It has become something of a typical Saturday for Marcus Mariota to throw for three touchdowns, 300 plus pass yards, and perhaps a touchdown scamper or two. Oregon is 9-1 with the redshirt junior virtuoso and Heisman favorite Mariota calling the snaps, and has become the envy of the NCAA. It’s no wonder other teams are searching for a “Super Mariota” of their own. The Colorado Buffaloes think they have an answer in sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau, but, the lowly Buffs are 2-8. So, what really separates these two quarterbacks? Upon closer examination, they are closer than one might think.
Super Mariota is having another spectacular season, passing the ball with sniper accuracy. This year, Mariota has registered 29 passing touchdowns and only two interceptions. Last season, the Pac-12 all-star threw for 31 touchdowns and four interceptions and his consistency in this department has been absolutely paramount to Oregon’s success. On the other side, Liufau is firing away, completing 26 touchdowns, and nipping at the heels of the Oregon veteran in passing touchdowns this season. But Liufau leads the Pac-12 in another statistic: most interceptions. The trigger-happy quarterback has thrown 14 interceptions this year. While Liufau remains the starting quarterback, Colorado head coach John MacIntyre has stressed that the young starter “needs to play better.”
Despite the record, Liufau has led the Colorado offense to some tight conference matchups this year, losing two double-overtime heartbreakers, to California and UCLA. It’s true: the Buffs are no longer the perennial Pac-12 pushovers of years past. They have found the endzone and the ability to score has come from Liufau’s passing ability. The sophomore “Throwin’ Samoan” has thrown for 2,842 yards this year, becoming one of eight Colorado quarterbacks in school history to reach 4,000 yards passing. Meanwhile, Oregon’s “Flyin’ Hawaiian” has thrown for 2,780 yards this season, slightly fewer than Liufau. The difference here is Mariota is averaging 10 yards per attempt while Liufau averages 6.7 yards per attempt.
An important part of what makes Oregon’s Heisman favorite so special is his ability to run, completing the dual-threat recipe. Regardless if the run is by design or he is narrowly escaping a collapsed pocket, when the “Maserati” engages the afterburners, he’s nearly impossible to chase down. The Ducks’ quarterback is the team’s second leading rusher, averaging 5.9 yards per carry, with 715 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns. Mariota’s legs add yet another wrinkle to an already complex offensive scheme. Colorado’s young QB has the ability to rush, but hasn’t been successful this year, rushing for only 130 yards and averaging 2.1 yards per carry. This has left the Buffaloes with only one proven, yet predictable, method of moving the football from one end of the field to the other: passing.
While there might not be many “Liufau For Heisman” signs on College Gameday, the young man has a lot of potential, helping Colorado play better football than it has in years. However, look for Mariota to dazzle Duck fans one more time in what will likely be his final performance at Autzen Stadium.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline