Marcus Mariota’s First Start Compared to Kelly’s Quarterbacks Prior
Marcus Mariota had perhaps one of the best debuts for a quarterback since Chip Kelly has been at Oregon. After 7 drives and about 22 minutes of action Mariota’s stat line read 18/22, 200 yards, and 3 touchdowns through the air. On the ground he rushed 4 times for 24 yards.
What impressed me most is how composed Mariota was at all times. He stayed in the pocket until the last possible second. It seemed he was always a couple steps ahead of the defense. The triple option play that resulted in a De’Anthony Thomas touchdown that was called back due to holding comes to mind. Mariota pulled the ball after the defensive end chased Kenjon Barner and without thinking for a second Mariota quickly pitched the ball to Thomas before getting hit by a linebacker performing a scrape exchange.
Dennis Dixon in his first game as quarterback to start off a season under Chip Kelly was his senior year. He threw 14/20 for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also rushed for 58 yards on 8 carries for one touchdown. An impressive performance for sure, but Mariota’s poise and lack of forced throws seem to eclipse Dixon’s performance.
In Jeremiah Masoli’s debut against Washington he threw 9/17 for 126 yards while rushing 4 times for 23 yards. While Masoli only got better as he went on, his limitations as a passer were evident. However, what Masoli lacked in passing ability was made up for in his running abilities. Masoli became famous for running over defenders once coaches realized how great of a runner he was. The fact that Mariota hasn’t been called on to run at all in the first game against cupcake competition says a lot about how far the offense has come.
Darron Thomas a quarterback who took Oregon to the national championship game and a Rose Bowl win, a quarterback who’s legacy will probably be better recognized ten years from now than right now, had an impressive first day. Thomas went 13/23 for 220 yards, 2 touchdowns, and only 1 interception. Thomas threw a pick on his first drive and came back strong the rest of the game. Thomas seemed off balance at times while throwing and sometimes took too long to get off his pass. While balance was a problem that persisted throughout his career Thomas got a lot better at finding receivers earlier.
Marcus Mariota had a better start than all of the previous quarterbacks under Chip Kelly, with all the quarterbacks facing a similar level of competition. Remember, Arkansas State won their FBS conference last year and had a 10-win season, so they weren’t a pushover. Mariota just made it look so easy. The Fresno State game is an opportunity for fans to see whether Mariota was just on fire against an overmatched opponent, or if the previous week’s level of performance is a baseline.
Dixon was an incredibly good quarterback who probably would have won the Heisman if not for getting injured. His legacy has lived on as the best quarterback to run the offense in fans’ minds and every quarterback since his departure to start has been criticized in some way for not being like Dixon. Mariota has had a more impressive first game than Dixon so far, and ultimately the big games will determine Mariota’s legacy. I have a strong feeling though that after Mariota leaves Oregon every other quarterback will be compared to him.