The Oregon Ducks have been rolling people this season, ranking as the No. 2 offense in the country. They set a school record with five straight games of 50 points or more to start the 2013 season and haven’t had to use starting quarterback Marcus Mariota in a fourth quarter yet. Part of their prolific success has been the balance between the rushing and passing attack they’ve found offensively with Mariota shouldering more and more of the offensive responsibility. That balance could get knocked off track, however, as the Washington Huskies will lean on their elite pass defense to shut down the Ducks through the air.
Through five games, Mariota has been very good controlling the offense for Oregon. He’s thrown for 1,358 yards, averaging 271.6 yards per game with 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He ranks No. 8 in quarterback rating (thanks to his ridiculous touchdown to interception ratio no doubt) but has struggled with accuracy a bit, completing just 56.7 percent of his throws. But the throws that he does connect on he makes count with big plays down the field, as shown by his 10.1 yards per attempt average (tied for ninth-best in college football).
He will face a tough challenge keeping that efficiency going, however, in hostile Husky Stadium this Saturday. UW ranks third in the country in pass defense, allowing just 146.4 yards per game through the air and allowing opposing quarterbacks a rating of just 81.70 and a 49.7 percent completion percentage. Through five games, the Huskies have allowed just two passing touchdowns and have picked off seven passes already this year. They are athletic, physical and skilled across the secondary and have absolutely locked down receivers in the passing game.
Last week, they took Kevin Hogan and the passing attack out of the game, holding the Stanford Cardinal quarterback to just 12 of 20 passing for 100 yards and forced an interception. This was on the heels of Hogan having a career day against the Washington State Cougars and looking like he was going to be throwing the ball a bit more down the field. Washington put a quick stop to that and will look to do the same to another hot quarterback in Mariota this week.
While it isn’t the biggest part of the Oregon offense, the ability to pass the ball is critical to their offensive success. It forces defenses to play honest and not stack the box against the running game and also helps the Ducks to get big plays over the top. Those plays will be much harder to come by this weekend against this tough Washington defense, however, and Oregon will have to sustain longer drives hitting underneath and secondary receivers.
So does Mariota have what it takes to solve the Huskies’ secondary or will the Dawgs take the air out of the Oregon attack?