by Rob Moseley
BOULDER, Colo. — When Marcus Mariota was but 4-of-10 passing midway through the first quarter Saturday, and Colorado was trading scores with Oregon back-and-forth, the speculation was understandable.
Had the second-ranked Ducks come out flat, overlooking the rebuilding Buffaloes with Washington next on the schedule? Did the UO offense miss that badly injured running back De'Anthony Thomas and suspended tight end Colt Lyerla? Was Colorado the latest defense to use man coverage and a safety up in the box to shut down Oregon?
"It was a good game plan," UO offensive coordinator Scott Frost said of that strategy by the Buffs. "We just have a kid that can really throw the ball, and some guys that can get open.
"We didn't hit on all of them, but the ones we hit on were big plays."
To wit: Mariota's 11th attempt of the day, a 75-yard scoring pass to budding star Bralon Addison. By then Mariota had already set a UO record for consecutive attempts without an interception, which he extended to 202 by the end of Oregon's 57-16 win over Colorado.
The pass to Addison was one of seven touchdowns Oregon's quarterback accounted for in the game, another modern day school record.
As has happened over the past two seasons, Mariota wasn't particularly sharp to start the game. But as receiver Josh Huff put it, "Once he gets in a rhythm and gets it going, he's tough to stop."
Mariota went to the bench in yet another game prior to the fourth quarter, having completed 16-of-27 passes for 355 yards and five scores. He also ran seven times for 43 yards and two touchdowns.
"They loaded the box with eight, nine guys, and that's calling for us to throw," Mariota said. "We have the type of athletes that can make plays, and I was proud of those guys, because they did."
Mariota's touchdowns were dispersed to three wideouts, with Huff and Addison each accounting for two scores and Keanon Lowe catching one. Addison and Huff each had 100-plus receiving yards, the second time in three games the Ducks (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) have been able to say that, having found a balance in their offensive production that didn't exist last season.
Addison followed up his two punt returns for touchdowns against Cal with five receptions for 158 yards against Colorado.
"He took a lot of pressure off me this game," Huff said. "He was able to put us in great field position and change momentum a couple times with the catches he made."
Oregon's receivers benefitted a few times from Mariota's patience and mobility, as he scrambled to keep plays alive before passing down the field.
"We talk about that all the time, the 'scramble' drill," Addison said. "We have a great quarterback that can improvise, so you can't just give up on a play. We know he can create plays with his legs, so we've got to keep our routes alive and keep working."
In scoring 50 points for the fifth straight game, the Ducks extended their school record, and moved within a game of tying the NCAA record. Oregon's 296 points through five games are more than the Ducks have scored in a full season as recently as 2004.
All of that despite the sluggish first few minutes. Huff said he felt the effects of Colorado's altitude to an extent, and the Ducks were thrown off-track early by several gadget plays that worked for the Buffs. Offensive tackle Jake Fisher said miscommunication up front also contributed to some early struggles.
"That typically happens to us — we have to get comfortable and see what the defense is bringing," center Hroniss Grasu said. "I think we did a great job, Marcus particularly, and the offensive line protecting him."
Huff said the Ducks know they've got to work on starting faster, considering the difficulty of the upcoming schedule, beginning next week at Washington. They're pretty good at shaking it off early in games, though, as demonstrated against the Buffs.
Major credit for that goes to their unflappable quarterback, Mariota, for whom performances like Saturday's will only raise the volume of Heisman Trophy buzz.
"It would mean a lot for this team and to the university," Mariota said of becoming Oregon's
first Heisman winner. "For me personally, that is a dream of mine, but I can't think about that. That's outside noise. If I just take care of what has to be done on the field, things will take care of themselves."