The University of Oregon ripped off 50 points in the first half of its season opener against Arkansas State. But I can't, and won't, join those who believe they learned absolutely nothing about the Ducks in Saturday's installment of the Cupcake Challenge Series.
Turns out, the first Ducks freshman to start at quarterback in 22 season openers, Marcus Mariota, has a mother who would like her son's last name correctly pronounced. Can't say I blame her. Sports information director David Williford confirmed Mrs. Mariota called the university to inform them it's pronounced "Mar-ee-oh-TAH" not "Mar-ee-ohtah."
It's going to take repetition to get that right, but we all learned something on Saturday.
It was Oregon 57, Arkansas State 34 in the season opener. That's pronounced: "LAFF-er."
Here's what the first-half 50-point mark looked like in the second quarter: Ducks running back Byron Marshall scores a touchdown on fourth and goal from the 3 (assisted by Mar-ee-oh-TAH, who helped pile-drive his teammate across the goal line). Kicker Rob Beard makes the extra point. Williford leaps out of his chair, and jogs across the press box to one of his intern staffers, who was told to immediately research school scoring records.
The intern was stoked.
But the kid was nowhere near as focused, and excited, and crisp as the inexperienced, unproven Mar-ee-oh-TAH was in his debut. You can call Arkansas State awful (and the Red Wolves were). You can point out that the Ducks should have been playing Kansas State or New Mexico (and we all would have preferred it). You can say that we're not going to know how good Oregon is for more than a month (also very true). But what's not in doubt is how good Mar-ee-oh-TAH is.
He was accurate. He was poised. He was agile. Mar-ee-oh-TAH mostly made good decisions. He demonstrated leadership, and appeared to be in command of the offense. What I'm trying to say is that he looks talented enough to show up on campus and chase a starting quarterback with two conference championships into the woods.
If he hasn't already, Mar-ee-oh-TAH is going to make you forget Darron Thomas. He completed 12 of his first 13 and finished 18 of 22 for 200 yards. He threw three touchdown passes. He had a nice 17-yard run himself and helped push that teammate over the goal line in a critical situation. Save for one messy incompletion, and a misread of the defensive end on an option (he should have kept the ball and instead gave it to Kenjon Barner), this kid was pristine in his debut.
I am not mocking Mrs. Mar-ee-oh-TAH by giving the phonetic pronunciation of her son's last name. I'm making sure I drill the correct pronunciation for you and for me, especially. Because I learned in two otherwise meaningless quarters of blowout football on Saturday, one play at a time, that we'd all better get this kid's name correct. He's going to be here a long while, and he's going to be memorable.
Mar-ee-oh-TAH even sounds good. That "TAH" at the end punctuates it. Feels like it could easily turn into "Mar-ee-oh-TAH-DAH" with very little imagination.
When it comes to Ducks quarterbacks I always like to go to Joey Harrington for an appraisal. The former NFL quarterback and Ducks star studies the game, and mechanics, and sees things on another level. And so at halftime, I reached out to Harrington, who is in Los Angeles preparing for his Fox broadcast gig.
Columnist: "What did you think of Mar-ee-oh-TAH?"
Harrington: "Barely got to see it. On set in LA. By the time I got to the TV it was 42-3!"
Well put, Joey. Circle back after we see more. But I suppose what Mar-ee-oh-TAH did against Arkansas State was exactly what he did in fall practice, where he asserted himself as the winner of a tight quarterback competition. There will be tougher challenges, there will be bigger moments, but I saw enough to know how dangerous Mar-ee-oh-TAH can be in this offense.
That first half featured seven Oregon trips to the red zone and six Ducks touchdowns. Mar-ee-oh-TAH pulled his helmet off with 7:06 left in the second quarter. His team had 50 points on the board. And for the first time in his playing career at Oregon I saw something that I believe we'll see a lot of over the next 24 to 48 months.
That's pronounced SMILED.