Lombardi: So, everyone thinks of Oregon as a run-first team, but this Marcus Mariota kid leads the nation in passing efficiency. Cal tried to sell out against the run when they played Oregon, and he turned around and threw six touchdown passes. So, what makes him so good? And what's the correct pronunciation of his last name?
Butdorf: Marcus Mariota (pronounced Mario-tah) [Ed: so ESPN broadcaster Joe Tessitore was actually correct with his ridiculed pronunciation in Oregon's season opener] is on track to be the best quarterback ever to wear the Oregon green and yellow (and carbon, black, chartreuse, steel, neon, so on and so forth). To begin, he's 6'4", 210 pounds, and runs a 4.4 forty-yard dash. His best qualities, though, are his accuracy, poise, and ability to learn quickly. For the season, he's completing almost 72 percent of his passes. He's been on fire the last four games, in which he's 66-for-83 (79.6%) for 863 yards, 13 TDs, and no picks. Mariota has also set the Pac-12 freshman record for TD passes with 28, and he's racked up more than 500 yards on the ground, all of which is especially impressive considering that he's been sitting out the second half of most games. The coaching staff and his teammates routinely comment on his Hawaiian-style calmness and his ability to not make the same mistake twice.
He is already way ahead of Darron Thomas and Jeremiah Masoli and might even be better than Dennis Dixon. In past years, the recipe for stopping Oregon has been to shut down the run, but this year, the passing game is just as potent. This Oregon offense represents the consummate dual threat: it has the capacity to throw for 400 yards and rush for 400-plus yards, of which 100 can easily come from the quarterback position. Although it hasn't faced a defense as tough as Stanford's, I'm convinced that this is the best offense that Chip has had in his time in Eugene.
Lombardi: Where has Oregon's offensive line had the most success this season?
Butdorf: As good as Mariota has been, it all starts up front with the big uglies. Oregon's line is young, but loaded with the type of talent that the Ducks haven't traditionally been able to recruit. Oregon employs mostly zone-blocking schemes in the run game and has been very successful in doing so. A big factor in the Ducks' success is that their quick passing game exploits defenses that get too far upfield. Whenever opposing defensive linemen have held back a bit, Oregon's offensive line has been able to get good positioning before the defense can react to the play.
Lombardi: How have they performed against the blitz?
Butdorf: The Ducks have also been very successful in neutralizing the pass rush, but their success is not entirely the result of the line's pass-blocking abilities. Mariota is very good at buying time with his feet and either scrambling for positive yards, finding an open receiver, or getting out of the pocket and throwing it away. Oregon's offensive system is very good at exploiting teams that try to blitz heavily. As we all know, Oregon loves to move quickly and get guys in space, and a heavy blitz often results in more space for one of the Ducks' speedsters to find open space behind the blitz. Whether it's Kenjon Barner flaring out in the flat or De'Anthony Thomas, Josh Huff, Bralon Addison, or Keanon Lowe getting open on a shallow crossing route, there is almost always someone moving into the area vacated by the blitzing defender quickly enough after the snap for Mariota to dump it off before he gets hit. Teams that have tried to blitz Oregon heavily have been torched; it's those who can get a strong pass rush with the front four who tend to have the most success.
Lombardi: So how do you think the Ducks will go after Stanford's defense?
Butdorf: Stanford has a top-notch front seven that will pose the greatest challenge that the Ducks have seen all season, but for them to be effective against this Duck offense, they're going to have to play very disciplined, assignment-oriented football. I expect Oregon to come out throwing and working the perimeter to try to soften up and spread out Stanford's front seven, and then start running between the tackles once they're a little worn out. Early in the season, I was worried about this unit, but the line has developed tremendous cohesion and is playing at a very high level right now. Stanford certainly has the horses, though, to give the Oregon line all it can handle.
Lombardi: You mention passing -- and I saw a lot of it in Mariota's 377-yard effort last week. Is the Ducks' receiving corp as deep as I remember it being?
Butdorf: Oregon's receivers were an area of concern coming into this season, but they've mostly exceeded expectations. The first job of any receiver in this offense is to block, and the Ducks have been getting great perimeter and downfield blocking from this unit, which is a big reason for Oregon's many explosive plays. The unit still lacks a game-breaker, but it has several guys who have been consistent. Josh Huff, the unit headliner, is coming off back-to-back games with over 100 yards receiving and finally seems to be past the nagging injuries that have slowed him since his stellar freshman season. A fellow Texan, Bralon Addison, is having a very strong freshman year and seems to be getting better each week. The Ducks also love to use De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner in the passing game, the latter being a much better receiver than his predecessor, LaMichael James. Oregon spreads the ball around generously, so expect to see several guys rotate in at receiver and have at least one reception.
An interesting addition to this year's Oregon offense is 6-foot-five, 245-pound Colt Lyerla, who can line up in the backfield, at tight end, or in the slot. Colt was a five-star recruit out of high school and has absolutely incredible athleticism (4.5 forty) to go along with his size. He's been very productive in the passing game and is very effective as a power back in short-yardage situations.
Will Butdorf is an expert on all things Oregon football. We thank him for his insights on the Ducks.
David Lombardi covers Stanford sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. He can also be heard on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.
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