What We Learned: The Marcus Formula

The Concept of Tempered Steel

If you aren’t a huge science guy (I for one am not), you might mistake the process of tempering steel for hardening a metal. While increasing steel’s strength, tempering is actually all about softening a metal through the use of heat to make it more flexible. In season three of Oregon’s best quarterback in school history, we have observed more flexibility in Mariota’s game. Under various forms of heat from opposing defenses, Marcus has consistently shown the unique ability to adapt and succeed. This weekend he utilized his speed to gash Washington State when his paltry line protection was crumbling around him like an ancient Italian ruin.

When you examine quarterbacks during the Chip Kelly era, the singular common element- from Darron Thomas to Nick Foles to Marcus Mariota- is a commitment to take the sack rather than throw, under pressure, into coverage. Mariota’s willingness to take those first half sacks on the Palouse is a testament to his trust in his coaches and teammates to eventually make the adjustments necessary to protect him. Heat on Marcus through four games has made him a stronger performer when it matters.

Chemistry at Wideout

Breaking Devon: Allen creates separation from an MSU defensive back.

Kevin Cline

Breaking Devon: Allen creates separation from an MSU defensive back.

This time last year Mariota had thrown for 1003 yards and 9 TDs. This year, against arguably tougher competition, Marcus has acquired 1135 yards and 13 TDs. To strengthen my previous point, by this time in each of the past two seasons Marcus hadn’t tossed an interception. If you’ve watched any football this season, you’ll know there has been an enormous spike in big passing plays where receivers are getting better separation downfield (see: an 80 yard Devon Allen reception this weekend).

The speed and crisp route-running with this young core of receivers has earned the praise of Scott Frost, who referred to the group as “the deepest group of receivers [I have] had at Oregon”. Frost has mixed and matched the receiving core like a mad scientist, with six different receivers claiming at least 100 yards total this season. Marcus has gelled with this young group in a hurry, and his numbers are the evidence.

Adding to the tangible elements, these wideouts seem genuinely joyous when their teammates succeed. Look no further than B.J. Kelley’s twitter feed, evidence of an upperclassmen committed to contributing through his scout team work while unselfishly talking up his teammates who are getting the playing time. Unfair media expectations could have submarined Kelley’s Oregon career, but instead you see a player choosing a humble path as a wide receiver. A humble wideout, what a concept.

Consistent Character

COPS: Boise edition, episode Blount Force Trama. “We smoked it all” at 118 mph by cornerback turned troubled, loquacious poet Cliff Harris. Willie Lyles. Lache Seastrunk. Selective memories of Oregon fans collectively sputter and spit like rusted-out Datsuns when Oregon’s Hall of Shame is brought up during this current bright era of Oregon football. Could any of us imagine a devout, attention ducking Marcus shouting obscenities in a dining hall or flashing a signature hand gesture after a touchdown?

Mariota is running away in the Heisman race.

Kevin Cline

Mariota is running away with the Heisman race.

In a four year sample size, Marcus has proven to be the most known and trusted commodity in Oregon athletics. A true ambassador as a “Man of Oregon”, this leader should not be taken for granted as we move into the meat of the Ducks’ schedule. Chin up after an ugly win, Duck followers. The right man with the right formula is about to show us what he’s truly made of.

Top Photo Credit: Kevin Cline

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