Game Day: Wastin' Away In Mariotaville

No lost shaker of salt, no woman to blame, and certainly no brand new tattoo, but I am wastin' away in Mariotaville, but I know it's nobody's fault…and I know I'm not alone.

Even before last April's Spring Game – but primarily after - fans of the Oregon Ducks had been over the moon for Marcus Mariota. If you follow recruiting you had heard of or seen video of a young, lanky high school quarterback throwing lightning bolts and running like the wind. His athleticism jumped off the screen, and his size coupled with said athleticism brought back fond memories of ex-Oregon great Dennis Dixon. He was smooth, poised, and seemed a relatively perfect fit for the offense Chip Kelly had already taken to heights previously unseen, even at a school historically known for offensive prowess. Sure, Jeremiah Masoli ran the ball with success, Joey Harrington threw well from the pocket, and Dixon seemed to possess a heightened level of both, but this kid seemed to have it all, and seemed capable of taking it all to another level.

Then came the Spring Game.

Not since Kelly Leak homered in his first at bat for the Bad News Bears have we seen a player so successfully live-up to such enormous expectations. He threw it well, ran it well, and looked good doing both. He was calm, displayed the type of leadership necessary to play quarterback for a "big boy college football team," and appeared unfazed by a nationally televised audience in his first real public performance. It was a wow moment for sure, and one that took a burgeoning wave of hype, and turned it into a tsunami.

Now however comes the hard part. No one's going to be holding the bike for Mariota Saturday night in Autzen Stadium, the training wheels are off and he's on his own beneath the lights, on ESPN, and under the watchful eyes of a sect of media secretly second-guessing the decision to put him under center. There are those that like Bryan Bennett's skill set and experience, and in spite of Mariota's undeniable talent, feel it's more prudent to hand the keys to a licensed driver opposed to one with a learners permit.

But don't put me in that camp. While I do and have always liked Bennett as a player, and had looked forward to his opportunity at the helm, I believe a quarterback's demeanor before, during and after a game is vital to his success in the game's most important position. Players feed from their leader's words and body language, and depend on him in times of increased tension. It's his job to ease that tension, focus his team, and provide them with the necessary confidence when the game is at its most crucial point. Bill Musgrave had that, Darron Thomas seemed to have that, and Joey Harrington is historically recognized for having exactly that, and I feel Marcus Mariota innately has that quality. That's not to say Bryan Bennett doesn't as well, but that when the job was on the line last April 28th, he appeared to tighten-up, and later seemed visibly shaken by what was happening on the field. That can't happen. Not from your quarterback.

Not ever.

A quarterback can't hang his head after a mistake. He needs to understand that mistakes happen and that people have bad days, but simultaneously emit to his team the vibe that "I got this," and we will overcome. That is a nonnegotiable quality in a QB, and I feel the quality, or lack thereof, that put the first nail in Bryan Bennett's coffin in regards to winning the starting quarterback position. If I took note of that last April 28th, I'm sure a much more qualified Chip Kelly took note of that as well, hence, where we are today.

We are in the midst of all things Mariota, all the time. Even before Coach Kelly announced him as the starter, the Mariota Express had long left the station. If the age-old adage says "the most popular player on any team is the back-up quarterback," then it's never been proven more true than in the case of Marcus Mariota, however one shouldn't lose sight of the fact that Bennett was once that guy, and could very well wind up that guy again.

I'm excited to see Marcus play and feel for Bryan because he can't, but understand one thing; he earned this job. Chip Kelly wouldn't put him there if he hadn't, nor would he put him there if he felt he weren't ready.

So bring on the season,
I've got one more reason,
To root on the ducks from my seat or back home.
It's opening day,
And it's time to go play,
For that Hawaiian QB we love to root on.

Welcome to Mariotaville, population…growing by the day.

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