Mariota Admits Chip on Shoulder for Stanford
EUGENE – Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota delivered one of his best, stately performances Saturday and it didn’t come during a game.
With the coolness that a seasoned politician would envy, the Heisman Trophy candidate effectively deflected several questions following practice insinuating that the No. 2 Ducks’ game at No. 6 Stanford on Thursday night is more than simply just another contest.
Then he was asked if he had a chip on his shoulder given that the Cardinal ended UO’s national title hopes last season.
“I guess so, yeah,” Mariota said, his demeanor unaltered. “It’s hard to say that there’s not a chip on my shoulder.”
There should be.
The faceless-opponent mantra works for these Ducks. Yet even that code can be stretched and pulled. If there ever were a team that could break the faceless-opponent mantra for Mariota and the Ducks, it would have to be Stanford (7-1, 5-1 Pac-12).
Mariota added that he couldn’t allow that chip to get in the way of the team’s goal.
“It can’t be more than just a faceless opponent,” he said. “Because that takes away from what we’ve developed and what we’ve built here.”
Maybe so. But What Oregon has built is a perennial national-title contending program four years running. For that matter, the entire team should have a collective chip on its shoulder against the Cardinal.
Stanford ended Oregon’s bid for a national title last season with a head scratching, 17-14 overtime win at Oregon. The Ducks were 10-0, ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll and seated in second place in the BCS.
Oregon (8-0, 5-0) is now No. 2 in the AP and once again in second place in the BCS. It’s November and Stanford is up next.
Stanford is, for all intents and purposes, Mariota’s nemesis, faceless or not.
Oregon’s offense and special teams lost that game. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said the defense played well enough to win. What happened that night to the offense remains a mystery.
Mariota is 20-1 as a starter. In his 20 victories Oregon has averaged 53.8 pionts per game. Keep in mind that many of those games were essentially over by halftime. Mariota has rarely played meaningful minutes in a fourth quarter.
That only compounds the fact that Oregon managed to score just 14 points against Stanford with the starters on the field for all four quarters.
So the reduction in scoring can’t merely be limited to UO going from 53.8 to 14. The 53.8, averaged, coming in about three quarters of real action per game, must be extrapolated to make up for garbage time. So essentially it could be argued that Oregon has averaged more like 70 points per four quarters with the first-team offense on the field.
Yet Stanford held the Ducks to 14.
The Cardinal defense has been dominant in recent years, to be sure. But that doesn’t explain containing one of the best offenses in the country.
Stanford owned the line of scrimmage and made Mariota uncomfortable. He completed 21 of 37 passes for just 207 yards (5.6 per attempt) and one touchdown with one interception. It’s the last interception he threw.
Prior to that night, Oregon had averaged 47 points per game against Stanford since adopting the spread-option attack in 2005 and had scored 105 points over the previous two meetings.
Center Hroniss Grasu said the Ducks’s offense, especially the line, was outworked by the Cardinal.
UO coach Mark Helfrich agreed.
“More than anything, we didn’t play very well, didn’t play our best,” he said. “We didn’t play hard, which was very uncharacteristic of our team last year, offensively…so I think all of those guys, their might be a little something on their shoulder, I don’t know.”
Mariota said the Ducks played unsure of themselves.
“A lot of times we were hesitating a little bit,” Mariota said. “We weren’t sure of some of the fronts we were seeing. That stuff we’re really going to have to clean up.”
Mariota said the pain from the loss didn’t linger for more than a couple of days. He credits senior linebackers Michael Clay and Dion Jordan for lifting him out of his funk so he could focus on the Civil War the following week.
Tasting failure, Mariota said, has its benefits.
“When you experience it, it helps you not fear it,” he said. “There are a lot of times when you go out there and you fear failure. That’s not the way you should play football. I think getting that out of my system, being able to kind of go through that has helped me this year.”
Mariota said that despite the chip, he wouldn’t try to press or do too much on Thursday. But his focus during Saturday’s practice was acute. Helfrich said his quarterback had a great workout and he doesn’t mind if players seek that extra edge in the form of a grudge.
“Any external motivation,” he said, “if we use it to prepare, great.”
Plenty of motivation exists for Mariota and the Ducks.