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Originally published October 12, 2013 at 8:11 PM | Page modified October 12, 2013 at 9:19 PM

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Mariota shows Huskies he’s Heisman-worthy

When the Huskies focused on stopping his running threat, Mariota dotted the field with accurate passes. And when they put emphasis on taking away his stable of quick, dangerous receivers, Mariota tore them up with his legs.


Seattle Times columnist

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After the clock ran down on another day of Oregon bragging rights — another year, actually — Washington quarterback Keith Price chased down his counterpart, Marcus Mariota.

Price wanted to pay proper homage to Mariota, still two weeks shy of his 20th birthday, but an increasingly dominating force on the college football scene.

“It’s respect, man,’’ Price said. “I respect that guy. He came out here and led his team. ... He was a stud today.”

In a game that hung in the balance for much of the afternoon until suddenly it didn’t — that’s the Oregon way — Mariota was the instigator of what ultimately was another Duck runaway, 45-24.

When the Huskies focused on stopping his running threat, Mariota dotted the field with accurate passes. And when they put emphasis on taking away his stable of quick, dangerous receivers, Mariota tore them up with his legs.

Husky coach Steve Sarkisian said their game plan was to try to keep Mariota in the pocket. When he ran, the defense’s marching orders were to make sure they always had someone with their eyes on Mariota to swoop in for the tackle.

“Unfortunately, when that happened, he ran away from our guys that had their eyes on him,’’ Sarkisian said.

Mariota threw for 366 yards and three touchdowns. He ran for 88 yards and another score. Every time the Huskies endeavored to get back into the game, Mariota willed the Ducks down the field, most notably with a 65-yard touchdown pass to Josh Huff in the third quarter that one-upped a 60-yard Bishop Sankey scoring run moments earlier.

“We tried to catch him,’’ said Sarkisian. “We tried to spot him, we tried to blitz him, we tried to contain him, but he played a tremendous game.”

Twenty years ago, after a showcase Rose Bowl game against Michigan in which he upstaged Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard, Husky wide receiver Mario Bailey famously assumed a Heisman pose.

With Howard in attendance at Husky Stadium on Saturday as part of the “College GameDay” crew, Mariota could have struck that same pose. The sophomore didn’t wrap up the award on Saturday, but with a national audience to bask in his multi-faceted performance, he may well have established himself as the favorite.

Obviously, the Oregon offense is a self-sustaining machine, still humming menacingly despite the departure of its creative genius, Chip Kelly. The offensive coordinator, Mark Helfrich, ascended to head coach, and receivers coach Scott Frost had the task, at once dubious and enviable, of trying to maintain what has been the most explosive attack in the sport as the new offensive coordinator.

When a reporter asked Helfrich what it was like for Frost to inherit such a high-powered offense, he joked, “It would be like you taking over for Shakespeare.”

Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback, realizes that his early success has been influenced as much by the quarterback he inherited as the system.

“I’ve said this 100 times, we wouldn’t trade our guy for anyone in country,’’ Frost said. “It’s really easy to be a play caller when the ball’s in Marcus’ hands.”

Mariota deftly deflected all the praise, crediting his line and his receivers, particularly Huff, who seemingly suffered a serious ankle injury in the first half, only to return with that huge play in the second. Joked Frost, “I told (Huff) he looked a little like a soccer player. I thought he was dead. Then he came back out. Josh is one of toughest kids I’ve ever been around. I wouldn’t want to fight Josh Huff.”

Said Mariota: “They were able to get open, and I was just able to find them.”

And Einstein was just able to figure out a theory. One thing Mariota did cop to was his poise, saying he never felt pressure the entire game, even when the Huskies pushed them to the brink.

“Not at all,’’ he said. “We always kind of have this deal, if we’re prepared, we don’t feel pressure,’’ he said.

The game marked the first time all season Mariota has played in the fourth quarter, the previous games having been so lopsided that it had long been turned over to the reserves. There had been some curiosity how he might respond if forced to play a full game. The answer: Mariota led two scoring drives and helped Oregon outgain the Huskies in the final period, 161 yards to 20.

“People try to pick out a new thing every week that’s his weakness, and this week it was he couldn’t play in the fourth quarter,’’ Frost said. “We’ll see what it is next week.”

This week, there were no apparent weaknesses to Mariota’s game. Just a lot of respect earned.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @StoneLarry



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