It was fun to watch Jeremiah Masoli get there, and when Darron Thomas got there — it helped to take us to the National Championship game. I am referring to the Advanced Stage of Zone Reading that few quarterbacks rise to, as it has become evident to me in the last two games that Marcus Mariota has crossed that threshold, and entered into a new strata. He is now making Zone Reading decisions at the highest levels of which can only propel Oregon closer to another NC game. Let’s examine what he doing differently to compel fellow students of the Oregon offense to be as convinced as I am!
Against Colorado (above) we see a Sweep Read play going to the top of the screen where Tyner gets some big yardage. At the moment of the mesh, we observe how Marcus is looking right at the defender to be Zone Read and since he is staying or “sitting” in the lane that Mariota would run through, hence the proper Zone Read action is to hand off the ball — which he does.
Remember the big deal that the sportscasters made of the “great ball fake” by Oregon’s QB on this scoring play? As you see above — it is an Inside Zone Read play with Tyner (yellow arrow) headed into the line, but during the mesh Marcus can see that there is NO defender to be Zone Read! In fact, they are both being blocked in the red circle. My friends, that was clearly a read, and a pretty easy one with as hard as the defensive end was crashing down into the LOS. Of course, I say it is easy with the benefit of still screenshots to freeze the action; I can’t imagine doing it in half-a-second as the Ducks’ star QB does. Mariota scores easily (green-dotted arrow).
We have another classic Inside Zone Read near the goal line (above), and at the mesh it certainly appears that the unblocked or defender to be Zone Read is sitting in the hole that Mariota would run through, thus the proper read is to hand off. Yet Marcus does NOT hand off, and pulls the ball out to score an easy touchdown. Why?
In the microseconds of the play right after the mesh, we see the red arrow (above) of the defender moving toward the RB of Oregon. Marcus must have detected him sliding inside toward Marshall, thus by pulling the ball, the QB had a clear lane to run. This is ultra-detection by Mariota taking place in split seconds, and is not the usual Zone Reads taking place!
I had my first indications of him making Zone Reads far above the usual “sit or chase the running back” options during the Cal game. In the screenshot above, we see Mariota looking (light blue-dotted line) at the middle linebacker during the mesh! He could see that the defensive tackle (yellow arrow) was chasing the running back, but the MLB (blue arrow) was sitting, so the read is to hand off – right?
Mariota stunned me by pulling the ball when the read was clearly “hand off.” Effectively Marcus decided that he could “beat” the MLB on this play and sure enough the Oregon QB got ten yards on the play! Something is up!
OK . . . this next play (above) is just nuts. This is an Inside Zone Read play near the goal line, and Marcus pulled the ball when the defender was clearly sitting and NOT sliding inside toward the RB. This defender was perfectly positioned to stop the Duck QB with his placement — so why did Mariota pull the ball? Was this simply a mistake in Zone Reading, which happens from time to time?
This was not a mistake (above) as Marcus motioned to his right to get a reaction that direction by the defender, and then Mariota dove to his left and into the end zone for the touchdown! It was the WRONG READ! The Oregon QB just felt he could beat him with his athleticism in a small space, and he did! Holy Crap!
Confirmation came in the Colorado game (above), when the defensive end was clearly sitting and on the balls of his feet in good position to stop the star QB if he dared to pull the ball. Marcus had sized up this DE during the game and felt that although the “read” was to hand off — Mariota could beat this guy to the corner. He subsequently pulled the ball and galloped for a 15-yard gain inside the Red Zone!
My friends — it is clear to me that Marcus has progressed into an advanced level of Zone Reading from the examples of the last two games. He no longer just checks the man to be Zone Read and looks for “sitting” or not. He is looking for placement of the defender, the direction of the defender and whether or not this is someone he can outrun to the perimeter. This next step is exciting to us fans, as we all know the extraordinary speed Marcus has, and now he is arriving at the realization of how far his talents can take him on the football field. Time to beat a Husky to the corner for a big gain!
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