Oregon sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota may not have racked up the gaudiest of statistics in the Ducks' 42-14 Week 9 defeat of UCLA. He scored just one touchdown, and his nine-game streak of reaching the end zone with both a pass and a run snapped.
However, Mariota solidified himself as the 2013 Heisman Trophy front-runner with a fourth-quarter performance that showcased his ability to take over against top-flight competition.
Dispatching of opponents by 38.8 points per game has made it tough for Mariota to have a visible Heisman moment early in season. However, when the story of 2013 is told, Mariota's halftime speech during the UCLA game might be recognized as his Heisman moment.
After struggling for the first 30 minutes against the Bruins defense, the Ducks were faced with a 14-14 tie—the only time in eight games they Ducks didn't lead at intermission.
That's when Mariota stepped up, as wide receiver Bralon Addison noted in his postgame press conference, per GoDucks.com.
"He missed a couple times in the first half, but in the locker room after the first half, he talked to everybody. He said he was going to pick it up and we needed to pick it up as well. After halftime, his intensity really woke us up, so in the second half we played a lot better.”
His halftime demeanor wasn't empty rhetoric, either. As Oregon associate athletic director Andy McNamara tweeted, Mariota was perfect in the the decisive 30 minutes.
Other Heisman-candidate quarterbacks Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston and Bryce Petty put up bigger all-around numbers in Week 9 than Mariota's 230 yards passing and 18 rushing. They also did so against the nation's No. 84 (Vanderbilt), No. 56 (NC State) and No. 92 (Kansas) scoring defenses.
With a deep and talented linebacker corps, led by All-American Anthony Barr, the Bruins came into Autzen Stadium allowing just 19.2 points per game.
Mariota helped Oregon eclipse the UCLA defense's point-per-game yield in the fourth quarter alone.
|Player||Pass Att/Comp (%)||Passing Yards||Passing TD/INT||Carries/Rushing Yards (YPC)||Rushing TD|
|Marcus Mariota||144-225 (64.0)||2284||20/0||56/511 (9.1)||9|
|Johnny Manziel||184-252 (73.0)||2594||22/8||89/497 (5.6)||6|
|Jameis Winston||128-183 (69.9)||2177||23/4||44/126 (2.9)||3|
|Bryce Petty||122-176 (69.3)||2453||18/1||28/73 (2.6)||6|
UCLA head coach Jim Mora shared a story that captures just how difficult Mariota is to contain.
"Myles Jack is pretty fast. I think we’d all agree with that. We’re walking up the tunnel at halftime and he says to me… ‘Man that dude can run - he is fast’. You don’t often hear a guy like Myles Jack say someone is fast."
Mariota's speed didn't result in long gains Saturday, but it was central to the misdirection of Oregon's zone-read game plan.
UCLA had to be cognizant of Mariota every play. Mora said in his teleconference call leading up to Week 9 that trying to contain the quarterback's explosive plays was central to the Bruins' strategy, but the focus necessary for defending Mariota opened the field for running back Byron Marshall.
Even when his numbers aren't eye-popping, like in Week 9, Mariota still impacts the game profoundly. And that's a Heisman-caliber performance.