Going into this year’s spring game, many fans and analysts figured quarterback Bryan Bennett would be the favorite to get the starting nod in the 2012 season. He’s been a starter for the team filling in for Darron Thomas and impressed everyone with his accuracy and efficiency.
In a span of not even two hours, everyone fell in love with Marcus Mariota.
Impressive isn’t a strong word enough to show what the redshirt freshman did on the field during that late April day. Perhaps it was the media’s inability to cover practices or the somewhat generic commentary from head coach Chip Kelly during post-practice conferences.
After seeing the show again from start to finish, the initial reaction stays in tact. So the next thing to find out is easy – how did this “Marcus” kid get so good?
“I felt as though through the whole spring I was confident and earning the locker room’s trust that I could do it,” Mariota said by his locker after the game. “These guys elevated me because they knew I could do it. I just gave the ball to those guys, they made the plays. It was a good confidence booster. I’m looking to move forward and play better.”
It was a general banter of repeated quotes and trying to say the right thing during the post-game conference. But a little bit of “human” response poked out of him.
“Before every game I have nerves,” said Mariota, “but my dad has always told me that it’s human nature. You’re not human if you don’t have those butterflies in you. I just felt like those butterflies kind of made me prepared and ready to just go out there and have fun.”
That last word sticks out. Fun. A sense of relaxation among a team that has the highest expectations of any premium college football program out there – win it all or bust.
With that, all that’s left for Mariota to lead the football team is continuing to generate team chemistry for confidence, gaining that experience to become a quarterback, and working on his throwing mechanics.
As always, there are faults that you can see in Mariota’s 301 yards of domination. Compared to watching Bennett’s throws during last season, they take a bit longer to get out of his hand. A split second could be the difference between a sack and a game-winning touchdown.
A problem that shouldn’t be injected into the program is a two-man quarterback system, as Mariota believes “that system would be awesome for him.” It wouldn’t, especially for a team that wants to contend for a national title. If the young quarterback feeds off his team as much as stated after the spring game, he can’t garner that trust by splitting the snaps with another leader.
Chip Kelly wouldn’t likely impose a system like that either, and unfotunately he hasn’t given any slight indication on which quarterback is favored for the starting job.
Based off college experience and not taking one 24-minute session too seriously, Mariota should be projected as the backup to Bennett. If so, then fans will definitely be trigger-happy to give the sophomore the hook if struggles arise. Everyone loves the backup quarterback.
Regardless of the position Mariota will be in on September 1st, it’s a win-win situation for the man who wants to have fun when he gets butterflies.
Quotes via Spring Game press conference