For Arizona, it hasn’t been a matter of stopping Marcus Mariota, just throwing him a bit off-kilter.
The Wildcats have defeated Mariota and the Ducks in each of the last two football seasons and coach Rich Rodriguez said that’s because Arizona has been able to slow Oregon’s star quarterback with three things: turnovers, effort and luck.
“If you look back at his stats, he got a lot of yards and big plays, but we got a couple turnovers. Some of it was great individual effort and some of it was a little bit of luck,” Rodriguez said. “If you go back to this game or even the game last season, he still got his yards, and he is still going to get his yards and make his plays.”
It appears all but certain at this point that Mariota will be among the Heisman Trophy finalists when they are announced on Dec. 8. But first the No. 3 Ducks (11-1, 8-1) must play the No. 8 Wildcats (10-2, 7-2) in the Pac-12 championship game on Friday night.
The mobile junior from Hawaii has thrown for at least one touchdown in each of the first 38 games he’s played at Oregon, an FBS-level record. He’s only lost four games as Oregon’s starter, two of those coming against Arizona.
He set a Pac-12 record this season with 48 total touchdowns, including 36 via pass, 11 keepers and one TD reception. He leads the nation with nine games of four or more touchdowns this season. His 36 touchdown passes are also an Oregon record.
Overall, Mariota has completed 229 of 334 passes for 3,470 yards and just two interceptions, and he’s the Ducks’ second-leading rusher with 636 yards.
“I think Marcus has been one of the best quarterbacks in the country since he made his first start,” Rodriguez said.
Arizona has been one of the schools to get to him. The Wildcats have intercepted him three times and forced him to fumble three times over the past three seasons.
Earlier this season, Mariota passed for 276 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 31-24 loss to Arizona at Autzen Stadium. The Wildcats’ victory had more to do with their ability to stop Oregon’s rush than anything, but Scooby Wright sacked Mariota and stripped him of the ball for a turnover with 2:11 to play. It would be Oregon’s final drive of the game.
“It was a good play by him,” Mariota said at the time. “They ran some coverage that we weren’t really expecting, and I was just trying to make the play. My instincts always lead the ball to go low, and he kind of just ripped it away.”
Arizona routed the Ducks 42-16 last year in Tucson. Mariota threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns, but also had two interceptions.
His first came on Oregon’s first play from scrimmage, when Bralon Addison dropped a pass near the sideline. Arizona cornerback Shaquille Richardson snared the carom and flipped it back to Wright as he was falling out of bounds. Ka’Deem Carey followed with a 6-yard touchdown run to kick start the upset.
Afterward, Mariota said: “It hurts. I haven’t been blown out like this in my life.”
In Mariota’s first year – and Chip Kelly’s last with the Ducks – Oregon blanked Arizona 49-0 at Autzen. Then a redshirt freshman, Mariota threw for 260 yards and two touchdowns, but he was intercepted once.
The Wildcats earned a spot in the league championship game last Friday when UCLA fell to Stanford and Arizona defeated rival Arizona State 42-35 in the Territorial Cup. The victory lifted the Wildcats four spots in the AP Top 25.
The Ducks closed out the regular season on Saturday with a 47-19 victory over Oregon State in the Civil War rivalry game. Oregon, while at No. 3 in the AP rankings, was No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
Should the Ducks defeat Arizona for the Pac-12 crown, they’ll assuredly be one of the four teams included in the first playoffs.
Mariota is going to treat it like any other game.
“We’re just going to play our game. Arizona did a great job setting and dictating tempo in the last meeting,” he said. “If we go out and execute to the best of our abilities and execute the game plans that are put in front of us, we should hopefully be successful.”
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