National Championship Preview: Marcus Mariota

Jan 1, 2015; Pasadena, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) rushes for a touchdown during the second half of the 2015 Rose Bowl college football game against the Florida State Seminoles at Rose Bowl. (Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports)
Jan 1, 2015; Pasadena, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) rushes for a touchdown during the second half of the 2015 Rose Bowl college football game against the Florida State Seminoles at Rose Bowl. (Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports)

The first College Football Playoff National Championship Game is finally upon us and Dr. Saturday has your pregame prep covered. Every day leading up to the game, we’ll breakdown a piece of each team and preview its role in the upcoming title game. Previous previews: Ohio State's front 7, Oregon's front 7, Ohio State's secondary, Oregon's secondary, Oregon's O-line, Ohio State's O-line, Oregon's running game, Ohio State’s running game,

Ohio State's receivers, Oregon's receivers.

Season highlight: In the past four contests, Marcus Mariota has been at the top of his game. He threw for at least 300 yards against Colorado, Oregon State, Arizona and Florida State, and completed an average of 71.7 percent of his passes for 11 touchdowns and one interception. This string of great games came after he posted his worst statistical outing of the season against Utah. Additionally, Mariota has rushed for 207 yards in that span and scored seven rushing touchdowns.

Strengths: Mariota is incredibly talented at keeping plays alive and keeping his eyes downfield. Several times this season plays have broken down and Mariota has either scrambled outside to find the open receiver or he’s taken off with the ball for decent yardage. Because of the variety of weapons at both receiver and running back, Mariota has the luxury of targeting a multitude of guys in any one game, which can create a major strain on the opposing defense.

Weaknesses: Mariota doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses, but one that has hurt him at times this season has been the play of his offensive line. He went through a stretch this season where he was on the ground a lot and consequently made some costly mistakes. Getting pressure on Mariota is the key to breaking up his rhythm, but in the past couple weeks that’s been easier said than done. Mariota has not been sacked in the past two games and the team has only allowed three tackles for loss.

Overview: It’s been rare not to be awestruck by something Mariota does in a game. Whether it’s making an amazing pass, executing the read option or just creating a play where there was no play to be created, Mariota has spent the season dazzling viewers and frustrating opponents.

And Monday night could solidify his legacy as the best quarterback to ever wear an Oregon uniform.

He’s already captured the first Heisman Trophy in Oregon history and if he walks off the field at AT&T Stadium on Monday night victorious, he will have brought the university its first national title. Only 10 other quarterbacks have won a national title and the Heisman.

His career numbers are ridiculous. He’s thrown at least one touchdown pass in every game he’s played and he’s rushed for more than 700 yards in each of his three seasons. He’s completed nearly 67 percent of his career passes for 10,463 yards 103 touchdowns. He’s also added 29 touchdowns on the ground. He’s on pace to have the lowest interception percentage in college football history with just 13 interceptions on 1,130 passing attempts.

Several defenses have taken their best shot at stopping him and many have failed. Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee said Saturday that the key to stopping Mariota is getting lined up and staying mentally focused. But when Mariota is pushing the tempo and intentionally trying to create confusion amongst the defense, knowing what you’re supposed to do and actually executing it are two very different things.

In the Ducks only loss this season — a 31-24 decision against Arizona — the offensive line struggled and Mariota was under pressure the entire game. If Ohio State can get similar pressure on the Ducks offensive line — the Buckeyes’ speed has disrupted offensive lines all season — that could be the key to slowing down the Ducks and creating an advantage.

In the secondary, Ohio State players need to keep their assignments. Oregon receiver Devon Allen said Sunday that every receiver is hot on every snap. He said a player could run one route 15 times during the week of practice and never see the ball, and then be the team’s leading receiver during the game. Mariota doesn’t discriminate and he doesn’t lock in on a specific receiver. He plays within the flow of the game, which often leaves defenses scrambling.

Mariota has faced some good defensive fronts this season and its been a mixed bag. He struggled against Arizona in the first meeting and against Utah and even had some issues against UCLA. However, no one has been better under center in the back quarter of the season than Mariota, and if he continues his hot streak, Ohio State is going to be in for a long evening.

For more Oregon news, visit

- - - - - - -

Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at or follow her on Twitter!

And don’t forget to keep up with all of Graham’s thoughts, witty comments and college football discussions on Facebook