Hurt or not, Marcus Mariota is pretty good. Against Utah, the Duck running game might have not really broke through against a very stout Ute front, but Mariota and the rest of the Oregon passing corps came to play and found a way to move the ball and score last Saturday.
That last game might have been one of Mariota’s best efforts as a pure passer, simply because he showed such expertise inside and outside of the pocket. His style of play may not have changed completely from previous outings, as Mariota wasn’t literally pinned in the pocket, but it was fairly easy to see that the Ducks intended to keep him behind the line of scrimmage throughout the game. Regardless, he was just as effective as Mariota completed his first ten passes en route to a 288 yard 3 touchdown performance.
Some of Mariota’s most impressive throws came when he was planted firmly in the pocket like in this play:
In this play, Utah’s aggressive defense brought five rushers which the Oregon offensive line picked up nicely. Mariota uses perfect footwork to slide a step to his left, take another stride up in the pocket, and then deliver a perfect strike up the seam to his tight end Evan Baylis. Not only did Mariota read the blitz and pressure well, he located the hole in Utah’s zone blitz to pick up a big first down on a second and long.
Mariota also managed well outside of the pocket, which was demonstrated in this play:
After feeling the pressure from his backside, Mariota moved off of his first read to avoid pressure, spun back around as he retreated away from the rush, came back to his tight end and threw a perfect pass across his body to Pharaoh Brown in between two defenders. Looking as nimble as ever, Mariota showcased his feet and arm yet again to give Oregon its first scoring opportunity of the game.
As for the running game, the Ducks never really got a chance to really wear down the Utes due to a combination of bad early down performances, situational play calling. Often Oregon would go to the pass in situations that had historically warranted a run play. The Ducks were frequently hampered by penalties as well, forcing Oregon to the air on second and third downs.
Utah also used several very effective pass blitzes to disrupt the flow of Oregon’s early down play calling. On this play, Utah ended up rushing seven defenders and contained Mariota’s rolling pocket from both sides.
As soon as Mariota saw the pressure coming from his left, he turned back to his right and immediately got wrapped up.
Despite several unsuccessful running plays that either ended in no gain or a loss of yardage, the Ducks did find ways to crack the Utah run defense through the use of sweep plays and outside zone plays, like in this play below:
Here, Utah's defense did its best to beat Byron Marshall to the exterior. Marshall and the offensive line reacted perfectly and cleared the way for a cutback underneath the overextended defense.
Some other reasons why the numbers weren’t quite up to par (163 net rushing yards not counting sacks) were because Utah’s offense controlled the ball for nearly 36 minutes, the Duck passing game was having so much success, and Oregon wasn’t able to sustain drives very well, going 2-10 on third down for the day.
Regardless of how Oregon maintained drives against the Utes, the Duck running game really didn’t sputter against Utah. A combination of good early down play from the Utes and another good day from Marcus Mariota hindered the in game development of the running game, but with or without going to the ground, the Duck offense got the job done against Utah.
Looking forward, Oregon will need to improve in a few key areas, including early down play and on third downs, if they not only want to win the Pac-12, but win their BCS matchup as well. Taking on Arizona and Oregon State to end the regular season will surely be a relief as the Ducks try to right the ship to close out the year.