For much of the 2013 season, Marcus Mariota was a frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy as he led one of the most explosive offensive attacks in the country for the Oregon Ducks. But after suffering a slight tear in his MCL just before the loss to the Stanford Cardinal, Mariota had struggled to look like himself as he was slowed down by a bulky brace protecting his leg. With some time off to rest before the Valero Alamo Bowl, Mariota was able to get his knee healthy enough to lose the brace and it made a ton of difference for the Oregon playmaker as he led the way to a 30-7 win over the Texas Longhorns.
Mariota was a huge part of the rushing offense in 2013, finishing second on the team with 715 yards on just 96 carries with a team-high 7.45 yards per carry and scoring nine rushing touchdowns. Hurting the knee, however, slowed him down greatly as he ran for just negative-16 yards in the loss to Stanford and followed it up with negative-18 yards against the Utah Utes. He finished the year with average games, rushing for 52 and 53 yards against the Arizona Wildcats and Oregon State Beavers, respectively, looking very much affected by the knee. In all, Mariota managed just 89 rushing yards with six fumbles over the last five regular season games.
But on Monday night against Texas, we saw vintage Mariota running the football. With nothing but a small wrap on the injured knee, the third-year sophomore signal caller looked smooth running the football and showcased that burst that makes him so dangerous with the ball in his hands. He finished the day with a season-high 133 yards rushing on the day on a team-high 15 carries and finished the game with 386 total yards of offense with a passing touchdown that closed out the first half. He was dynamic and explosive leading the Ducks’ offense, reminding everyone what he’s capable of with two healthy legs.
That will be the key to how far Oregon goes in 2014. If Mariota can stay healthy throughout, the Ducks have an excellent shot at making a run to a Pac-12 title, a spot in the college football playoff, and sending Mariota to New York City as a Heisman Trophy finalist. Is 2014 the year that Mariota takes his game to new heights by staying healthy?