One Advantage Oregon Has over Alabama in a Head-to-Head Matchup

Kyle Kensing@kensing45Contributor ISeptember 23, 2013

EUGENE, OR - SEPTEMBER 14:  Marcus Mariota #8 of the Oregon Ducks looks to throw against the Tennessee Volunteers on September 14, 2013 at the Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Should the dream scenario of Alabama vs. Oregon come to pass this college football postseason, Nike should have the Ducks' kryptonite-colored uniforms ready. It would only be fitting, given Duck quarterback Marcus Mariota may very well be the key advantage should this pairing comes to pass in the BCS. 

To suggest Mariota could find success against Alabama's defense is not based purely on speculation. His closest college comparison, and a player with whom his young career has often been linked, already demonstrated the success a dual-skilled quarterback operating in an uptempo system can have against the Crimson Tide. 

It's well established that Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, then as coordinator, recruited Johnny Manziel to run the Ducks' potent offense at quarterback. 

Though Manziel ended up at Texas A&M, he could still help Oregon in its BCS championship pursuit should the Ducks draw two-time defending titleholder Alabama. 

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin's version of the hurry-up spread offense tested Alabama unlike anything put before the Crimson Tide amid its current run of domination. And Manziel is the catalyst. 

In two games against Kirby Smart's vaunted defense, Manziel passed for 717 yards and rushed for 190. His more than 560-yard output against this season's Crimson Tide unit is particularly noteworthy when evaluating a potential Alabama matchup with Oregon. college football maven Bruce Feldman penned an outstanding behind-the-scenes feature following A&M's game-week preparation for the No. 1 Tide. 

Pertinent to the Alabama vs. Oregon hypothetical was that Sumlin studied wrinkles of former Duck head coach Chip Kelly's offense, as run with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. Borrowing some of those nuances helped A&M record 628 yards, the most any Alabama defense has ever surrendered. 

In tabbing Kelly's former right-hand man Helfrich, the Ducks continue to operate with the same breakneck pace and multifaceted approach that made Oregon the preeminent hurry-up team in college football. 

Alabama ultimately exploited an inexperienced and thin Texas A&M defense to win a 49-42 shootout. The Tide also capitalized on two especially costly turnovers: the first, an interception with the Aggies driving in the red zone, and the second, a pick returned for a touchdown. 

Mariota is not prone to turnovers. The redshirt sophomore quarterback threw just six interceptions in 2012, and three games into 2013, Oregon has zero giveaways as a team.

The Ducks are on an early pace to again lead the nation in turnover margin, largely because the system allows Mariota to operate primarily making low-risk decisions. 

Now, Mariota is anything but a game manager or interchangeable cog in the Oregon offensive machine. That he's actually called on to make fewer high-risk plays than Manziel makes Mariota all the more dangerous.

Mariota isn't called on to rush too exhaustively, but the result is tremendous when he is. This season, he's averaging better than 17 yards per carry. 

He's a much more explosive quarterback than predecessor Darron Thomas, which is one crucial difference in this Oregon offense when compared to those that failed against SEC defenses from Auburn and LSU. 


Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.