Not so fast, my friend.
After Marcus Mariota's impressive debut in an Oregon uniform, many fans will be ready to annoint him the immediate starter and the next Dennis Dixon, while sending Bryan Bennett back to number two. Fans loved Bennett in the middle of last season when he came off the bench against Arizona State and Washington State to spark wins, starting and going the whole way against Colorado and performing steadily in a lopsided win.
Bennett had a bad day Saturday. He was out of rhythm without a dependable running game or open targets, harried into three costly mistakes, two interceptions that included a pick six and a fumble. He struggled behind a patchwork line, falling victim to the red jersey/touch rule on a number of occasions. Elusive and nimble in live action last season while compiling a rushing average of 8.7 yards per carry, BB looked frustrated yesterday as plays were blown dead anytime the defense laid a hand on him.
Mariota, with better blockers and targets, and Ayele Forde running capably, thrived. His offense clicked in a 41-14 victory. The young islander looked poised and cool in his decision making, hitting 18 of 26 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown, in addition to rushing for 99 yards and two more tds. Mariota was so fast he couldn't be touched on his two scoring runs, displaying impressive touch and the command of a veteran in his first live action in an Oregon uniform.
The trouble is, a lot of players have shined in a spring game only to fizzle when game time came around. Aaron Pflugrad and Blake Cantu both turned in 100-yard receiving days in recent spring games, but neither ever excelled for the Ducks in the fall. Cantu plagued by injuries, Pflugrad transferring to Arizona State. The best measure of Bennett's ability is not his worst day of spring practice, but the capability and maturity he showed leading a comeback win against the Sun Devils last fall. In that game he led his team to four straight scoring drives, running and passing sharply.
Kenjon Barner only had one carry on Saturday, as he was held out to prevent injury. The Fighting Duck offense also missed having the services of Colt Lyerla and Josh Huff. Either quarterback will benefit from having his full complement of weapons surrounding him in the fall. Similarly, the offense has to benefit from having a cohesive line rotation and a quarterback who is a true dual threat. Both young signal callers struck downfield Saturday, Bennett with a sharply thrown 28-yard scoring pass to B.J. Kelly, Mariota with a 37-yard laser to Daryle Hawkins, a nifty 27-yard touch pass to De'Anthony Thomas, and a crisp seam throw to Rahsaan Vaughn down the right sideline. Mariota's most impressive play may have been an incompletion: flushed out of the pocket on third and long, he rolled left and coolly threw the ball ten yards out of bounds to perserve a successful field goal try. Definitely a veteran move.
The measure of a quarterback has to consider the combination of his physical tools along with his ability to process information under pressure. Saturday, Mariota looked like one of the best quarterback talents the Ducks have ever had, in terms of his knack for handling situations and relying on his skills and the skills of his teammates. He looked special, while Bennett looked harried and out of synch. The coaches insist the decision will be based on a body of work that will extend to the end of August, but many fans filed out of Autzen Stadium chatting excitedly, believing they had seen the debut of Oregon's next great quarterback. This time the optimists may be right.
Dale: You KNOW what I'm going to say about him. When you asked earlier in the year who would be the starter, I EMPHATICALLY said it would be Mariota. I believe it was last year that I said he reminded me of Kaepernick from University Of Nevada (was drafted by the 49ers last year as a backup QB). Mariota moves a LOT like him when he runs (Kaepernick is slightly taller and heavier.....but give Mariota 2 years and he will likely be close to the same build).
Mariota has the WHOLE PACKAGE: (1) strong arm with ALL the throws....both hard and soft, (2) great attitude on the field (as someone else noted...other players LOVE that), (3) great wheels, (4) very good student, (5) cool and calm.
He has the POTENTIAL to make it at the next level in 2 or 3 years. Whether or not he does, looks to be up to him. As long as he stays healthy, he is going to provide a LOT of excitement. I would LOVE to be a kid playing football in high school right now looking at the Duckies and thinking "what could be over the next few years": Mariota, DAT, Armstead, Addison, Bayliss, Huff, Sumler, Blackmon, etc...etc....etc....
Earlier in the year I said the Ducks might pass more this year because of the lack of depth at RB. I know it was only "one spring game".....but I certainly hold to that. There are a LOT of weapons at Mariota's disposal this year: DAT, Barner, Addison, Sumler, Lyerla, Bayliss, Huff, Blackmon, Vaughn, etc. And with all those potential weapons on offense......I still think the "sleeper" this year will be an absolute KILLER of a defense.
