It’s interesting that the Ducks two stars, Kenjon Barner and Marcus Mariota, both defy nicknaming.
I’ll never forget the Cal game last year. Barner breaks off a 68-yard touchdown run and Rece Davis, doing the call on ESPN, exclaimed, “He doesn’t need a nickname, he’s just GONE. Gone, Kenjon Barner.”
For Mariota, “The Flyin’ Hawaiian” seems stagey and faintly racist, like it was cooked up by a Hollywood press agent or a wrestling promoter. “Super Mario” doesn’t fit either–you can’t picture the smooth, composed Mariota in a bushy mustache and blue overalls with an 8 on the front, although it would make a good Heisman promotion poster. “8MM” seems too violent, more like the handle of a gansta rapper rather than a polite, mature kid from a good family who also happens to be a superb athlete.
Down in Texas they have Johnny Football, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. Duck fans may remember that Manziel was originally an Oregon verbal commit, one who backed out when the Ducks landed Mariota. The Aggie superstar has captured the imagination of fans and pundits with his swashbuckling style, running around with the football at his side like a gunslinger or the good Brett Farve (before all his ridiculous James Brown comebacks and weird cell phone pictures), improvising, scrambling and confounding SEC defenses. He vaulted into the Heisman Trophy conversation with an upset win over Alabama.
Although Manziel makes the highlight reel every weekend with his spectacular ad libs, Marcus Mariota is a better quarterback.
Even with 85 more throws, Manziel trails in TD passes by 10. His TD-to-interception ratio is 3-to-1 while Mariota’s is over 5-to-1. Mariota averages over 8.6 yards per attempt and Manziel is below 6.
Super Mario is more efficient and gets sacked less often than the 6-1, 200-pound Manziel, who has been tossed down 21 times during A&M’s 8-2 season. The Aggies have two conference losses, and in those two games, Johnny Football threw three interceptions and no touchdowns. Mariota struck for four tds on the road against USC two weeks ago, and followed that up with six td strikes against the Cal Bears last week. Without an interception. In fact, in Mariota’s last four games he has 13 tds and no picks, with three quarterback game ratings of over 200.
Through 10 games Mariota is on pace for the most impressive statistical season by a freshman quarterback ever. He processes information quickly, has tremendous composure, and learns from his mistakes.
His numbers as a first year starter demolish those of any previous Duck great, and some of the legendary names in football. Regardless of styles, schemes and rule changes, it’s mind blowing to consider where Mariota’s start rates in the annals of college football. Here are a few examples:
Johnny Unitas (6-1, 194) University of Louisville, 1951: 46 of 99 passes for 602 yards and nine touchdowns. Unitas threw 27 tds in his entire college career. He weighed 145 lbs. as a freshman.
Dennis Dixon, junior season, 2006:
Dixon was spectacular in his final season as a Duck, but his freshman season he threw just 15 passes, and as a sophomore he threw for 777 yards when thrust into the starter’s role when Kellen Clemons suffered a broken ankle. Mariota’s learning curve is dramatically accelerated when measured against DD’s.
Darron Thomas completed 61.5% of his passes as a first-year starter, 30 tds and 9 interceptions. Mariota runs better, throws better and is far more consistent.
Jeremiah Masoli’s career quarterback rating at Oregon was 130. As a redshirt freshman Mariota has had just one GAME with a rating lower than that, and he’s at an outstanding 177 for the season.
It’s not even close. Barring injury, he’ll be the most productive quarterback in Oregon history. As a first-year starter, it’s off the charts spectacular, historically amazing. Certainly credit has to be shared with a marvelous offense, a terrific supporting cast and great coaching, but Mariota’s uncommon composure and even temperment makes him a wonder among redshirt freshman.
He may even put together three more superb games and steal the Heisman Trophy.