Mariota: Calm, cool and good

Get used to hearing that name. And pronouncing it correctly.

Get used to that arm. That vision. That stride.

Who’s the best Duck quarterback?

That’s not decided yet. And probably won’t be until roughly the end of August.

But we got an inkling Saturday during Oregon’s spring football game that the guy who no one had really seen before — Marcus Mariota — is pretty darn good.

Marcus Mariota

That’s Marr-ee-oh-tah.

This is not to say Bryan Bennett will not be the starting quarterback when Oregon lines up against Arkansas State on Sept. 1. That could still happen, and the odds are still in his favor. It’s not easy to dismiss, blow off what Bennett accomplished last season when he performed so well in relief of Darron Thomas.

But on Saturday, at least, Mariota was clearly the better quarterback at Autzen Stadium. And you’d have to be brain-dead not to picture what the Hawaii native could eventually grow into.

For many of the 44,129 in attendance it was a revelation — if for no other reason that it was the first time most Oregon fans have seen Mariota perform in the flesh. There have been whispers coming from the Duck camp since last fall, though, that this soft-spoken slinger was special.

Bennett didn’t get much help. His offensive line was leaky. Star running back Kenjon Barner only had a few carries. His receivers dropped passes. The game’s quarterback-is-down-when-touched rule limited his yardage on scrambles, clearly frustrating him on plays where he clearly could have picked up more yardage had it been a real game.

Still, the sophomore was shaky. He appeared to be pressing. He was 19 of 32 for 209 yards, but got picked twice. He under-threw the ball. He over-threw it. He developed happy feet and took off running too quickly, too often. Watching his body language at the end of the first half, you had to feel for the kid.

Bryan Bennett

“It’s one day, and if you think that going to define me, you’re wrong,” Bennett told reporters afterwards. “I will be in the film room .. and will learn from it.”

Mariota, on the other hand, came across as cool, calm and good — really good.

He completed 18 of 26 passes for 202 yards, and ran for another 99 yards.

Not what you’d expect of a redshirt freshman.

He hung back in the pocket, looking for his second and third receiving options. He zipped the ball in and took something off it. He displayed break-away speed, even outracing defensive backs on an 82-yard touchdown run.

He led his squad to a 41-14 rout.

Remember this is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound quarterback.

“My expectation was just to go out there and play my best and I feel I did,” Mariota said.

Yes, I know, this was just a spring game with funky rules and a running clock in the second half and two teams watered down. But I suspect the words, “Dennis Dixon,” were uttered hundreds of times Saturday.

We are still 125 days away from the season opener. Don’t be surprised if Bennett is the starter that day. He reportedly performed well in practices this spring. He has real-game experience. And a rocket arm.

Don’t be surprised, either, if Mariota eventually claims that role of starter and never lets go.

We’ve finally caught a glimpse Saturday of what is possible.

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