Mariota got hurt. In the first 7 games of the season, when he had full acceleration, mobility, and the ability to plant and cut on two good legs, he was a different and much more dynamic quarterback, a talent who could win games with his arm, his feet or his decision-making.
In the last five games, he played with severe limits on what he could do, and those limits hurt his confidence and creativity. The uncertainty spilled over to the team in the November slump. This was an offense with a painful secret, operating on 75% capacity.
Catching fire: In the first 7 games of the season, Marcus Mariota rushed 49 times for 493 yards, 10.1 yards a carry. In the final five, he carried 32 times for 88 yards, 2.75 an attempt, and eight of those carries were sacks. His passing accuracy and overall confidence suffered also, but he played through it, finishing the regular season with a come-from-behind drive in the Civil War (Ron Chenoy, USA Today Sports photo).
The dangerous Mariota in these highlights, from the season's first six games, is the quarterback the nation will see in the bowl game and next year:
The Oregon offense has much better rhythm and explosiveness with their leader able to do everything in his arsenal. The offense doesn't struggle as badly as it did this month if he's healthy.
If he's 100% for the bowl, and can enjoy an injury-free year next season, the Ducks can compete with anyone. He's one of the biggest difference makers in college football. The injury this year derailed his Heisman chances. Able to run, the defenses that enjoyed a field day against Oregon this season will have a much tougher challenge, and the grind-it-out plan that succeeded for Stanford and Arizona won't be as viable. People forget that in the 12-0 year the Ducks hung 52 on The Cardinal, and the following season they scored 53 in Palo Alto. Stanford used to have an Oregon problem. In two seasons, they've never really gotten Mariota's best shot.
With a healthy MM and a fully-utilized Thomas Tyner, the Ducks could reach an entire new dimension of offensive productivity next year. People forget also that these two, along with Bralon Addison, are still young players. Byron Marshall and Tyler Johnstone are only sophomores. Dwayne Stanford and Chance Allen will be sophomores next season. There is a lot of improvement possible for this group. Coupled with the fact that Scott Frost and Mark Helfrich will have a year of experience in their new roles, puts the "disappointing" 2013 season in a different light. This was a young team. With Grasu's and Mariota's decision to return, they bring back 10 of 11 starters on offense. The offensive line alone is slated to return 108 starts next season, one of the crucial predictors of success in college football.
Marcus Mariota is the most gifted quarterback the Ducks have ever had, with superb maturity and an exceptional work ethic and character. He never made excuses. But viewing this tape, it's dramatically evident how he had to rein himself in over the last five games. That he played as well as he did, and led this team through adversity and capped it off with a memorable comeback in the Civil War, his finest moment as a college player, shows what an exceptional competitor he is.
In the long run, the experience of playing through an injury and having to work out of the pocket with limitations on what he could do will enhance the sophomore quarterback's game. Over the last two games, there were signs he was getting more comfortable and beginning to move much better.
With four full weeks to completely recover, he's apt to have an eye-opening performance in the bowl game, no matter who the opponent is. He just might take the game over.
I agree with Dale that this is the 'single most' key factor in the November demise. Marcus at 100%, meaning he can run and cut, exponentially increases the Ducks power, even on defense.
Mariota @ 60% ability = no serious QB run option = no option off that option = can't evade sacks = can't pass as well >>> can't quickly build/keep multiple score lead >>> Ducks Oline in rare pass pocket protection mode can't protect as well >>> opponent can key on run >>> opponents don't need to pass to catch up (or get ahead), can run, 4 yards at a time, eat clock, wear down Ducks D >>> opponents' run success opens up their passing, and so forth.
The point is, from MM's debility cascades a whole bunch of situations an opponent can capitalize upon. With him at 100%, they have to defend multiple scoring opportunities, and each one with greater likelihood of success. MM is the cornerstone of it all. Hence why the Ducks need one of the back-ups presenting at least 85-90% of the multiple threats that MM presents to avoid this meltdown from happening again. This capacity would, in turn, reduce pressure on MM, allowing him to operate more effectively with less risk of injury.
I'm no football coach or pundit, so hope this makes sense. Put another way, Ducks have 7/8 scoring threats in QB, 2/3 RBs, 3 Rec. and 2 TEs, with the QB making the split second decisions in distributing, passing, keeping the ball. When his performance drops, it all drops, and affects every other phase of their O and D attack. And ST now feels the pressure to make up the difference. A meltdown.
Well Dale, other posters definitely make valid points but I think your right on the money. Our best defense was our offense getting up big and putting a lot of pressure on the other offenses. I'm not as a sophisticated football mind as many in here but it seems clear for example, if we got up 2 scores early on Stanford and kept the pressure on. They would have had to open up their offense some and throw much more. It does not mean a win but the game would have looked much different . Always enjoy the read
Interesting exchange between Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia media. Maybe the Ducks need this kind of fire from the their coach; I don't know:
All of the issues and concerns you all raise are valid, but my position is, if Mariota is healthy in those games, he is able to play much better and pose a much more complex problem for defenses. The Oregon offense is substantially more potent, and able to mask deficiencies in other other areas as it has done in the past, and the Ducks are able to steal at least one of those games.
Additionally, I think the video dramatically shows that he was a much different quarterback, a significantly more dangerous one, before the November slide. In the season's slide from 8-0 to 10-2, he regularly passed up opportunities to run. That often put him in bad positions and led to bad decisions, turnovers, lost opportunities. When mobile, he outruns linebackers and eludes pressure. He couldn't do that in the losses, not to the degree of effectiveness he shows here.
I probably overstated my point of view to some degree and thus invited criticism. The intent wasn't to make excuses, but to illustrate what I believe was Oregon's central problem over the last month: their quarterback wasn't able to play in the way he normally can. Admittedly there are myriad of other issues, which we have discussed on the site at length and the Ducks must continue to address.
