Mariota may be better than Dennis Dixon
Oregon's defense may be riddled with injuries, but their offense is virtually 100 percent healthy and is threatening several all-time college football records. The Ducks average 54.8 points per game, just shy of Army's NCAA record -- 56, set in 1944.
Will Butdorf is an expert on all things Oregon football. We thank
him for his insights on the Ducks in this written back-and-forth.
Lombardi: So, everyone thinks of Oregon as a run-first team,
but this Marcus Mariota kid leads the nation in passing
efficiency. Cal tried to sell out against the run when
they played Oregon, and he turned around and threw six touchdown
passes. So, what makes him so good? And what's the correct pronunciation
of his last name?
Butdorf: Marcus Mariota (pronounced Mario-tah) [Ed:
so ESPN broadcaster Joe Tessitore was actually correct with his
ridiculed pronunciation in Oregon's season opener] is on track
to be the best quarterback ever to wear the Oregon green and yellow
(and carbon, black, chartreuse, steel, neon, so on and so forth). To
begin, he's 6'4", 210 pounds, and runs a 4.4 forty-yard dash. His
best qualities, though, are his accuracy, poise, and ability to
learn quickly. For the season, he’s completing almost 72
percent of his passes. He’s been on fire the last four games, in
which he’s 66-for-83 (79.6%) for 863 yards, 13 TDs, and no picks.
Mariota has also set the Pac-12 freshman record for TD passes with
28, and he’s racked up more than 500 yards on the ground, all of
which is especially impressive considering that he’s been sitting
out the second half of most games. The coaching staff and his
teammates routinely comment on his Hawaiian-style calmness and his
ability to not make the same mistake twice.
He is already way ahead of Darron Thomas and Jeremiah Masoli and
might even be better than Dennis Dixon. In past years, the recipe
for stopping Oregon has been to shut down the run, but this year,
the passing game is just as potent. This Oregon offense represents
the consummate dual threat: it has the capacity to throw for 400
yards and rush for 400-plus yards, of which 100 can easily come from
the quarterback position. Although it hasn’t faced a defense as
tough as Stanford’s, I’m convinced that this is the best offense
that Chip has had in his time in Eugene.
Lombardi: Where has Oregon's offensive line had the most success
Butdorf: As good as Mariota has been, it all starts up front
with the big uglies. Oregon’s line is young, but loaded with
the type of talent that the Ducks haven’t traditionally been able to
recruit. Oregon employs mostly zone-blocking schemes in the run game
and has been very successful in doing so. A big factor in the Ducks'
success is that their quick passing game exploits defenses that get
too far upfield. Whenever opposing defensive linemen have held back
a bit, Oregon’s offensive line has been able to get good positioning
before the defense can react to the play.
Lombardi: How have they performed against the blitz?
Butdorf: The Ducks have also been very successful in
neutralizing the pass rush, but their success is not entirely the
result of the line’s pass-blocking abilities. Mariota is very
good at buying time with his feet and either scrambling for positive
yards, finding an open receiver, or getting out of the pocket and
throwing it away. Oregon’s offensive system is very good at
exploiting teams that try to blitz heavily. As we all know,
Oregon loves to move quickly and get guys in space, and a heavy
blitz often results in more space for one of the Ducks’ speedsters
to find open space behind the blitz. Whether it’s Kenjon Barner
flaring out in the flat or De’Anthony Thomas, Josh Huff, Bralon Addison, or Keanon Lowe getting open on a shallow crossing route,
there is almost always someone moving into the area vacated by the
blitzing defender quickly enough after the snap for Mariota to dump
it off before he gets hit. Teams that have tried to blitz
Oregon heavily have been torched; it’s those who can get a strong
pass rush with the front four who tend to have the most success.
Lombardi: So how do you think the Ducks will go after Stanford's
Butdorf: Stanford has a top-notch front seven that will pose
the greatest challenge that the Ducks have seen all season, but for
them to be effective against this Duck offense, they’re going to
have to play very disciplined, assignment-oriented football. I
expect Oregon to come out throwing and working the perimeter to try
to soften up and spread out Stanford’s front seven, and then start
running between the tackles once they’re a little worn out.
Early in the season, I was worried about this unit, but the line has
developed tremendous cohesion and is playing at a very high level
right now. Stanford certainly has the horses, though, to give
the Oregon line all it can handle.
Lombardi: You mention passing -- and I saw a lot of it in
Mariota's 377-yard effort last week. Is the Ducks' receiving corp
as deep as I remember it being?
Butdorf: Oregon’s receivers were an area of concern coming
into this season, but they’ve mostly exceeded expectations.
The first job of any receiver in this offense is to block, and the
Ducks have been getting great perimeter and downfield blocking from
this unit, which is a big reason for Oregon’s many explosive
plays. The unit still lacks a game-breaker, but it has several
guys who have been consistent. Josh Huff, the unit headliner,
is coming off back-to-back games with over 100 yards receiving and
finally seems to be past the nagging injuries that have slowed him
since his stellar freshman season. A fellow Texan, Bralon
Addison, is having a very strong freshman year and seems to be
getting better each week. The Ducks also love to use
De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner in the passing game, the latter
being a much better receiver than his predecessor, LaMichael James. Oregon spreads the ball around generously, so expect to
see several guys rotate in at receiver and have at least one
An interesting addition to this year’s Oregon offense is
6-foot-five, 245-pound Colt Lyerla, who can line up in the
backfield, at tight end, or in the slot. Colt was a five-star
recruit out of high school and has absolutely incredible athleticism
(4.5 forty) to go along with his size. He’s been very
productive in the passing game and is very effective as a power back
in short-yardage situations.
Will Butdorf is an expert on all things Oregon football. We thank
him for his insights on the Ducks.
David Lombardi covers Stanford
sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. He can also be heard
on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.
Are you fully subscribed to The
Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on
all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our
award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in
Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com