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Redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota showed why Chip Kelly chose him to start at QB over sophomore Bryan Bennett in the blowout win over Arkansas State.

Mariota was making his first career start as an 18-year-old out of Hawaii. There was some talk of how impressive he was last year during practice and he slowly but surely made ground this offseason behind Bennett, the latter of whom was the odds-on favorite to win the job.

But Mariota won the job and ran with it.

He looked smooth tonight. He wasn’t frantic like maybe you would expect in a 18-year-old’s first career game. He ran the offense with precision and made throws that the Ducks haven’t seen since the Dennis Dixon days. He made touch passes over defenders for big gains. The contrast was stark between Mariota and Bennett, who, while a decent passer and an awesome runner, really throws the ball as hard as he can on every throw.

Mariota is able to place the ball accurately and in stride with his receivers. If he can keep that up for the rest of the year, the Ducks will be just as high-powered on offense as they have been, if not more.

But the big jump may be on the defensive side of the ball. The Ducks’ defense has been underrated for quite a few years considering how much stress the offense puts on them with their tempo ­– Oregon ranked dead last in time of possession last year. All that time on the field for the Ducks defense means a lot of yards for their opponents. Oregon ranked a mediocre 66th in yards allowed last season. However, if you put that in yards per play which is a more level playing field for the Ducks, they actually rank in the top 30 in the nation.

That number may actually be in the top 20 this season if they live up to the hype coming out of camp.

Kelly and defensive coordinator Nick Allioti have mentioned that this defense is the fastest, most athletic defense they have ever had at Oregon – and for Allioti, that’s a matter of decades. They looked relatively strong against a very good Arkansas State offense that is engineered by offensive-mastermind Gus Malzahn. If the Ducks defense can become one of the best in the nation, then a National Championship is within reach.

Other notes:

  • Mariota finished the night at 18-of-22 for 200 yards, three touchdowns and 24 rushing yards. He played less than a half. Wow!
  • I’m not entirely sure how I got through an entire blog post without mention of DeAnthony Thomas but, he’s really, REALLY good. And fast. And quick. Did I mention fast? Because if I didn’t, he is.
  • Dion Jordan is small but he sure is quick and may lead the nation in sacks this year.
  • I wouldn’t blame Bennett if he transfers because Mariota is that good, but the Ducks need him because I’m not sure who would be the backup without Bennett.
  • Kenjon Barner needs to stay healthy. He’s not LaMichael James or even LaGarrette Blount,  but he is a stabilizing force in the backfield and can get chunks of yards when needed. But he has a history of injuries.
  • Arkansas State is not a traditional “cupcake.” They were 10-3 last year and won their conference.
  • The Ducks next game is against Fresno State on Sept. 8. The Bulldogs went 4-9 last year. Probably not a great test for the Ducks. Then they have a game with Tennessee Tech on Sept. 15. So, the Ducks first real test will come on Sept. 22 against Arizona. Long time away to see if the Ducks have an extra gear and if the defense really is improved of a pretty good group from last season.
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