Brother v. Brother: Marcus Mariota, Chip Kelly, and the future of football

Marcus Mariota "quietly" torched USC in what will go down as Oregon's greatest offensive performance ever. - Stephen Dunn

Two brothers debate the latest topics around college sports and the Ducks. This week's agenda: Marcus Mariota, Chip Kelly, and the evolution of football.

Paul: 730 yards, 62 points, 321 rushing yards by a single back...all of it against the vaunted Men of Troy. No team or player has ever put up numbers like that against USC in over 120 years of football. And yet, I'm not even interested in talking about it. I want to know the answer to this question: (1) Why were the Trojans able to run roughshod over our supposedly stout defense?

Joe: That's easy. They have NFL first rounders at the quarterback and both wide receiver positions. High first rounders. That's one explosive college passing attack, in other words. I don't care how well the Duck defenders have been playing. They were always gonna have a hard time slowing down Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, and Marquis Lee because...who wouldn't?

Paul: But did they expose our D in general? Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti seemed to indicate it was more or less a poor performance in his post-game presser. Was it more than that?

Joe: I think "exposed" is too strong a word, Brother. They attacked our defense by taking advantage of their best matchup: Woods and Lee vs. solid but not elite corners. It's really that simple and who doesn't do that, by the way? Here's what I would say "exposed" looks like: Kenjon Barner running for a school-record 321. You may not want to talk about it but I do. (2) Did we witness the single greatest offensive performance in school history?

Paul: Absolutely no doubt in my mind. The Ducks out-gained (730 yards...a new school record) and outscored (62) every team the Trojans have ever played...ever. That's over the course of 124 years. We also witnessed Barner's emergence as a legitimate Heisman contender.

Joe: Ya think? Nobody seems to want the award this year so it's probably going to whomever makes a serious move down the homestretch. This just in: rushing for 321 yards and five scores against one of college football's traditional powers qualifies as a "serious move." Funny thing is, he wasn't the Duck who impressed me most. Care to guess who that might have been?

Paul: I'm going out on a limb here, but it's probably not one of our defensive backs.

Joe: Ha! Yeah, uhhh...not so much. It's Marcus Mariota, obviously. How many freshman QBs do you think could go on the road, in such a critical game, and throw up the numbers he did on Saturday night? I mean, the kid completed 20 of his 23 passes for 304 yards and FOUR touchdowns! Yup, that means he had more TD passes than passes that hit the ground. He also managed to find time to rush for just a shade under 100 yards (96). Are you kidding me? It was a night for gaudy numbers, sure, but those ones stood out the most for me.

Paul: The only blemish in an otherwise near-perfect performance was that fumble in the 2nd quarter. I thought for sure he'd suffered a concussion on the previous play when he took a vicious hit, but lo and behold, he was back at it in the second half. With that kind of toughness and efficiency, especially on the road, it really is hard to believe he's only a freshman. Wanna know what's not hard to believe? You can now buy his jersey.

Joe: You certainly know you've made it when 40-year old dudes in the crowd are wearing your jersey, huh? Speaking of which, the only one I currently own is a "vintage" Darron Thomas No. 1 jersey from 2010. You know how irritated I was he changed his number in 2011? I became Josh Huff overnight, something I wasn't really cool with...until last Saturday. (3) Did Huff just remind us we do have a legit receiving option not named De'Anthony Thomas?

Paul: Does it matter? We've known for a while—last Saturday being just the latest example—that when it comes to the blur offense, it really is plug-and-play. If it's not Huff, it's Keanon Lowe. If it's not Lowe, it's Colt Lyerla. If it's not Lyerla, it's Darryl Hawkins...or Bralon Addison...or B.J. Kelley...or Dwayne Stanford...or...you get the idea. It really doesn't matter. Like, at all.

Joe: Still, I think it's safe to say none of those fine players, with the possible exception of Addison, have quite the raw speed and explosiveness Huff does. If opposing defenses now also need to worry about a speed merchant out on the flanks, how in God's name are they going to slow this freight train down? Plus, if we ultimately get Bama in the Natty and they do indeed go all-in to thwart the zone read, wouldn't it be nice to have a game-breaking option in the passing game? We didn't really have that in 2010 and it showed.

Paul: You're right. Jeff Maehl wasn't exactly a game-breaker (although he's still my all-time favorite Oregon wideout). That said, it still doesn't matter as much as you might think. We're going to run the ball about 60% of the time, and for the other 40% of plays, we have approximately 14 viable receiving options. You think I'm kidding.

Joe: The receivers may have been viable but the opponent sure wasn't. Guess we'll see, huh? I'm just glad Huff is finally fulfilling his immense promise.

Paul: Agreed. Anyway, it may not matter considering our final three opponents are all eminently beatable...and will all be in my neck of the woods this weekend. Did I tell you I'm going to both games? It's the first time I've been happy about a 7:30 start all year. I can't wait to don my apple green Barner jersey all day Saturday, and especially in Palo Alto. (4) Who wins the Pac-12's Snooze Bowl on The Farm?

Joe: This probably won't surprise you, but...Oregon State. I think they have the speed on the outside with Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks to really exploit the Cardinal's suspect and athletically challenged secondary. I also think starting a new quarterback in a critical game this far into the season is a really bad idea. Granted, Stanford doesn't air the ball out much. Nevertheless, it's difficult to hit the ground running in Week 11 and I think Kevin Hogan will struggle to make plays against a better-than-you-think OSU defense. I'm going Biebers 24, Cardinal 23.

Paul: I, too, like the Beavs in this one. If it was truly a road game, it might be more interesting. But let's be honest: Stanford fans aren't exactly rabid about the Cardinal.

