Marcus Mariota: Don’t Sleep On His Historic Season

With quarterback Marcus Mariota leading the way, the Oregon Ducks are again contending for the Pac-12 crown, and perhaps a spot in the College Football Playoffs. With a slew of Heisman Trophy candidates from eastern schools getting more national TV exposure, where does Mariota stand? FCU’s Andrew Pina takes a closer look at the junior signal-caller.


In case you didn’t stay up Saturday night, it was another ho-hum performance for Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in a 51-27 shellacking of Utah: 17-of-29, 239 yards, three touchdown passes, 114 yards rushing and a rushing TD.

He threw one of the best three-yard touchdown passes you’ll ever see, but before we take a look at that pass, let’s review the incredible season he’s having. There’s a sense that with Heisman candidates Trevone Boykin running circles around a very good Kansas State defense, Amari Cooper catching everything thrown at him, Dak Prescott leading the No. 1 Mississippi State team, and J.T. Barrett making people forget about Braxton Miller (oh no he dih’n’t), Mariota is getting lost in the shuffle.

It also doesn’t help that five of his games have started after 10 p.m. Eastern Time, a couple on weeknights. (Even for me, a guy who turned the TV on at 10 a.m., toggled between ESPN GameDay and English Premier League, and then watched 12 consecutive hours of college football, the eyelids got heavy by the second half of the Oregon-Utah matchup.)

Here’s a rundown of the otherworldly stats Mariota is putting up this season:

  • Most total touchdowns – 37 (3 ahead of Barrett); 29 passing TDs, 8 rushing TDs.
  • Most yards per play – 9.0 (Prescott is second at 7.9).
  • Most yards per pass attempt – 10.0.
  • Most adjusted yards per pass attempt [(Yds + 20 * TD – 45 * Int) / Att] – 11.98, which is second all-time, better than the Heisman years of Robert Griffin III (11.85) or late-game performer Jameis Winston (11.54).
  • Highest Passer Rating – 184.6 (almost 12 points higher than second, J.T. Barrett at 172.9).
  • Don’t like Passer Rating? He’s first in ESPN’s Total QB Rating, and leads the most efficient offense in the country according to Football Outsiders’ Fremau Efficiency Index (FEI), which measures how efficient a team’s drives are.
  • Second in total yards (3,304) behind Washington State QB Connor Halliday (3,873), who leads Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense and probably throws passes in his sleep. Unfortunately for Halliday, he broke his tibia and fibula November 1 against USC, so Mariota will likely finish first in total yardage.
  • First in TD/INT ratio at 29/2, and those two interceptions are tied for second-fewest picks in the country among qualifiers. He’s also second in PA/INT, just behind USC’s Cody Kessler, who also has 2 interceptions with 20 more pass attempts (297 to 277).

Mariota has two regular season games left: at home against woeful Colorado, and then at Oregon State in the 118th Civil War. The battle for the Platypus Trophy can sometimes be unpredictable; in last year’s edition, it took a Mariota TD pass with 29 seconds left to give the Ducks (12-2) a 36-35 win and hand the Beavers (6-6) their sixth straight loss in the rivalry. This year, OSU is just 4-5 and has lost their last four games.

There are finely-tuned machines that are jealous of Mariota’s metronomic consistency. He’s thrown a touchdown in 36 consecutive games. If he continues his stellar play in his final two regular-season contests, and in the Pac-12 championship game, the only thing that could put his Heisman Trophy candidacy in doubt is East Coast voters falling asleep before his games end.

Mariota in Motion

Now let’s take a look at one of the best 3-yard touchdown passes you’ll ever see.

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Utah actually plays great defense on this play. Lined up with nickel personnel, they pressure the QB up the middle with only a four-man rush. With five players in zone coverage blanketing three receivers, no one is open right away. The receiver on the left is double-teamed, and the Utes have three defenders covering the two receivers on the right. At the snap, the right outside linebacker goes into coverage, giving Utah six defenders in coverage.

The other linebacker tracks the running back, but also has outside contain in case Mariota runs toward the right of the defense. With great inside push, Mariota is flushed from the pocket; he scrambles to his left. Defensive tackle Sese Ianu rolls off his blocker and follows Mariota, keeping him from running for a touchdown.

However, by scrambling out Mariota gives his receivers time to work in the end zone, and wide receiver Dwayne Stanford runs to the space in the middle of the end zone. Mariota throws a dart across his body to his left while running to his right.

For Mariota, it is just another touchdown pass that fans back east may not have stayed up to watch. But he’s putting together one of the all-time great seasons for a quarterback. He’ll likely go pro after this season, so I’ll savor these last few games of his college career.

All video and images courtesy ABC/ESPN.

Andrew Pina has covered LSU’s running game, the historic season of Marcus Mariota, the disadvantages of being Kansas State, why Thanksgiving is the obstacle to expanded playoffs and whether SEC crossover games are unfair.

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