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Breaking Down Marcus Mariota vs MSU: The Fine Line Between Big Plays and Sacks

Continuing our look at Marcus Mariota's 2014 season, with a tough matchup against the Michigan State Spartans.

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

One challenging aspect for young, mobile quarterbacks is knowing when to throw the ball away. There are going to be plays when the defense wins. Maybe coverage is outstanding or a blitz well-timed. Maybe its just the perfect defensive play call for that exact offensive play.

In this matchup Michigan State's defense was impressive. They were able to use various blitzes to move Marcus Mariota out of the pocket and frequently were able to make him uncomfortable. Oregon's offensive line couldn't handle the heat either, as they were just as guilty for play breakdowns.

Mariota and the Oregon offense as a whole faced more resistance than they were used to because of MSU's constant pressure. When you're not used to such struggle, there can be a greater tendency to force plays, and this happens in this battle.

There are several examples of Mariota holding onto the ball too long in an attempt to find an open receiver. In some instances, he didn't actually have the ball in his hands that long. The Spartans' defense was just that quick to reach him.

Mariota can't find anyone open in the first image below. Its not shown completely but the coverage is absolutely outstanding and the perfect example of a coverage sack.

Its not a terribly bad play by Mariota here, its just unnecessary. He can afford to wait it out a bit (and does) but his open space disappears quickly. It would be nice to see him avoid the hit and throw the ball away.

Later on in the second quarter a similar situation occurs. Here, Mariota goes through his reads left-to-right.  By the time any receiver has a chance to get open, the right tackle has already been demolished by the defensive end.

On this one, Mariota didn't stand a chance:

You hear so often on broadcasts about the internal clocks that quarterbacks need, and ideally, that will be something Mariota further develops as a pro passer. There are times when he's out of rhythm. In other games, he was more efficient and we saw him throw the ball away. In this one, MSU was able to make him uncomfortable..

It is odd to write, but part of the struggle for the Titans coaching staff will be learning how to coach such a phenomenal talent. Its easy to look at the images above and declare that Mariota simply has to improve on throwing the ball away when a defensive line is having so much success.

Then he goes out and does something like this:

You don't want to coach these attributes out of Mariota as its part of what makes him so special. Both Oregon tackles get beat, giving Mariota backside pressure along with a DE directly in his line of vision. Most QBs would be in trouble right at this point:

Mariota Pocket Movement vs MSU

A throwaway or potential six-yard loss becomes a huge gain just because he has the agility to jump quickly up in the pocket in this situation.

The difficulty level was increased on this following play. There isn't much analysis needed. Three MSU defenders have good opportunities to bring down the QB behind the line of scrimmage but Mariota manages to elude all three. If you get a chance, right-click to pause and/or show the controls to see the defenders circled around him at the four and five second mark.

In a season, these types of plays are going to be a very tiny part of his performance. He'll succeed or fail based on his ability to be a successful passer, but you want to keep that spark, that little bit of magic that he provides with his improvisation skills. That's why this post refers to the fine line between a huge play or a sack. Both he and the coaching staff will have to work on determining which plays should be throwaways and which ones he should gamble on.