The video clip, if viewed from the perspective of "this is how Mariota can beat you" shows pretty clearly he didn't have those weapons over that five-game stretch, especially the three games against the Ducks toughest opponents. It damaged this team's psyche deeply. But then, great teams overcome adversity, and this was only a good one.
Dale, I read all your articles; they add something to what all the journalists and insiders (Moseley+) provide. I don't usually comment. Just providing this to let you know there might be a lot of listeners who don't post comments. I met Torrodney Prevot while walking up to the entrance of MK for a BB game the day after one of our home games. Even in a walking boot he looked explosive. As a bull rush specialist, he made an impact as a true freshman and next year might be a starter. He is an example of someone who could be cut loose in a 4-3 defense and make plays.
The real reason had nothing to do with Mariota and the injury.
It was the offensive and defensive lines. Plain and simple.
Mariota never had a good pocket against Stanford and was forced to constantly roll, step up, move around on that bad knee. They couldn't run the ball (this also showed up vs the other good DL in the Pac 12 - Utah). The offensive line was bad more often than not in the 2nd half of the season.
Defensively? Their front 7 can't stop anyone. They are undersized and young. Their LB crew is inexperienced and showed little improvement this year. They generate very little pass rush. Their corners are obviously good, arguably the best tandem in the country. The safety play has been maybe a bit inconsistent, though usually good.
Let's also not forget DeAnthony Thomas being awful, untimely turnovers, bad coaching, unpreparedness, lack of emotion. But, as football usual does, gets decided in the trenches.
Of course I want them in the BCS, but does anyone honestly feel comfortable about possibly playing an angry Alabama team? With the size and speed of their defense, the pure strength and size of that offensive line...it wouldn't surprise me to see them lose by at least 20.
I have to disagree. This wasn't the main reason we lost those two games. Mariota and our offense only got to play for five minutes (slight exaggeration) in those games. Although, if we had been able to score in what little time we had, it would have changed their game plan and who knows what would have happened then. But you did, however, mention the main reason in your previous article, "The Crucial Change Needed..." I do agree that he was limited by his injury but that wasn't why Arizona put up 42 points on us. Our offensive line wasn't too hot in those last few games either, creating even more problems for Mariota. He showed good cutting and speed in the OS game and we still barely pulled a win out of that one. You correctly explained in your last article that we need to simplify the defensive assignments and turn our men loose like rabid animals on the opposing offense. Maybe we'll see this and a healthy Mariota in the bowl game.
This is the way I felt when prior to the Stanford game I saw that MM was wearing the knee brace. "This is not good" is what I told the wife and clearly he could not run. A healthy QB and we beat Stanford. Yes, our defense has been porous but it depended somewhat on an offense that can come our and jump on an opponent and take them our of their game plan.
Dale, as always, excellent summation. However, you didn't mention the other glaring problem, inability to stop our opponents scoring because of horrible defensive strategy! This year we are 47th overall in Total Defense. As I, and others have said, WE WILL NEVER WIN A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP WITH ALLOWALOTTI. The "Bend, but don't Break" defense has, and always will be, our Achilles heal! The ONLY reason we have won so many games is our prolific offense! Our Defense depends on it!
@rgyle The exciting thing is, Arg, we'll get to observe our carefully-crafted theories in action when the Ducks meet a good opponent in a December 31/January 1st bowl.
@Hoosierduck Thanks, Hooz. Stanford deserved to win, but if the Ducks convert those two early scoring opportunities, including Mariota missing a wide-open Josh Huff, it's a much different game.
@DanR13 Appreciate, Dan, very much. Prevot and Tyrell Robinson offered some exciting glimpses into their potential this season, and I think they will make the 2014 defense a potential wrecking crew if they are developed and utilized properly. Credit goes to the coaches for finding them and getting them to school. Now they have to unleash them.
@bmurray912 Everything you pointed to are factors also, and we've discussed them at length in other articles. My intent here was to illustrate how deeply and significantly Mariota's injury affected this team. The productivity of the Oregon offense has often masked problems in other areas, and in this case, the quarterback's limitations exposed them.
The Ducks aren't likely to get Alabama, but if they did, they might not get an angry Alabama. They could just as likely get an indifferent, overconfident one. Losing by 20 is indeed a possibility, but given the challenge, maybe the Ducks respond with their best game rather than their worst one. Joey Harrington spoke about this on "Talking Ducks," and one of the points he made is that the team that beat Washington and UCLA could compete with anyone.
@RLWirtz Appreciate your thoughts, RL, and I knew I was sticking my neck out with this post. All of the issues with the program have to be addressed, absolutely. The point I was trying to make here is that the 2013 squad was a flawed team that needed great play from their quarterback to mask deficiencies in other areas. It was a Vince Young Texas 2005-6 type of team, one that a great player carried into greatness. Mariota is the most valuable weapon in college football this year. Hurt, he was 60% of himself, and it hurt this offense tremendously. The win over Oregon State, as narrow and harrowing as it was, should help restore their rhythm and confidence for the bowl.
@SonomaDuck The Oregon team over the 7 years is built to outscore people. The defense is built to get turnovers and key stops, limit big plays and play with a lead. They have weaknesses. They don't have the 11 angry men they have at Florida State and Alabama. That has to be addressed also, but the Ducks are built to score and when they can't, they're in trouble.
@Dukduponquak Thanks for commenting Duk. Absolutely the defense has to get better, but at the same time, this is the model Oregon's success is built on. In the 12-0 year they won games 52-31 and 53-32. The 2011 team beat Arizona 56-31, UCLA 49-31, Wisconsin 45-38. That's how they are built. It's not an Alabama model. Athletic defense and potent offense, turnovers and key stops.