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Marcus Mariota’s march to the Heisman: Remembering his time at Oregon 2014 Part 1

Celebrating Heisman week, we look at some of the best plays through Marcus Mariota's career. This is the first half of the 2014 season.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

This season was just amazing for Marcus Mariota. I know the last two have had tons of highlights, but this year is jaw droppingly incredible at times. The prior articles were setup to show some of the ways that Mariota does the little things that work. This year is where all of that pays off.

Thanks again to Madmike for his help with the videos! This wouldn't be possible without him.

South Dakota - the start of a historical season

Last time we pointed out how Mariota was having troubles throwing accurately deep. That doesn't appear to be a problem here. 45 yard bomb in stride with a bit of a slowdown, feet set and ready to go. Looks like that injury healed up just fine.

Another great shot in stride. This shows off Mariota's typically good eye discipline, freezing the safety that would cover Byron Marshall coming out of the backfield by looking to his left and center just a bit before he throws. When he throws Marshall is already past the safety, and since it's a great throw in stride there's no possibility that any play can be made.

A common theme of this article will be 'how on earth did Mariota escape that'? Especially in this one, since the offensive line injuries were so prevalent in the first half of the season. What's great here is the economy of motion for Mariota here. He isn't running, he's taking small hops forward and to the left while maintaining his ability to plant if needed. He moves to the side to avoid the first rush and then moves up in the pocket to avoid the backside rush that he knows is coming, all the while keeping his eyes downfield and waiting for his receiver to come open.

Michigan State - Hello, Heisman

There are so many plays from this game that I can do for Mariota and the rest of the Ducks, but the best way to say it is this: Mariota had one of his best games on one of the biggest stages of his career, and he did things that should not be physically possible. Here he takes the mesh read (something that again shows the lack of injury issue) and immediately runs into the problem of MSU's interesting defensive scheme, as one is assigned to him and another has shed Jake Fisher's block and is going for Mariota. This should be a 3 yard loss. Instead, Mariota dodges both tacklers and almost avoids a third on the way to a critical first down.

Pharaoh Brown is absolutely wide open here, so it's not like it's a hard throw. Mariota avoiding the sack thanks to Jake Fisher messing up, however, is pretty special here. Stepping up in the pocket and throwing so that Brown doesn't have to stop is great. It's not one of Mariota's prettiest plays, but it's one of his most effective ones.

Of course this gets a highlight. While it looks like Devon Allen is wide open that's due to the play and the recognition of what  is going to happen. The Spartans bring a 7-man blitz with the expectation that Allen will be the hot route (correct) and that he'll do a shallow pattern of some kind (oops). Alternately, the corner is responsible for the RB coming across the pattern, expecting the safety will help. Mariota and Allen both recognize that as long as Allen gets past the corner on his side he's going to be open. The corner thinks he'll have safety help but the safety is on the wrong side of the field (again, something Mariota recognizes) and this makes it an easy decision. Mariota barely does a read here (his choice are to the RB or Allen, and he's reading the corner to see what he needs to do) and lets it go a bit less than 2 seconds into the play, which on a 7-man blitz is exactly what you need to do.

Making the hard look easy.

Another wide open Devon Allen because of the play design. Here the two receivers on the bottom run a rub route and Mariota is downright salivating to get it to Allen. He doesn't even need the pump fake at this point.

A 6 man blitz isn't handled as nicely as Mariota would like; he starts with looking at the WR in the flat, sees that he has no time and then just uses raw speed to get the corner and get a first down. It's the right decision and it pays off in spades.

I'll let Greg Bedard of Sports Illustrated describe this one.

The play against Michigan State that really teased Mariota’s potential was the 37-yard touchdown strike to Keanon Lowe that gave the Ducks the lead for good at 32–27, near the end of the third quarter. Lowe ran a looping vertical route to the outside from his slot position, and the Spartans had enough defenders to thwart the play. But Mariota looked quickly at the receiver in the middle of the field, which cleared out the safety, then threw a dart to Lowe before he was truly open. That’s graduate-level passing and indicates he is capable of running a full-field-progression NFL offense.

Good times.

Hello, Heisman.

Wyoming - flyin hawai'ian




This one is interesting because Mariota doesn't do his classic jump pass thing to generate power on his throw. He does have his legs going everywhere though, but the jump is much less pronounced. What's also interesting is that there were seven people in on protection against 4 defenders and the line still loses. Yikes.

Players have to respect Mariota's speed and elusiveness so much that he often makes them look very stupid. In this case, it's once again 'cross the 25 yard line and die'. There's something magical about the 25 yard line. Pharaoh Brown does an awesome job of cutting off his route too and coming back for a short gain. It's nothing huge, but Mariota makes a 2nd and 10 into a 2nd and 5 like this.

Washington State 2014 - who needs a line, anyway?

Wow. When people talk about NFL throws, that's the sort of NFL throw you're talking. An absolute laser on the post to Devon Allen that hits him in perfect stride. Keanon Lowe's kind of adorable as the backup singer here, too.

Another wide open receiver. This looks a lot like the Michigan State throw to Lowe and there's a reason - it's basically the same play. Lowe starts on the outside and does a cross in, but otherwise it's the same route, same recognition by Mariota of no safety help (safety was far on the other side of the field) and same understanding that he had to get it out about as fast as he could - because otherwise it's yet another sack on the night.

I wanted to do one of these (there were several) to show exactly how bad the offensive line played this night. The only solution they had was to basically fall on each other and take out a couple with them, and make it hard for the WSU rushers to step over their prone bodies. There are 5 WSU rushers that are running free after 1 second. This was one of the few rollouts we did to mitigate the poor rush and man, was it effective. It's also a great  route concept; Marshall starts in, Allen pulls his DB with him on a deeper post which also blocks off (but does not contact) the DB on Marshall. Marshall's aggressive start gets the DB on him backpedalling fast, so when the cut is made he's well out of position.

Arizona 2014 part 1 - *and one receiving TD

We were so desperate for, well, anything this night that we broke out trickeration. And it almost backfired. Still, watch Mariota club baby defensive backs here.

I know what you're thinking, but no - it's not a fade route. It's also one of the few times Mariota had some time in the backfield to survey things (only a 3 man rush with a delayed blitz). Allen actually tries to work inside, gets held (that's what the flag is) and then goes back outside where Mariota throws him open. It's a great adjustment for Allen for the ball in the air, but it's also a great improvisation by both players to figure out where to throw the ball.

Wow, what a throw. On 4th and 11, steps up, avoids the pressure on the right side, and shoots an absolute rocket down the field for a gain of 30.

UCLA 2014 - Mariota's a basketball star too

Man, look at that stretch out to the pylon. That speed around the corner. I don't know at all why they're running a triple option to the narrow side of the field and I'm not sure that Royce Freeman does either - since he doesn't do anything.


Another deceptively simple looking play. The free safety is high and outside the screen; Mariota holds him by looking at the WR screen at the bottom of the gif. He then turns and throws to a streaking Brown, who was always the target of the play. Brown makes Myles Jack look foolish as hell as they fake the screen to that side and Brown swings him behind in a great Aikido move.

Marcus here makes the read after seeing the blitzing linebacker, and then it's just off to the races. Everyone's sucked up into the run play thanks to the good (almost too good) mesh, and then he's gone.