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Marcus Mariota vs. Michigan State: Why Balanced Attack Is Key for Oregon Victory

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) runs with the football during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game in Eugene, Ore., Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014 (AP Photo/Ryan Kang)
Ryan Kang/Associated Press
Chris ImperialeCorrespondent IJanuary 5, 2017

The Oregon Ducks have one of the most prolific offenses in college football. This week against Michigan State, it will need to be firing on all cylinders in order for the team to come out victorious.

The key for Oregon’s offense and Heisman-hopeful quarterback Marcus Mariota is balance.

Mariota’s Ducks finished second in the nation in yards last season behind only the Baylor Bears. The biggest reason they were so successful and consistent was the balance they showed on the offensive side of the ball.

Unlike some schools that strictly rely on the passing game, the Ducks and head coach Mark Helfrich like to attack in a variety of ways. In 2013, the team averaged 565 yards per game, with 291.5 coming through the air and 273.5 on the ground.

By moving the ball on teams through both the pass and run, defenses have a very difficult time stopping the Ducks. There isn’t one facet teams can focus on to shut down because almost everything Oregon does offensively works.

They also often run an uptempo offense to take defenses out of their comfort zone.

A balanced offense would be huge for Oregon against Michigan State because the Spartans are typically very hard to move the ball against.

They love to crowd the line of scrimmage and blitz players throughout the game. If Oregon becomes too one-dimensional, the Spartans and coach Mark Dantonio will try to capitalize by bringing even more pressure.

Even though many teams try to emulate what the Ducks offense can do, they simply can’t because they don’t have a superstar like Mariota.

In order to beat the stingy Michigan State defense, Mariota will have to play one his better all-around games.

Last season, the Ducks quarterback ranked second in the nation in adjusted QBR with a score of 88.0. The only player to do better was Heisman winner Jameis Winston.

Mariota is almost impossible to scheme for defensively because he’s so talented in different ways. We all know he can beat people with his legs, but he’s surprisingly accurate with his arm as well. He threw for more than 3,600 yards in 2013 with a completion percentage of 63.5. He also added 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

In the season opener against South Dakota, Mariota recorded 267 yards and three touchdowns on 14-of-20 passing. He also rushed six times for an additional 43 yards and another score.

These statistics would be impressive for any quarterback in a game. Mariota accomplished this in just the first half.

Now don’t get me wrong, Michigan State’s defense will pose much more of a threat to Oregon than South Dakota's unit. However, Mariota is a special player who will surely look to duplicate his performance.

A major factor in the game will be Mariota’s ability to make good decisions and throw the ball consistently.

Michigan State likes to press its cornerbacks right in the faces of receivers to disrupt timing. If he can beat the corners over the top on a few occasions, the secondary will be forced to back up and respect his arm. This will open up the running lanes.

According to Mike Griffith of MLive.com, ESPN’s Rece Davis recently had a fair deal of praise for Mariota. “He's got blinding speed, we've seen that, but I think he has a really smooth, nice delivery, and the demeanor he has is that he can pull Oregon along with him,” he said.

When Mariota is playing well, I don’t think there’s a defense in the country that can slow him down.

The main reason things went south for the Ducks last season was because their leader wasn’t healthy. If he can play every game at full strength, Oregon shouldn’t have any problems scoring points.

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