QB Mariota feeling like his old self

Two-time all-Pac-12 quarterback insists the Alamo Bowl will not be his last game as a Duck

SAN ANTONIO — Marcus Mariota did his best version of the Texas Two-Step.

Oregon's star quarterback, making his first appearance here in front of the microphones and cameras during Alamo Bowl week, was asked once again about his health and the disappointing Heisman Trophy race during a press conference on Saturday.

"Since the last month, I feel the most healthy I've been," Mariota said. "About the Heisman, that's out of my control. I don't really care about that."

Scott Frost is concerned about the way the Ducks and his quarterback are perceived nationally after finishing a promising season with a 2-2 November.

Oregon's first-year offensive coordinator revealed Mariota sustained a partially torn medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his left knee just before halftime against UCLA on Oct. 26 at Autzen Stadium.

Amazingly, after putting on a knee brace during the intermission, Mariota and the Ducks outscored the Bruins 28-0 in the second half for a 42-14 victory to improve to 8-0 entering the showdown at Stanford.

"Now that he's healthy, I'll talk about it," Frost said. "The kid couldn't even jog two days before the Stanford game. We didn't want anyone to know, obviously, because we wanted to protect him as much as we could.

"He'd never say it because he cares so much about the team. That's why it frustrates me to see what happened with his accolades after that game."

Oregon's national title hopes vanished as a result of the deflating 26-20 loss to the Cardinal on Nov. 7. Mariota, considered the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy before the Stanford game, didn't finish in the top 10 in the voting for the award won by Florida State's Jameis Winston on Dec. 14.

"If people would have known how bad he was hurt and watched him perform like that, it was a warrior's performance, it really was," Frost said. "And he almost brought us back (against Stanford) in the end with a chance to win. I was surprised to see him run as fast as he did. Like I said, he couldn't even barely move a couple days ahead of that game."

An immobile Mariota completed 20 of 34 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns against Stanford. Frost said he also had to abandon the read-option attack against Utah and the game plan was conservative in terms of running plays for the quarterback during the 42-16 loss at Arizona.

A healthier but still hobbled Mariota ran seven times for 53 yards and threw three touchdowns to Josh Huff to deliver the epic 36-35 victory over Oregon State on Nov. 29.

"Statistically, he was a good as anybody that was even in New York," Frost said of the six Heisman finalists invited to the Downtown Athletic Club. "Those guys for the most part, except for one, all lost games and didn't seem to fall out of Heisman picture. "¦

"I hate to say there's a Pac-12 bias or an East Coast bias, but watching what happened to Marcus and watching us be the only league without two BCS teams makes me wonder. It's really the first time I ever thought of that."

Now healthy, the third-year sophomore from Honolulu believes a victory over the Longhorns can set the tone for the 2014 campaign.

"I feel good. This team is in a good spot," Mariota said. "We're looking forward to playing."

The week after the Civil War, Mariota announced he will return to Oregon next season instead of entering the NFL draft. Other than working on accuracy, ball security and consistency, the 6-foot-4 signal-caller did not elaborate on the feedback he received from the NFL.

But Mariota reiterated that today's game against Texas will not be the final chapter of his Oregon story.

"That's left for my family to know," Mariota said of his NFL evaluation. "It said what it said, and that won't alter my decision at all. It reaffirmed what we thought."

Mariota finished the regular season competing 63.1 percent of his passes for 3,412 yards with 30 touchdowns and four interceptions. He ran for 582 yards and nine touchdowns, even though he couldn't really run for about 14 quarters.

"When you take that element out of an offense, that's a big piece of what we do," Frost said. "So it's great to have him back and healthy. He has been running around in practice looking like Marcus."


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