A Heisman Trophy winner is asked to shine on the biggest stage. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota won’t have a bigger stage this season than playing against the seventh-ranked Michigan State Spartans and their suffocating defense.
There were stretches when Mariota struggled against the stifling defense. yet the quarterback still finished 17-of-28 passing for 318 yards during the Ducks’ 46-27 victory at Autzen Stadium. More importantly, Mariota didn’t commit a turnover. He also added 42 yards on the ground.
It’s a stellar performance which needs to be put into context.
Michigan State is one of two teams, along with the Florida State Seminoles, to “to rank in the top five in defensive yards per play in each of the last three seasons.” The Spartans were No. 1 in the category last season. Even against arguably the best defense in college football, Mariota led Oregon’s offense to 491 yards.
And Mariota became Oregon’s all-time leading passer in yardage and touchdowns during the contest.
Marcus Mariota is the clear Heisman front runner. This is was a signature win against an elite defense.
— Chris Huston (@HeismanPundit) September 7, 2014
It wasn’t entirely smooth sailing for Mariota and his Ducks. It’s easy to say he missed a couple throws and was sacked multiple times. But the most important aspect of Mariota’s Heisman candidacy is Oregon faced adversity from a very good team and still won the contest by a substantial margin.
Mariota’s performance wasn’t the only strong quarterback showing of the night. Michigan State’s Connor Cook started to look like a Heisman candidate. Michigan State’s offense was moving the ball with ease through two quarters. Oregon’s defense isn’t as stout as Michigan State’s, but it’s an athletic unit with NFL talent at all three levels. Cook threw for 343 yards and two touchdowns. The biggest difference between Cook and Mariota was the Spartans’ quarterback also threw a pair of interceptions.
Mariota must now ride the wave of momentum as the Heisman front-runner into Pac-12 Conference play. The next game to circle on the schedule is Oct. 11 against the 11th-ranked UCLA Bruins. It will be Mariota’s next opportunity to cement his status in the mind of Heisman voters.