By John Boyle Herald Writer
SEATTLE — After the Washington Huskies cut Oregon’s lead down to seven points early in the third quarter, Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota responded with a 65-yard touchdown pass.
And after Washington again made it a seven-point game late in the third quarter, with Oregon facing first-and-15 following a false start penalty that had Husky Stadium in a frenzy, Mariota turned on the jets and outran most of Washington’s defense for a 35-yard gain.
“We had a four-man rush on, we covered them well,” said Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. “Then he takes off and scrambles, he reversed field it seemed like for 10 minutes, and now they’re down in the red zone.”
On the next play Mariota completed a 30-yard pass, then three plays after that, he scored on a 5-yard run that would put the Ducks up by two touchdowns on their way to a 45-24 victory.
There are plenty of reasons why Oregon won its 10th straight over Washington on Saturday, but what stood out more than anything else was the performance of Mariota, Oregon’s sophomore sensation looks more and more like a Heisman Trophy favorite.
That 30-yard strike Mariota threw to Bralon Addison on the first play of the fourth quarter marked the first fourth-quarter appearance for Mariota this year and fifth in 19 career games. Such is the life of an Oregon starter with the team involved in so many blowouts. The Huskies only wish is that for some reason other than a big lead, Mariota had been on the sideline for this fourth quarter instead of insuring another lopsided Oregon victory.
“I don’t like to compare people, but I will say, he is as good a quarterback — I haven’t been around that long, I don’t know everything, never claim to — but he’s as good a quarterback I’ve been involved in a game with,” Wilcox said. “… He’s one of the top two, three fastest guys on the field, he makes extremely good decisions and he’s an accurate passer. Special guy.”
As you watched Saturday’s game, you didn’t come away with the impression that Washington’s defense was particularly bad. Sure there were some big plays and missed tackles. But when you hold Oregon to seven points in the first quarter, when the Ducks turn the ball over on downs on their first possession, and when the Ducks actually use their punter three times, that’s pretty good against an offense that year in and year out is among the most explosive in the nation, right? Yet Oregon still did what Oregon does, piling up 631 yards of offense, and Mariota was at the heart of it all, passing for 366 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 88 and a score. He completed 24 of 31 attempts, and at least three of those incompletions were drops, including what would have been 41-yard score on the game’s opening drive.
“We just unfortunately had a hard time containing Marcus,” said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian. “He threw the ball extremely well, and when we covered them, he ran, and we tried to catch him. We tried to spy him, we tried to blitz him, we tried to contain him, and he had a heck of a football game. He’s a hell of a player.”
Sarkisian added that he thinks Mariota will be a top-5 pick whenever he decides to declare for the draft, and with Mariota being draft-eligible after this year as a redshirt sophomore, the Huskies would just as soon see him playing at the next level ASAP.
“He’s a fast player, he plays pretty smart, and he has a good arm too,” said defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha. “… I wonder if he’s one of the fastest (quarterbacks) in the country, you know? I’m not sure. He’s a smart player. I respect him.
“He’s definitely a dual threat. Gosh, he can do it all.”
Kikaha noted that he and his teammates should have done a better job containing Mariota when the quarterback ran, but that’s easier said than done. And when the Huskies committed extra defenders to keeping Mariota from running, he was able to carve up one-on-one matchups in the secondary.
“He’s just a difficult matchup,” Sarkisian said. “… He just threw accurate ball after accurate ball. What was our answer at that point? That’s what got kind of frustrating for us.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.