Is it September yet?
Wow Dale, you've come back from the dead.
Really missed your articles on a daily basis. Love your writing style. Come back again soon. lol
Mariota just looks so smooth, poised and talented I just can't see him getting beat out by Bennett. Just hope Bennett sticks around and doesn't transfer. Oregon is going to probably have a lot of blowouts this year especially with the way I think the D’s going to dominate teams that Bennett should get plenty of PT. Great to finally have so much talent on both sides of the ball.
Been saying from the first few video's I saw of Mariota that in Chip's system we could have out first Heisman winner, If DAT doesn't beat him to it first.
Fantastic time to be a Duck.
Dale, it's hard, really hard not to think Mariota is the best QB we've seen in quite some time. What we saw Saturday is exactly what we saw on his high school highlights, he's the real deal and exactly what we thought he'd be.
Bennett and Mariota have very similar skillsets. But it's the mental and intangible sides of the two quarterbacks that are the difference. Mariota displayed a level of poise and calm that I've never seen in a redshirt freshman quarterback in his first action in front of a large crowd. And you get the sense that he's always that way regardless of the situation. Watching him interact with his teammates on the sideline you can see he's just a natural leader, the guys love him. Mariota might not have been as successful had he played on the dark team, but I don't think he'd have broken down mentally the way Bennett did, and that's big in the grand scheme of things.
Bennett has always made me feel a little uncomfortable, even with all of his physical skills, he's an emotional guy, and I don't know if that's exactly an asset in a quarterback. I think the coaches put Bryan in this situation to test him, deliberately giving him the weaker unit to see how he'd handle it, and he didn't do well. When protection broke down, which was often, he didn't buy time to throw he just took off and tried to do it all on his own, he threw late several times, threw two bad interceptions (should have been three if Scales hung onto a ball that hit him in the chest), fumbled, and sacked multiple times (some weren't his fault, but some were). I felt for the guy, it was hard to watch him self destruct on such a big stage.
This performance by both quarterbacks may have been a fluke, but I don't think it was. We know Bennett can play better, much better, but I don't think Mariota would ever play as badly as Bennett did in the spring game just because of the nature of their personalities. I feel bad for Bennett that "Super Mario" is this good.
@jasart All this hype around the Spring game disgusts me. THE SPRING GAME MEANS NOTHING! It is one PRACTICE and Bennet didn't perform well get over it! I love the confidence Bennet has and especially how vocal he is. Our offense needs a vocal leader and Thomas was very vocal with his calls on and off the field. Sure, Mariota looked awesome and I do love his poise, but let's not forget this man played 1 year in high school and yeah he did perform very well when he did. I want a guy with game experience and knows how to react when the lights go on. Even Mariota himself expressed how shocked he was at how many people showed up, imagine when we go play USC at the coliseum this year, what will he do then shit a brick? Mariota has the tools and he had every player capable of making a play on his squad for the spring game. The reason he looked very decisive with his throws was because he had players on his team who knew where to be and he had an offensive line at his luxury. I love how people think Mariota is now the favorite after one practice. He could very well win the job but I don't think his body can handle hits like Bennet can. Bennet loves contact and can handle it, the man is cut! He even tried to tackle the man he threw an interception to in the spring game. This competition is not over and I won't be surprised if either wins the job. Again, WE TALKIN BOUT PRACTICE MAN!
@mtallia What makes you think Bennett won't "shit a brick" at USC, because he played two second halves at home, started in a blowout at Colorado, and some garbage time? He looked like he "shit a brick" in front of a home crowd of 45k last week. Darron Thomas had no starts when he got the job ,and we went undefeated in conference play. Game experience is nice but not required to succeed. I'm not writing off Bennett, and I don't really care about the stats so much but I didn't like how he just mentally fell apart in the face of adversity, what happens when we're down 28-7 in the second half against SC...is he going to press, take off running without going through his progressions, throw late and get picked? That was the first time we've seen Bennett have to really be behind in a game situation when things aren't clicking. I love Bryan's heart and toughness, but he didn't show much poise Saturday and that's a concern to me. But yeah, you're right, it's just one practice.
@mtallia @pdx4life @Dale @jasart Josh Huff has been a productive player for the Ducks, last year in spite of a stress fracture. He had good games against Stanford and USC. The drop on 4th and 3 was by Rahsaan Vaughn, a possible td. Huff would be the first to tell you he wants to improve his consistency and take a bigger role in the offense. A veteran now, he'll be a key player for Oregon in a bid for a fourth straight conference title.
