Marcus Mariota: The play that changed the game

Mark Helfrich compared his halftime speech to the Gettysburg Address as an underwhelmed Oregon team headed into the break trailing 24-18. While Helfrich was being a little overdramatic, the results produced afterwards were profound.


“Gettysburg Address-like,” Helfrich jokingly said. “We have so many young guys on our team that haven’t had a competitive quote unquote adversity. Just to see them weather that, very proud of them.”

Out of the tunnel — following a somewhat underwhelming first half performance — the No. 3 Ducks outscored No. 7 Michigan State 28 to three and the entire complexion of the game changed in their favor.

This however, was all after the play — the moment when Marcus Mariota took the game into his hands and passed it off to true freshman Royce Freeman on the most important pitch play they’ll likely ever complete.

“I was looking for him to run it, so I was ready to block for him,” Freeman said. “But he pitched it and told me to get the first down. I’ve heard from multiple people that that was a momentum changer in the game.”

Early in the third quarter, the Spartans appeared to have full control of the game. The Oregon defense was struggling to slow down the one-two punch of Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford and there really was no end in sight. Michigan State held a 27-18 lead with 10:55 to go.

But with just under seven minutes to go, Mariota made one of those plays that Autzen will surely remember for years to come. There was “the pick” with Kenny Wheaton back on Oct. 22, 1994 against Washington, but with Mariota, there was “the pitch.”

“What Marcus does on the field amazes me almost everyday,” Scott Frost said. “In the third quarter, really a turn when we got them tired.”

On a broken play, Mariota had made the impossible, possible. Scott Frost thought Mariota had a chance to run for a first down, but instead, Mariota scrambled out of the pocket, evading the cluster of Spartan linemen and forward pitched a perfect ball to Freeman for a fresh set of downs. It may not have been planned, but it worked just fine.

“That’s the only play I don’t think Marcus did well,” Frost said. “I don’t think he should have shoveled it to him (Royce Freeman), I think he should have ran for it (first down) because that was dangerous. If we dropped that, it could have changed the game.”

Well, it didn’t. Mariota completed the pass and went on to find Devon Allen in the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown, his second of the game.

“It was one of those (plays) where they brought pressure and I was looking for my hot (route) and I couldn’t find it,” Mariota said. “I just had to make a play on my feet and once I got it, I saw Royce (Freeman) by himself, so I just gave him a little shovel pass to go get the first down.”

Mariota finished the game with 17-of-28 passing for 318 yards and three touchdowns.

When Mariota and Co. look back at their season, there is a good possibility that the replay of the pitch will stand alone. It was a play that wasn’t meant to happen, but it was also one that held strong implications in the Ducks win over the Spartans.

This play breathed life into a struggling Oregon team and it’s an invaluable moment that has momentarily kept Oregon’s playoff hopes alive. Oregon still has a long way to go, but this play insured that they got off to the right foot.

Freeman may have quickly forgotten about the Gettysburg Address-esque halftime speech, but it will be hard to believe he will forgot this play anytime soon.

Follow Hayden Kim on Twitter @Haydaykim


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