Ducks' Mariota continues to grow

First game away from Autzen Stadium proved to be a mixed bag in win over WSU
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota showed off his running ability during Saturday’s win over Washington State in Seattle.AP

The education of Marcus Mariota continued Saturday night, when Oregon's redshirt freshman quarterback made his first start away from Autzen Stadium.

In leading the No. 2 Ducks' 51-26 win over Washington State at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Mariota had moments of brilliance — spinning out of a potential sack to start a 13-yard touchdown run — and moments of frustration, including two turnovers and some mixups in the option run game. There was a lot in between, too.

For the night, Mariota finished 21 of 32 for 169 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions, his quarterback rating falling from 165.6 entering the night to 152.74, 29th-best in the nation and second in the Pac-12 behind Arizona State's Taylor Kelly (166.34).

Mariota also heard some boos, dealing with a crowd that, if not raucous, was decidedly partisan in favor of the official home team, the Cougars.

"It was a different atmosphere," Mariota said. "There were times it was fun."

There were times he was fun to watch, too. Mariota entered the night averaging fewer than six running plays per game, not counting sacks, and he had seven on Saturday, for 69 yards in gains. Including two sacks, he had nine carries for 56 yards, officially.

Mariota had a long sprint on a zone read, and the first-quarter touchdown, on which he pirouetted out of a tackle near the line of scrimmage, circled out to the sideline and raced to the front corner of the end zone.

Teammates have raved about the running ability Mariota demonstrates in practice, and Saturday was the best hint yet the public has had of those abilities, not counting the non-contact spring game in April.

But there was also some indecision in the run game, leading on one play to both Mariota and Kenjon Barner possessing the ball on a read-option run. Barner still managed to run for 195 yards on the night, and is up to 10th nationally with 121 yards per game.

Mariota threw the two interceptions as well, victimized on one by a receiver who fell down but also throwing a pass when he probably should have checked down to another receiver, he said.

"I'm learning from it, and I'm just going to get better from it," Mariota said.

Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, Mariota's position coach, said afterward the neutral-site game was a perfect transition for the Ducks' young quarterback before playing a true road game.

Oregon also faced a WSU team looking to prove itself against the No. 2 team in the country, something the Ducks figure to face week in and week out.

"We know that we're going to get everybody's best shot," Helfrich said. "And that was no different (Saturday). From before the kickoff, they were into it."

Running back De'Anthony Thomas also noted the intensity of the woofing between the two teams early.

Oregon's first true road game is Oct. 18, at Arizona State, the next major test for Mariota after Saturday's indoctrination.

"I thought Marcus did a nice job," UO coach Chip Kelly said. "No one's going to play a perfect game "… The big thing is, do you learn from it? In a couple weeks here, we're back on the road, and do you learn from it, and how do you play?"

Up first, though, is a return to the friendly confines of Autzen, and a meeting with Washington on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The Huskies entered the Associated Press poll at No. 23 on Sunday after upsetting Stanford last week.

Washington boasts a defense revitalized by coordinator Justin Wilcox, the Junction City native and former UO defensive back, and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon, the former UO linebacker. The Huskies are 37th nationally in yards per play allowed on defense (4.98), after finishing 108th last season (6.43).

"They're doing a good job," Kelly said. "They're athletic, they run around. They're a little bit smaller than they've been in the past, but they certainly have some athletic kids."

Oregon, meanwhile, is No. 18 in yards per play allowed (4.55) through five games this season, after surviving Washington State's aerial assault.

The Ducks have been nothing if not timely and are fifth nationally in third-down defense (24.69 percent conversions by opponents) and seventh in red-zone defense, having allowed six touchdowns and six field goals in 20 trips inside the red zone by opponents.

Against WSU, Oregon played the second half without senior linebacker Michael Clay because of an apparent lower leg injury. With a bye week looming after Saturday's game against UW, the Ducks might see incentive to be cautious with Clay this week, potentially setting up more playing time for backup Derrick Malone.

"The defensive (coaches) felt really good with Derrick (in the second half against the Cougars)," Kelly said. "Part of our system is, we do play a lot of guys on defense. So Derrick's gotten a lot of snaps, not only this year but last year. So it's not like the first time he's been thrown in the mix, but they felt like when he went in he did a good job."


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