You guys did a great job here in the comments section. We'll have to have a roundtable this summer prior to the opening of fall camp.
@pdx4life @mtallia @Dale @jasart Last year he was a disappointment and it was not because of his injury. Go look at the tape and come back to me with the double digit amount of drops he had. Remember the USC game, 4th and about 3 and he missed a wide open easy dump off screen that would have been a big play in that game? Watch he will have a season that nearly mirrors last year, and it's not gonna be because of some injury. If Huff had been limited that much by the injury Chip more than anybody would have definitely kept him out of the lineup. I say our top WR's this year will be DAT, Vaughn, Hawkins, and either Sumler or Kelly. Haven't heard too much out of Blackmon but I really hope his game develops just like his confidence has in front of the camera. We shall see though, Dwayne Stanford and Braylon Addison still might crack into that lineup but I think DAT, Vaughn, and Hawkins will be our top pass catchers next year.
@mtallia @pdx4life @Dale Newton @jasart While he hasn't been everything we hoped he would be his 2nd year, calling him nothing but a disappointment is just flat wrong. Seastrunk yes, Huff no. He had a fractured foot as well btw. Not making excuses for his drops but that's what happened just to get facts straight. I'd say he catches better than a 2yr old
@pdx4life @Dale Newton @jasart Huff was awesome his freshmen year but last season he really fell off. Him having a "knee" injury doesn't equate to him dropping passes that a 2 year old could have caught. He had some flashes, such as that run in the Stanford game but aside from that Huff was a non-factor last season and I highly doubt it was his knee. He has always had attitude issues and las year he wasn't playing because of his attitude and preparation, which has nothing to do with this "injury" you speak of. I will give him a chance to bounce back this season but it is very likely he will be even less of a factor this upcoming season. He may not see the field until week 5 and by then I think the young guys are gonna do what they did last year to Cliff Harris, OUTPLAY HIM! This kid needs a serious reality check that he is not the best thing since sliced bread, once he had that monster season he felt he was entitled. Maybe he will crack into the RB lineup and get some carries behind KB, DAT, and Byron Marshall, yes Byron Marshall will be a HUGE factor this upcoming season. But we shall see, not too sold on this kids drive or attitude, I'm sick and tired of him complaining on the sidelines that he's not getting the ball. he didn't deserve to last year when every time DT threw to him it seemed like he dropped it.
@Dale Newton @jasart And it's even scarier considering many of those guys who contributed to that record were 3/ mayb 4 star guys. It will truly be amazing to see what this team does with real talent, like consistent 4 and 5 star talents. If our team can do that well with guys who were just hard workers and students of the game imagine what will happen with a freak athletes with a good head on their shoulders such as Armstead and DAT. I love all these guys Chip is bringing in and not just because they are more talented than ever, they have a real good head on their shoulders. I think we will start to see a lack of Ducks off the field issues in the upcoming seasons, and hopefully that will contribute to even more focused team on the field. For once I am not concerned about out players making mistakes. Not concerned about Bennet or Mariota, definitely none of our RB's, young receivers are all bright kids especially Sumler/Blackmon (Huff should take some lessons from them!). You can just tell be the simple interviews these guys have with reporters, they are smarter, more well spoken, and you get the feeling they know how valuable this opportunity is and won't mess it up. Huff is the last of the idiots left on this team and to be honest I look forward to his ass being out of the program, he has been nothing but a disappointment. DAT will lead by example this year and demonstrate that even though he had an amazing freshmen year, he can improve and get better in every facet of the game. The Huff incident will play out exactly like the Cliff incident. Suspended multiple games, won't come back because the guys ahead of him earned playing time and worked hard in practice, something Cliff and Huff never do!
@jasart I thin this is the year we finally see the true elevation of talent coming in. A lot of young guys are going to play and its scary to think that some of them will be better than the guys who were veterans last year. Young fast, athletic receivers/TE's, young accurate fast QB's, young offensive line. I can't wait to see how these guys react because I think A LOT of them have the chance to be better than last years starter such as Bennet/Mariota over DT. DT was a great qb for us if not one of the best for this school ever, but lets be honest, the guy just didnt have the physical tools Mariota and Bennet have.
