Heisman in Pieces, but Marcus Mariota Remains Strong

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Pac-12 favorite and No 2. in the AP NCAAF Poll, the Oregon Ducks fell to a now 5-0 University of Arizona team last night in an unfortunate turn of events. Responding to a late Arizona touchdown by RB Terris Jones-Grigsby at 2:54 left in the 4th quarter, Oregon was driving down the field. With the arm of their Heisman hopeful Junior QB Marcus Mariota the Ducks looked poised to score, until a forced fumble changed all of that. Despite the loss, Mariota remains a Heisman contender in my eyes.

At the quarterback position, Mariota’s sole competition is newcomer Kenny Hill (Johnny Manziel’s replacement at Texas A & M). Hill stole attention-in just his first career start as a sophomore-with an impressive 52-28 win over then ranked #9 South Carolina in Texas A & M’s season opener. An argument working for Mariota in this respect however is the way in which Heisman voters recognize seniority over the stat sheets.

Manziel was a rare exception to this usual outline, because he was just that damn good. At the same time, I do believe Hill’s inexperience will show itself as the pressure mounts down the line, whereas Mariota has definitely matured on field since his recruitment in 2011 and is capable of helping Oregon rally. Added to this A & M has a tough one coming up against a confident #12 Mississippi State. If they do manage to do away with Mississippi, then Hill will take the edge.

The only obstacle to Mariota’s throw, is his own offensive line that has done a piss poor job with protecting the pocket and allowing room. Problems with Oregon’s offensive line were first noticeable during the game at Washington State, where Mariota was sacked numerous times. Yesterday, Mariota committed his only turnover of the season (a forced fumble) as he scrambled for options. These shortcomings and buying Mariota more time for each play is something Ducks offensive coordinator Scott Frost will need to address. Mariota certainly hasn’t fallen off, his o-team has just made things more difficult. He’s thrown for 15 touchdowns this season already and given how explosive Oregon’s wide receivers are it’s a sure bet that his year total will be at least double.

The remainder of Oregon’s schedule has the potential to wash over the Arizona defeat. Still atop the Pac 12 North division, Oregon will continue to make noise. Oregon’s next opponent #8 UCLA, who should handle their own against an unranked Utah this Saturday, would be a fantastic reversal for the Ducks if they were to win. Dealing with the Bruins in typical Ducks blowout fashion, might be the reassurance Mariota needs. Finally, with a hypothetical win against #14 Stanford on the horizon then Oregon will undoubtedly take the Northern division. It’s a tall order, but if Mariota’s offensive line gives him a break from the defensive onslaught for once then we might have the pleasure of seeing a possible rematch in the 2014 Pac-12 Championship game between Oregon and Arizona.

Against Arizona Mariota was brilliant, accounting for 276 yards with the pass game and even rushing it in on a trick play for a tone setting touchdown during the 1st quarter. Heading into October, Mariota will be in the backseat to the Heisman discussion because of Arizona but his dynamism as a fast and powerful quarterback can get him out of it. Added to this, the Pac 12 is a conference on the rise with substantial athletic talent and the champion of it will for sure have Lou Holtz and the heads at ESPN talking with regards to the playoffs. If Oregon does find itself in the playoffs, Mariota will have to make his statement for candidacy via national coverage with another captivating performance.

The 2014 NCAAF season has been quite a ride already with huge match-ups happening virtually every week and #1 Florida State looking more upset prone each game. If Arizona is Mariota’s only hiccup in his Heisman story by week 12, then it is hardly the end to his conversation.

Christian Westermann | News Cult