#4 Oregon vs. #17 USC: A Preview, Pt. III… Marcus Mariota and the Oregon offense vs. the USC secondary

By REED NELSON

Part III:

Factory forged, factory assembled, factory guarantee.

Marcus Mariota might as well have been streamlined for Chip Kelly’s Blur Offense.

The freshman quarterback hailing from Hawaii rings in at 6’4, 196, and has the arm to go with the thoroughbred legs that made him a Springtime hero in Eugene.

Through eight games, Mariota has yet to record a passer rating under 100.

He’s thrown 18 TDs (and just five picks), ran for three more and has piloted the nation’s most explosive — and efficiently destructive — interstellar Deathstar of Offensive Domination to an unbeaten record.

But considering all his accomplishments, he is not the keystone in the Oregon offense. His play thus far, while it has been nothing short of revelatory, has been largely inconsequential.

Against Arizona State, on the road, in what was widely considered to be his “first true test,” the green signal caller led Oregon to 43 first half points. He even took a read-option 86 yards for a score. But through the air, he had just 46 yards on 9 of 12 passing.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that he didn’t contribute in a gigantic way, he just happens to play QB for a team that — until I’m proven wrong — I’m assuming could start Mr. Bean at the very same position and have very similar results.

Is having a great quarterback a plus in a system-driven offense? Yes. It always is, see: Tom Brady. But is it absolutely imperative to the team’s success on a week-to-week basis? No. See: Matt Cassel.

So while Mariota can still stink it up to a degree without mortally wounding Oregon, he also has very real Kamikaze potential.

USC’s secondary is the most athletic secondary that Mariota has come into contact with in his brief career. Sure, Washington’s Dez Trufant is a brilliantly shiny piece, but he might shine even brighter due to the fecal matter he’s buried next to each week.

Mariota issued ASU’s secondary a pop-quiz, but they failed with gusto. Washington State gave him problems for a moment, intercepting two of his first half passes in Seattle, but it wasn’t anything that his hyper-talented backfield mates couldn’t cover for.

Arizona is athletic, but mistake prone (not to say USC isn’t those things, just to a slightly lesser degree), and Colorado forgot to send a team to Eugene last week.

T.J. McDonald is a different animal altogether. The USC safety leads the team in tackles with 66, is as athletic as Trufant, but has the pedigree of a pitbull. What does that mean? He’s fast, hits hard and is everywhere.

Oh, and there’s Dion Bailey. The Trojan linebacker doesn’t mind dropping back into coverage, and for good reason: He’s picked off four passes this season, broken up six passes and has recorded 52 tackles on the season, five for a loss. Between him and McDonald, SC’s second level of defense happens to be a fairly fortified unit.

But like Liam Neeson, Oregon has a special set of skills. Unlike Neeson, however, Oregon’s have nothing to do with extracting daughter’s from sex trafficking king pins.

They do, however, have everything to do with negating an opposing defense’s strength’s, especially when those strengths are found in the back seven. If Oregon’s attack gets held up, it usually is in the middle, and it usually comes at the hands of beefy, SEC-type defensive tackles plugging the Astrovan-sized holes that Duck backs are have come to expect.

Without a gash ’em inside running game, Oregon’s offense can be slowed down. But USC doesn’t have a Nick Fairley, and their prime strengths come at the second level, a level which Oregon’s nimble offensive lineman are beyond adept at handling.

So, while Josh Huff, Bralon Addison, Keenan Lowe and Co. have the potential to change the game, or even seal it, the passing game isn’t a crutch in the Oregon offense as it is in SC’s. That’s why Oregon takes this matchup. I like Oregon’s O-Lineman to get out in front of that option attack and blow up USC’s most effective defensive weapons.

Edge: Mariota and the Funky Bunch.

Pick: Oregon 49, USC 24



Categories: Analysis, Around the Pac-12, Features, Previews

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