Quarterbacks duel at Ducks' spring game

EUGENE — Marcus Mariota has publicly declared his candidacy for the starting quarterback's job at Oregon.

The redshirt freshman emerged Saturday as serious competition for sophomore Bryan Bennett in the battle for the position that opened when Darron Thomas decided to skip his senior season to go pro.

Mariota completed 18 of 26 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown, in addition to rushing for 99 yards and two scores, leading his team to a 41-14 victory in Oregon's annual spring game at Autzen Stadium.

Bennett, who completed 19 of 32 passes for 209 yards and a TD, is the more experienced of the two QBs, having started a game last year when Thomas was injured. Oregon went 12-2 last season, capped by a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin.

Mariota said he was a bit nervous playing in front of a spring-game record 44,129 fans.

"My dad has always told me it's human nature. You're not human if you don't have butterflies," he said. "But I felt like I was prepared."

The spring game won't necessarily decide what the Ducks will look like come the fall, but Mariota was impressive from the opening drive for the light-jerseyed "Mighty Oregon" side, with a march that was capped by Ayele Ford's 3-yard touchdown run.

Mariota ran for his own 14-yard score before the end of the first quarter to give Mighty a 14-0 lead over the Bennett-led "Fighting Oregon" team.

Not to be outdone, Bennett answered with an impressive 28-yard touchdown strike to B.J. Kelley to narrow the gap.

On his next drive, Mariota ran 82 yards for a score. His speed was impressive — even by Oregon's breakneck standards — but quarterbacks wear red jerseys in the spring game, meaning they can't be touched.

He padded the lead with a 35-yard scoring pass to Daryle Hawkins and Mighty Oregon went into the break with a 38-7 advantage.

Kenny Bassett opened the second half — which featured a running clock, with a 4-yard TD run for the dark green-clad Fighting Oregon team.

Part of what made Mariota's emergence so intriguing was that it was the first real look that anyone outside the program has had of him in a game-like situation. Last season he was part of the practice squad, and this spring Oregon coach Chip Kelly closed practices to fans and the media.

Kelly reminded reporters after the game that it is April, and that the opener is a long way off.

"It's not a position I worry about, whether it's Marcus or Bryan," Kelly said about his quarterbacks. "I'm confident in both those guys."

The Ducks will no doubt look different this season, with the departure of Thomas and prolific running back LaMichael James. Both decided to skip their senior seasons, and James was selected by the San Francisco 49ers with the 61st overall pick in the NFL draft on Friday.

Thomas surprised many when he announced he was declaring for the draft. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior passed for 2,761 yards and a school-record 33 touchdowns last season despite missing a game because of an injury.

Senior Kenjon Barner, James' backup for the past two seasons, ran for 939 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, while pulling down 17 passes for 184 yards and three scores. On Saturday he was used sparingly to avoid injury, with only one carry for a 1-yard gain.

At Corvallis, in a 95-play scrimmage to end spring practices, returning starting quarterback Sean Mannion completed 8 of 15 passes for 81 yards and former South Medford receiver Mitch Singler caught three passes for 49 yards.

The sophomore Mannion, rated No. 4 overall and the top underclassman quarterback in the Pac-12 Conference by Athlon Sports, was intercepted once by safety Ryan Murphy. He led a scoring drive and had two passes dropped by receivers.

Junior quarterback Cody Vaz continued his strong spring by completing 11 of 21 passes for 151 yards, including touchdown passes of 44 yards to Obum Gwacham and 15 yards to Micah Hatfield.

Jack Lomax had an impressive end to the scrimmage, completing 9 of 13 passes for 70 yards.

"I thought they both made some good throws and plays in general," coach Mike Riley said of Mannion and Vaz. "I feel like we have two starting quarterbacks right now."

What was very evident from Saturday is that OSU is loaded at running back and wide receiver. Four of the team's top five runners played, while Jovan Stevenson was out with an injury.

Jordan Jenkins led the corps with 45 yards on nine carries, while Storm Woods had 37 yards, Malcolm Agnew 32 and Terron Ward 24.

Agnew scored on a 1-yard run on a drive led by Mannion, with Woods setting up the score with four impressive rushes.

Gwacham led the receivers with 96 yards on four receptions.

Kicker Trevor Romaine also had a solid day, making field goals of 33, 41 and 45 yards.

Micah Audiss, who had an interception, blocked a Romaine 50-yard attempt.

Share This Story