Marcus Mariota has lived up to his end of the bargain thus far.
Oregon's redshirt freshman quarterback has been everything the team's coaching staff could have hoped when the Ducks picked him over the more experienced Bryan Bennett in the fall. Through five games of his college career, Mariota has led the Ducks to a 5-0 start and a No. 2 national ranking while managing games, keeping the mistakes to a minimum and contributing in a variety of ways.
Mariota ranks 29th in the nation in passing efficiency with a mark of 152.74 (West Virginia's Geno Smith leads the country at 208.37), and he's 41st nationally in total passing yards with 1,103.
Best of all, perhaps, is that Mariota has just four interceptions among his 144 attempts. He's completed almost 70 percent of his passes (99-for-144) and has thrown 11 touchdown passes.
The 6-foot-4, 211-pound Mariota has also had a few opportunities to show off his versatility as a running quarterback, ranking fourth on the team in rushing yards with 181. He's also got one rushing touchdown.
So, through five games, Mariota's numbers are solid, his record is perfect and he's the pilot of the second-ranked team in the nation.
Mariota has displayed a poise that belies the fact he's a redshirt freshman, and he's yet to get rattled by any of the mistakes he's made, bouncing back strong from interceptions, fumbles, misreads and bad passes.
The learning curve in Oregon's spread-option offense is steep for a young quarterback, particularly because of the pace -- the Ducks don't huddle, and they sprint to the line of scrimmage after each play, snapping the ball as quickly as possible. Before that, Mariota has to get the play from the sideline -- Oregon often will call a sequence of several plays at a time, and the quarterback will just head out and run them in order -- relay those plays to his teammates, read the defense, shift the offensive line if necessary and then, finally, execute the play.
When you consider all those demands, and the non-stop, on-the-fly nature of a zone-read offense, Mariota has been pretty dang good.
He'll get another big test this weekend with the Washington Huskies coming to town, and then the Ducks get into the meat of their schedule, with games against USC, Stanford and Oregon State looming large.
Mariota has made strides from game to game thus far, showing improvement on his reads and displaying an ability not to get rattled by adversity.
The Ducks' success the rest of the way will depend in large part on whether their young quarterback can continue progressing at the same rate he has been.
If he does, watch for Oregon to make significant noise the rest of the way.
Sources:NCAA total passing yards
Adam Sparks has been following Oregon Ducks football since 1990, and has written about the team as a freelancer since 2009.
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