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October 11, 2013

Containing Mariota is easier said than done




There seems to be a consensus emerging that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is now the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy, the most distinguished individual honor in all of sports.

Whether he wins that award or not Mariota has been phenomenal for the Ducks throughout his short time in Eugene so far. This is the redshirt sophomore's third year in the program and he's the perfect fit for what their system requires.

Against Virginia this year some wondered how the Ducks would respond to a cross-country road test against a defense that had appeared stingy against Brigham Young. On the first drive of the game Mariota, backed up in his own territory, took a snap and then took off. He didn't stop running until he reached the end zone on the other side of the field. He could still be running if the referees hadn't blown their whistles.

And just like that all the life in the stadium had been sucked out of it.

Those are the kinds of big plays Washington has to avoid this on Saturday. Easier said than done. Last week had totaled seven touchdowns against Colorado setting a new school record for single-game scoring.

Of course, he's not just a runner, though he is indeed a threat to beat you every time he tucks it. He's also a threat to throw for 400 yards. Last year as a freshman he was a first team all-league selection with a passer rating of 163. And this year that rating has climbed to 176.

He hasn't thrown a pick all season, and he's found the end zone through the air 14 times.

So how do you beat the Ducks behind Mariota? What do you do to take him out of his game?

Tough to say. Only Stanford has defeated Mariota. In fact, only Stanford has managed to keep the Duck offense under 35 points since Mariota took over. And in his eighteen games as a starter Oregon has broken the forty point barrier sixteen times. They have scored fifty or more eleven times.

In that Stanford game Mariota was 21 of 37 for 207 yards with a touchdown and a pick. Washington is one of the few teams with the defensive personnel and coaching staff to approach what the Cardinal did in that game. Mariota was sacked three times and the Ducks were forced into eight punts.

Finding ways to pressure Mariota without sending too many into the backfield, leaving yourself vulnerable, will be key. But you have to go into the game expecting to give up some points.

The key is to limit the really big game-changing and back-breaking plays that suck the life out of the stadium. And then when you get punched, hit back.

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