@mtallia I think a lot of it has to do with the system of play too, most college football teams just play their starters and that's it, the ducks play the second and third string in a rotation every game at every position but quarterback, so young players just need to contribute early and it's part of why we win. We develop those young players early. because we have to. and that gives us more depth than other programs, so in crunch time our guys are still fresh and theirs are worn out. That and since the natty we're getting largely 4 star recruits instead of 2 and 3 stars...they're just better players.
@jasart I don't know if this is attributed to the types of players we have been recruiting but has anybody else noticed how fast these players have been able to play? I know a lot can be chalked up to a lack of depth but still players Chip has been recruiting are seeing the field a lot sooner than many other recruits across the country. I think part of it is the elevated talent we have brought in but I think the bulk of it is the fact we develop our players better than ANYONE in the country. We consistently take 3* guys and make them stars and some even end up in the NFL. Just wait until the Haloti's and Johnathan Stewarts start consistently coming to this program, it won't be fair and I think last season was the very beginning of this new era exemplified by the stardom of DAT. He exploded onto the scene in the Rose Bowl, yes he was a star coming out of high school but just imagine what Armstead and Thomas Tyner are gonna do!
@jasart BTW for everyone reading this convo and blog if you are a true Duck fan or just want to come see the Ducks play check out Eugene Football Rentals which I am interning for. This site offers people the ability to rent out a property close to Autzen for a football weekend. Rates at hotels are high during football season and this way you can avoid the struggle of finding a hotel and stay within walking distance. Check out the Facebook page and like it, and please let other know about this new business expanding to Eugene! GO DUCKS!
@mtallia Yeah RB depth is a huge concern, especially since Barner has been hurt every year and missed games, he's not the durable warrior LMJ was, and DAT, well he's 180 pounds soaking wet. Forde is short but he's pretty compact and seems to be able to take some punishment but I wouldn't want to be in a situation where we have to depend on him. Marshall will have no choice but to be ready to go as a true freshman.
@jasart I'm still extremely scared about our rb depth. KB and DAT are proven but Ayele is just too small he will get killed, we need to Byron marshall to develop or even Braylon Addison, both can contribute right away to our depth which is much needed. I think we will be fine at WR and TE, but RB concerns me a lot if say KB goes down a couple games which is very possible but not likely because the first 4 games are against little girls. I would like to see Dwayne Stanford come in and be that BIG receiver we need even though I think Hawkins is going to be our go to guy this season as far as possession. he has improved immensely and looks consistent. Vaughn looks good too but its sad we probably AGAIN won't see much production from Huff which is a shame. Never thought I woud say this but I think Kelly and Sumler may play over Blackmon when its all said and done.
@mtallia More than anything I'm excited about the fact that we had very few drops, except for Christian French (who needs to switch to defense). Last season we had tons of drops and that appears to be much much improved.
@mtallia Agreed Bennett's team was awful, especially the line, and he had no running game. It was a losing situation for sure, and even if he had played perfectly the dark team probably wouldn't have won. I didn't see the leadership you're talking about though, I didn't see him get in anyone's face, or say "hey Johnstone, you've gotta block that guy", or coach up his receivers, every time I saw the camera on him on the sideline he was just standing there by himself. I'm not saying he didn't do those things off camera, I just didn't see it and I've watched the game about 4 times. No question that was a really bad performance by the rest of his team, Blake Stanton, Dungy, and Kelley were pretty good though, especially Stanton but that was about it.
@jasart Let's not forget how Bennet came in for the Arizona State game where our offense looked terrible with DT playing, and led a come back. The offense started clicking and although we ran the ball very well that game, it showed what a running qb like Bennet can do for our offense. THAT is what happens when Bennet has the weapons and offensive line needed to compete. I swear EVERYBODY who was on Bennet's team during the spring game should be ashamed of themselves. It was utterly disgusting the lack of blocking and yes it does take time for an offensive unit especially the O-line to develop cohesiveness but come on that was pathetic. Bennet is capable and that is why even last year when we had DT, people were calling for Bennet to play because of how good he looked in limited playing time. I really do want to see Mariota do well because I think an efficient type passer like him, with the ability to run when the play breaks down or off the option takes our offense to a whole new level. People like to say how Bennet reacted to adversity was a negative but to be honest I liked it. Other players were ok with playing like shit and Bennet wasn't going to accept that caliber of play. He holds everybody accountable and especially himself and that is what I love about him. I don't know too much about Mariota, but I do like his poise and calm attitude but I want a vocal aggressive leader out there who yells at people when they mess up and holds everybody accountable. If Bennet improves his accuracy this Summer, watch out because he is a far superior leader than Mariota.