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Evaluating Marcus Mariota in the Rose Bowl: Ugly but Effective

A closer look at Marcus Mariota against a strong Florida State team.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Last time we checked in on one of Marcus Mariota's games, we saw his pocket passing and accuracy on full display. There were very, very few negative plays in that game for Mariota. With that in mind, I've been wanting to break down his Rose Bowl performance for quite some time, because it provides some negatives to go with the positives.

Quick Throws

The first thing I noticed was how drastically different Oregon's schemes were against FSU. From what I can tell about their offense, they tend to focus on a few key concepts each game depending on the opponent. Then they attack with similar plays over and over again. Against California, we saw a lot of downfield passing. Against FSU, they focused a lot on short routes. There were so many I lost track of all the quick throws and screens Mariota had in this game. For the most part they worked, and so it made sense to continually use them. If you were to watch only this game of Mariota's though, I don't think you would get a fair representation of his skills. There were just so many plays that you're not going to get much value from.

Exhibits A and B:

On the Move

To open things up, Oregon put Mariota on the run a lot more than we had previously seen. His athleticism was on display early on in the game.

He even used his legs on a 4th-and-2 option call near the end:

Throwing on the move remains a strength of Mariota's as well. He keeps his eyes downfield as he moves, and its evident on the play below. He does lower the ball as he moves back inside away from the defender, but quickly brings it back up to deliver a gorgeous throw to the tight end. Before throwing, he's got FSU defenders to his right and left, but found a passing lane to hit the open man.

And of course there are just some plays you can't coach:


I've got to give some credit to FSU's defense. They were able to rattle Mariota more than usual (even if Oregon did eventually end up with great numbers). He flat out missed a couple of open receivers in this game (they aren't included due to length of the post). One of those misfires was picked off. He also uncharacteristically tried to force plays once the defense had taken away the options.

There are times when young QB thinks he can get away with things. We saw the one play above where he got out of what should have been a sack and ended up completing a pass for a big gain.

You've got to know when to gamble though. This, for instance, is a ball that shouldn't be thrown:

The receiver does look open, at least momentarily, and with a better throw maybe this winds up as a completion. Still there are gambles that aren't worth taking and in my opinion this is one of them. I would rather see him put this ball into the stands or run out of bounds.

A similar situation occurred earlier in the game, with a similar result. Mariota moves to the right and runs out of room, but tries to force the ball all the way across the field. The receiver is open but Ronald Darby closes fast and makes the big hit.

Big Plays

Despite more errors than usual, Mariota still had a huge impact on the overall result. I've singled out two of his touchdown throws below.

On the first one, Mariota benefits from all the quick throws early in the game. The tight end heads toward the sideline and the cornerback jumps up quickly to cover him. Meanwhile, Oregon's receiver is wide open down the field. Mariota gets the ball to him quickly, way before the safety can get there to make a play on it.

Mariota has to do a bit more work on the second one but again it'll all look familiar. He pump fakes on the short throw and both FSU defenders bite, and the receiver again is open on his route. Rather than the bullet throw we just saw, this one required him to loft the ball up and into the open area.


It wasn't always pretty, but it certainly was effective. He found a way to move the chains despite missing on a couple of throws (and he got lucky on at least two bad decisions). One of the benefits of having a mobile QB is that if something isn't working, you have so many options to try and get the offense back on track. And in the end, great players find ways to contribute even when not at their absolute best.