Trying to stop the Oregon offense during the Marcus Mariota era was akin to trying to hold back a dam springing multiple leaks. No matter what approach defenses took, the dam usually ended up bursting, then overwhelming everything in its path.
That’s what happened to the Michigan State defnese on September 6, 2014.
This week in Heisman history, the junior quarterback from Hawaii led the No. 3 Ducks to a 46-27 home victory over the No. 5 Spartans in 2014’s premier non-conference matchup.
But don’t let the score fool you. That salty Sparty defense — the unit that sparked a 13-1, Rose Bowl-winning campaign the season before — had things under control for most of the game. Indeed, with a little over six minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Spartans held a 27-18 advantage and had the Ducks pinned on their side of the field, facing a third and 10 situation.
Then the dam broke.
In the pivotal play of the game, Mariota dodged a fierce pass rush and broke away to the outside before dumping a pass to tailback Royce Freeman, who gained 17 yards and a first down. Five plays later, Mariota hit receiver Devon Allen for a 24-yard touchdown and the Ducks were within two.
The next six MSU plays netted negative one yard, resulting in two punts. The corresponding Ducks possessions produced nine plays for 113 yards and 14 more points. An 11-play, 96-yard drive put a capper on the lightning-quick 28-point onslaught that came about in just under 13 minutes of game time.
Through it all, Mariota was spectacular, dissecting Sparty’s defense to the tune of 303 yards and three touchdowns, while also adding 42 yards on the ground. But it was his overall command of the Oregon offense at pivotal moments that keyed his team to victory.
It was also the game that elevated Mariota from Heisman hopeful to Heisman favorite. He would go on to produce one of the best seasons in Heisman history, passing for 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns with just two interceptions while also rushing for 669 yards and 14 scores (he also caught a TD pass) as the Ducks finished the regular season with a 12-1 record.
His 53 total touchdowns tied Sam Bradford for the most in Heisman history. Accordingly, his winning Heisman vote was the third-highest vote total in Heisman history and he appeared on a record 95.16% of ballots.
He remains the only Oregon Heisman winner.