It was a beautiful day in Eugene for some football to get us through to September, and after months of waiting, Duck fans finally got to see why there has been so much hype around Marcus Mariota. In an offseason where the main storyline is the replacement of Darron Thomas, Mariota's performance will make many Duck fans wonder why there was even a QB competition in the first place.
From his first drive, Mariota looked to have complete command of the offense. He was moving the offense to the line quickly, hitting his open man, and had poise not usually seen in a redshirt freshmen. His length and ability in the mesh quickly drew comparisons to Dennis Dixon. In the first half alone, Mariota had a line of 15-for-18 for 181 with one TD, one pick, plus four rushes for 97 yards, 2 TDs. In particular, Mariota had an 82 yard TD run where he faked out an LB on an option pitch, then split a halfheartedly pursuing safety and then took it to the house, using his speed to stay barely ahead of the Oregon secondary. While this play should have probably been called dead after about a 20 yard gain, it was impressive.
On the opposite sideline, Bryan Bennett struggled to stay composed. This was not a game that suited his style. Under pressure most of the time, playing two hand touch really hampered his ability to make anything happen. He was visibly flustered after some poor plays. His worst play of the day was a pick-six to Tyson Coleman on what was supposed to be a simple swing pass to Keanon Lowe. But Bennett overshot Lowe by about 5 yards, and Coleman took it in for the score.
This result was quite a surprise, as with the chatter coming out of spring practice, it sounded like Bennett was firmly in control of the starting job. Obviously, there is a lot more than a spring game to determine who will be the starter. In an interview near the end of the game, Chip Kelly mentioned that in evaluation of the game, there will be a lot more that will be looked at, including receiver routes and other miscues that gave Bennett an uphill battle to begin with. Either way, the Ducks have two immensely talented QBs that have the potential to be stars. I don't envy the coaching staff in deciding between these two players.
This was easily the most entertaining spring game I've ever watched, with both teams fighting hard down to the final minute. We should be in for another exciting year of Duck football, and it was great to have a bit of football to get us through the spring and summer. Below, a few more positional reactions. Leave any of your spring game thoughts below. GO DUCKS!
- Tight Ends: Evan Baylis is big. If he can continue to develop over the next few months, he could provide some much needed depth behind Colt Lyerla. Christian French was not nearly as impressive, dropping two passes, one of which almost led to an interception.
- Secondary: Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu both had excellent interceptions today. Mitchell made a play on a deep ball thrown by Bryan Bennett, that was too a stationary Jennings Stewart. Ifo's was even more impressive, picking of Marcus Mariota on a throw down the sideline that he tried to force. Without John Boyett, the secondary looked not all that great. But with Boyett, this could be a great secondary.
- Defensive Line/Offensive Line: With how the spring game is played, it's tough to draw too many opinions on the line play, but the defensive line got the better of the offensive line throughout the game. I'm optimistic that the offensive line will be improved after continuing to work together during the summer and fall. The defensive line should really be a strength of this defense, with a lot of depth and talent.
- Running Backs: We saw mostly walk-ons Ayele Ford and Kenny Bassett, and both did a nice job when they had some running lanes. It's tough to evaluate a position when these players won't see much playing time
- Wide Receivers: There a few flashes from this group. Rahsaan Vaughn had a couple nice catches, and BJ Kelley had a nice touchdown catch from Bryan Bennett. On that play, the timing between the two was especially impressive. But outside of that, it wasn't a group that was overly impressive. But we didn't get to see either team go down the field very often either.