Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota's Heisman campaign is building momentum at a pace similar to one of the sophomore's breakaway touchdown rushes.
Saturday against Washington, we learned it may be Mariota's arm that wins him the honor.
Mariota slammed the door on Washington in the fourth quarter Saturday with a pair of final-period touchdown passes in Oregon's 45-24 win.
He now has 17 passing touchdowns and eight rushing scores midway through the season, and has yet to throw an interception.
The Heisman Trophy isn't given away in mid-October, but every week he inches further ahead of his competition.
"I don’t have a Heisman vote, but I’d be hard-pressed to say we’ll see a better quarterback this year," Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian said in his postgame press conference, per GoHuskies.com.
Husky defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox crafted a game plan designed to limit Mariota's explosive rushing ability. Sarkisian said making Mariota operate primarily in the pocket was his team's goal.
The Huskies gave up one rush of 35 yards, but otherwise limited his big-play threat with the rush. However, he responded with a 24-of-31, 366-yard passing performance.
"He played really smart and very productive," Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said in his postgame press conference.
That might be an understatement.
His play is about more than just recording gaudy numbers, and never more so than in Saturday's fourth quarter. Mariota led the Ducks' response to Washington running back Bishop Sankey's touchdown rush with poise that transcended his sophomore status.
"We had to go out there and do our thing, just go out there and execute," Mariota said in his postgame press conference. "I just told our guys, 'relax, we’ll be fine.'"
Other Heisman Contenders
Mariota is the Pac-12's, if not the nation's front-runner for college football's most prestigious individual honor. However, he has company in UCLA sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley and Sankey, Washington's junior running back.
Hundley had perhaps his best individual performance yet this season, which is a high bar, throwing for a school-record 410 yards in UCLA's 37-10 win over Cal.
Sankey was outstanding in Washington's loss Saturday, though a late fumble puts something of a damper on his Heisman portfolio.
He rushed for 167 yards and two touchdowns, including one late in the third quarter that brought the Huskies within a score of second-ranked Oregon.
Sankey continues to lead the nation in rushing, averaging just less than 150 yards per game. He'll likely flirt with the elusive 2,000-yard mark.
Only two players have more rushing touchdowns than Sankey's nine—one is conference counterpart Marion Grice of Arizona State.
The Sun Devils' senior running back tacked on two more rushing scores in Arizona State’s 54-13 dismantling of Colorado, giving him 10 on the season.
“There’s a common denominator in every game we win—we rush efficiently with the football,” Arizona State head coach Todd Graham said in his postgame press conference, via TheSunDevils.com. “If you look back on the last 50 years in football, you can’t win consistently if you don’t run the football.”
Grice and Sankey will be in action on opposite sides next week. The back who breaks out should get a boost in the Heisman race.
Utah Makes Its Presence Felt in the Pac-12
Saturday's 27-21 defeat of No. 5 Stanford was Utah's first landmark win since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.
Though it won four conference games in its debut season, Utah did not beat a single Pac-12 opponent with a record at or above .500.
"We are excited to win this game, but it is what we expected to do," wide receiver Dres Anderson said in his postgame press conference, per UtahUtes.com. "Now we have to keep moving forward."
Utah may have come in expecting a win, but truly marquee victories have largely eluded the Utes since their magical Sugar Bowl season of 2008.
The Utes experienced growing pains in their first two seasons as Pac-12 members, and the struggles carried over into the start of this campaign, via losses to Oregon State and UCLA by a combined 10 points.
Those tribulations had the Utes ready for the decisive possession.
"We've had a few other close games this season where we weren't able to make those plays down the stretch, and tonight we did," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said.
How Utah won was as impressive as the win itself. Stanford is the third Football Bowl Subdivision opponent the Utes defense held to its season scoring low, joining BYU and UCLA.
In a conference defined by explosive offenses, Utah's defense is earning its reputation.
Oregon State Cooks in the Fourth Quarter
Oregon State won its fifth straight emphatically, turning a tied game with Washington State going into the fourth quarter into a 52-24 rout.
Wide receiver Brandin Cooks accounted for three of the Beavers' four touchdowns in a 28-0 final period. Cooks continues to produce at an astounding pace.
His 11 touchdown receptions are most in the nation, as are his 944 receiving yards. Saturday, he had an opportunity to display his ball-carrying abilities, as well.
One of his three fourth-quarter scores came off an eight-yard rush. His 34 total rushing yards led the Beavers.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer for B/R. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.
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