Marcus Mariota Can Thank His Inconsistent Defense For Help In His Heisman Campaign
Football's about scoring more points than the other team. When you're defense is struggling, you've got to score a lot of points. So, Oregon's Marcus Mariota puts up a lot of points, which is great for his Heisman campaign.
Oregon's defense isn't terrible, but surprisingly, they're not that good. They've got big names and touted pro prospects like Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who should go No. 1 overall in the 2014 Best Name Ever Draft. But their total defense is 106th in the country, allowing a total of 3,699 yards to opponents. They are 61st in the nation in points allowed per game, letting up 25.9 per game. Admittedly, the stats are worsened because they tend to take the lead early, and once leading, they allow more yardage and more points. Thus, the clock runs and the game finishes up. They let up a few points and a lot of yards for the sake of a quicker win.
But there's no way around it: the defense has been sub par. And it's a good thing for Marcus Mariota.
While Oregon's offensive system makes it a juggernaut, Oregon's defense has forced Mariota to put up even bigger numbers. In games like Michigan State, Washington State, UCLA and Cal, Mariota was at his best.
In all of the aforementioned games, Mariota surpassed 300 yards passing and had at least three touchdowns from scrimmage. The Michigan game ended in a 46-27 blowout but that's because Mariota and his offense charged to the finish with 28 straight points. The Washington State game was a shootout. Their quarterback Connor Halliday is leading the NCAA in passing yardage. With Halliday torching the Oregon defense for 436 yards and four touchdowns, Mariota was forced to throw 329 yards and five touchdowns. When Cal's Jared Goff threw for 360 yards and two touchdowns, Mariota topped him with a 326-yard, five-touchdown performance. Cal and Washington State shouldn't have been able to finish within 12 and 7 points of Oregon. But because they did, Mariota had two of his best days of the year.
The UCLA Bruins aren't in the same bush league as the Golden Bears and the Cougars, but they stayed within 12 of Oregon. As a result, Mariota managed 4 touchdowns (2 pass, 2 rush) to Hundley's three touchdowns (2 pass, 1 rush). And as a result of the Ducks' sometimes-shoddy defensive play, Oregon probably thinks they have to get a bigger lead on teams, so that opponents can't get back in the game.
He demonstrated killer instinct and the ability to win games. Imagine if Mariota was on MSU -- a bizarre thought, I know -- he'd see fewer snaps and throw fewer passes. Connor Cook has thrown 20 fewer passes this season, which shouldn't seem like a lot except that Mariota is throwing a touchdown on 11 percent of his throws -- 20 fewer throws means two fewer touchdowns. Part of that volume is a product of Oregon's system, and part of it is a product of Oregon's bad defensive play. And the tough situations are forcing a higher volume of throws and carries. All that production is helping him build a Heisman campaign.
This isn't to say that Mariota isn't incredibly talented. This isn't to say that Oregon isn't an offensive juggernaut. But Oregon's lackluster defense has afforded Mariota the opportunity to shine even brighter.
Mariota is responding to the pressure with grace. For some, this poor defensive play would be a curse. In a way, it has already reared it's ugly head during the Arizona loss, where Mariota couldn't make up for their short comings. Otherwise, they are giving him the extra push.
Photo via Getty
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