Heflrich: Team is still Learning
EUGENE - Someone should test Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, immediately.
Blood. Urine. Hair follicles.
Get this guy's DNA to Quantico, Va., ASAP.
If a performance-enhancing drug has been invented that boosts field vision, accuracy, decision-making and composure to super-human levels, Mariota must be a user.
If such a drug hasn’t been invented then all other quarterbacks should pay handsomely for whatever is flowing through Mariota’s veins because it is something special.
Forget his yards gained (1,724 passing, 426 rushing) and set aside the total touchdowns (17 passing, eight rushing). What’s mind-blowing about Mariota’s Heisman-esque performance thus far is the big fat zero in his stats line.
As in, zero turnovers. It’s simply unnatural.
Through 165 pass attempts and 41 rushing attempts, the third-year sophomore has yet to commit a single turnover.
Let’s place this into historical perspective.
The record for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception is 444, set by Louisiana Tech’s Colby Cameron from 2011 to 2012.
Mariota is at 233 attempts dating back to last season. He is far off Cameron’s record but the latter did throw eight interceptions over those two seasons as a junior and senior. Mariota has thrown six as a freshman and as a sophomore who has yet to reach his 20th birthday (Oct. 30).
In 1991, Virginia quarterback Matt Blundin became, and remains, the only NCAA quarterback with at least 150 pass attempts to go an entire season without throwing an interception. He had 224 attempts that year while passing for 1,902 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Mariota has 1,724 yards passing and 17 touchdown passes through six games.
Granted, Mariota hasn’t exactly been facing the greatest of defenses on a weekly basis but turnovers are a part of the game that cannot be avoided.
“You have to make great decisions not to turn the ball over,” UO offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. “You have to be accurate with your throws and careful with the ball. You can be careful and not turn the ball over and not be productive, either. The combination of productivity and his ability to take care of the ball has been impressive.”
To say the least.
Mariota said his decision-making skills are developed in practice.
“Coaches just always focus on us finishing every single play with the ball,” he said. “It becomes really almost second nature.”
Uh, huh. But last time I checked, all quarterbacks practice.
Washington State’s Connor Halliday practices and he has thrown 13 interceptions this season. Even Oregon State’s Sean Mannion, also having freakish season with 2,511 yard and 25 touchdown passes, has thrown – get this – three interceptions!
That’s pathetic. Well, at least by Mariota’s standard.
Oregon coach Mark Helfrich shares the credit for Mariota’s ball security with the team’s wide receivers and its offensive line.
“It’s a team effort,” he said.
According to Helfrich, at least half of the six picks Mariota threw last year were not the fault of the quarterback. Better routes by receivers and better protection have helped prevent bad situations for Mariota to fall into and have enhanced his play.
“Just that combination of confident decision making, his release and his accuracy are unique and special,” Helfrich said.
Those abilities impress Mariota’s teammates.
“It shows in games obviously when there are times when he could force it but he might just throw it away or tuck it and go for 40 yards” junior wide receiver Keanon Lowe said.
Yeah, but what about practice? Surely Mariota throws interceptions in practice. Making mistakes and improving is what practice is all about.
“Not that I can remember off the top of my head,” Lowe said.
So essentially if Mariota threw an interception in practice, practice would just stop and everyone would look around as if to say, “what just happened?”
“I think he’s just a special player, he’s a special guy,” Lowe said. “I think his preparation is second to none.”
Yeah, we get it.
Mariota’s perfect in every way, blah, blah, blah.
I’m not buying it. The man is on something or on to something.
Something that not only enhances his perceptive powers but also makes him immune to the combination of egomania and competitive desire that leads many quarterbacks to take chances they have no business taking.
“When you get a play called the tendency is to make a play work,” Frost, a former college quarterback said. “Sometimes there’s a deep ball downfield and when you get the play call you’re anxious to take it. Marcus is great at taking something underneath or taking the easy throw or running if he has to and not forcing anything.
Sounds like the exact opposite of Brett Favre and Tony Romo.
No matter what is going on with Mariota – and of course any suggestion of a him taking a super drug to enhance cognitive powers on the football field is pure jest – one thing is clear: he is bound to turn over the ball at some point.
If he does, a moment of silence should be held.
“I’m not really dreading it,” Mariota said. “Sometime it will happen, obviously. Just taking care of the ball is very critical in this offense because you kind of build a rhythm. If we can continue that we’ll be successful."
Successful enough for Mariota to hoist the Heisman and for the team to take home a national championship.