Joe: Yeah, they're more into wine and cheese and...equations and stuff. Speaking of math, I've got a great book recommendation for you that might help explain where our own mad scientist, Coach Kelly, gets some of his somewhat unorthodox strategies: Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won. It's an absolutely brilliant read and fairly mind-blowing.

Paul: I read this yesterday, and I imagine it's referencing roughly the same ideas.

Joe: It appears so, yeah. It shouldn't be at all surprising to discover Coach Kelly's already recognized as being in the vanguard of guys testing football orthodoxy, should it? I mean, we already knew this. The specific concepts (zone read scheme, frenetic pace, sabermetric-style strategizing) may not be, strictly speaking, his creations but the mash-up and the application to college football is all Chipper. By the way, I couldn't love the fact he's leading this revolution more. It's so...us. And by "us," I mean Oregon.

Paul: I completely agree. Few understand how innovative and creative a place Oregon, and Eugene in particular, really are. When most Americans think of innovation, they think of the Bay Area. But the Apples and Googles of the world are really just a byproduct of the open-minded culture that was cultivated in 1960s San Francisco. And as "the 60s" expanded beyond the Bay Area, it spread to the Northwest and had a profound effect on the region culturally, especially in places like Eugene. So many pundits are quick to point out that Oregon wouldn't be successful without Nike. Quite the contrary: Nike wouldn't EXIST without Oregon.

Joe: Maybe not, but I've got a more pressing question: Can Oregon's football program continue "existing" (read: thriving) without Chipper? It's one being asked more frequently these days and it's going to come up even more often if the Ducks secure a BCS bid, as we both think they will. Maybe I should ask it this way: (5) Is Chipper gone or is him leaving the program contingent upon winning that crystal ball?

Paul: That all depends on which NFL jobs are available in the offseason. I don't actually believe Kelly stayed at Oregon on behalf of any "unfinished business." He chose not to take the job in Tampa because it wasn't the right fit. He was right, by the way.

Joe: I think you nailed it. He's already proven he's not going to take just any job. He's going to wait it out, continue enhancing demand, and then pounce on a job that will allow him either full control or a very big say in what types of players are acquired to fit his system. I guess the question I would have is...what kind of system will it be? You can't run a steady diet of zone read plays in the NFL unless you wanna go through quarterbacks like cord wood.

Paul: Well, if anyone can, it's Kelly. We might be looking at the reincarnation of Bill Walsh in terms of overall ingenuity. Also, with the payrolls these NFL teams have, is it outside the realm of possibility he'll sign three non-traditional but similar quarterbacks who fit his system? Take, for example, a quarterback-by-committee of Dennis Dixon, Colin Kaepernick, and Tim Tebow. One gets hurt, it's next guy up. The combined salary of those guys can't be more than half of what the Broncos are paying Peyton Manning.

Joe: That would certainly be...unusual. But can you really win in the NFL without throwing the football? I mean, the Wildcat had its five seconds of fame with Ronnie Brown in Miami a couple years back. Then, Tebow led the Broncos to the playoffs last year. Nevertheless, the momentum for such a radical departure never seems to gather steam. Don't forget the cautionary tale of Kelly's basketball doppelganger, by the way, Oregon's own Paul Westhead, and his breakneck basketball system. Coach Westhead's relatively brief stay in Denver (his second stint in the NBA) was an abject failure. The system simply didn't work at that level. Maybe pro athletes are just...different?

Paul: Not going to disagree with that. There are few college football coaches who have been able to make the jump to the NFL successfully. The same, by the way, can be said for those who jump from the NFL back to the college ranks. And I think it has less to do with the coaches and more to do with the situation they find themselves in.

Joe: Which brings us back to Kelly waiting for the right spot to materialize.

Paul: Precisely. So, let's reverse jinx ourselves and assume Chipper is gone to the NFL next year. Where does he end up?

Joe: Philly. Jeffrey Lurie is just unconventional enough to consider taking a chance on college football's whiz kid. Plus, that talking out the side of his mouth thing would make Chipper a natural fit in the City of Brotherly Love. Finally, the talent is already in place to some extent. I'm not sure Mike Vick can run that offense without getting killed, but...it might be fun to see him try.

Paul: Speaking of Brotherly Love, every Eagles fan just popped a boner thinking about Vick running Kelly's system.

Joe: Ha! This is a family column, Paully!

Paul: No one's reading this anyway. My money's on San Diego, by the way. First of all, the Chargers have a history of producing offensive juggernauts. And the more modern Chargers teams have been on the verge of producing an unstoppable, high-octane offense for years, but just haven't been able to produce at a high-enough level under Norv Turner (a former Duck, coincidentally). It certainly hasn't sat well with fans that their former quarterback has gone from good to Hall of Famer after landing in New Orleans. Plus, how fun would it be to have three former Pac-12 coaching rivals at the helm of all but one of the NFL's West Coast teams?

Joe: Can't wait for Kelly v. Harbaugh, Part IV.

Paul: Harbaugh might actually have a shot in that one...with LaMike's help, of course. Anyway, give me your prediction for tomorrow night's game at newly renovated Memorial Stadium in Berkeley?

Joe: The sharps in Vegas will probably be predicting a home cover since it's a really flat spot for our boys (post-USC and pre-Stanford). I don't think that matters, though. Kelly will have the Ducks ready to rock in a game they need to dominate. Meanwhile, Cal has basically quit on Tedford. Oregon 63, Cal 14. Lay the wood, Brother.

Paul: Oregon rolls, but expect a slow start. Ducks 49, Cal 21.

Joe: Have fun down there and don't do anything I would do.

Paul: I can't make any promises. I know for a fact you'd go out of your way to antagonize Beavers fans at one of their road game wearing Ducks gear.

Joe: You know me too well. Represent, Brotherman!

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