First impressions are everything in college football, especially for Heisman hopefuls. While some failed to live up to the hype, Marcus Mariota did exactly what was expected of him against South Dakota—play consistent with flashes of brilliance he showed last season.
The Ducks quarterback passed for 14-of-20 for 267 yards and four total touchdowns in the season opener. He also tied a program record for passing touchdowns, as Andy McNamara, the Assistant AD for Communications, points out:
Despite losing to Jameis Winston in the Heisman race last season, Mariota has the clear upper hand after Week 1. While the performance came against a much weaker opponent, the Oregon signal-caller got started on a much better note.
Mariota dissected the South Dakota defense throughout the first half with just six incompletions. One of the best passes of the game came in the first quarter as he found Byron Marshall deep down field for a 41-yard touchdown.
ESPNU provides a look at the huge completion for Mariota:
Quack Quack: Ducks strike again. QB Mariota pass to WR Byron Marshall for 41 yard TD. Oregon leads South Dakota 14-3 http://t.co/QreXiUtUEo— ESPNU (@ESPNU) August 31, 2014
But Mariota wouldn't stop with just showing off his arm, he also flashed his dual-threat ability.
The Oregon signal-caller notched an additional 43 yards on the ground with an average of 7.2 yards per rush. That number was slightly lower due to a one-yard score just before the end of the first half.
Oregon Football gives a breakdown of the drive that led to the touchdown for Mariota:
Granted, Oregon headed into the locker room with a 41-13 lead over an inferior opponent. But the precision and dynamic ability that Mariota possesses was on full display against South Dakota early on.
Bryan Fischer of NFL.com passed along his analysis of the quarterback:
Sometimes Mariota is on autopilot he looks so smooth. Byron Marshall slot experiment seems promising given TB depth. Ducks up 42-13 at half— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) August 31, 2014
After his performance in the first half, Mariota would not return in the second half, per Jason Quick of The Oregonian:
Mariota only plays in the first half. Jeff Lockie in for second half— Jason Quick (@jwquick) August 31, 2014
Is Mariota the Heisman favorite after Week 1?
Moving forward, Mariota will have much tougher defenses to contend with on his path to a potentially stellar season. That begins next week with a staunch Michigan State team coming into town.
The Spartans are ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press and Amway Polls and expected to make noise this season. With both teams having aspirations of contending for a National Championship this season, Mariota will need to be on top of his game yet again.
As the season progresses, Oregon also has several tests along with the way in the Pac-12. If Mariota can continue to shine like he did in Week 1, a Heisman and National Championship might not be far out of reach.
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