an attempt throughout last season.
Never was the explosiveness of Mariota's rush more evident than against Arizona State, which boasted one of the conference's best front sevens and has Rose Bowl aspirations built on the group this year. All he did against the Sun Devils last October was break off 13.5 yards an attempt, including an 86-yard touchdown.
Such moments define what commentators mean when they refer to big-play ability. Mariota has it in excess.
Mariota's tendency to unleash the big play will be an important trump card in UO's BCS Championship deck, and the quality that could very well make the Ducks sophomore the nation's best quarterback in 2013.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter @kensing45.
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