Originally posted on The Duck Stops Here  |  Last updated 5/1/12

Not so fast, my friend.

After Marcus Mariota's impressive debut in an Oregon uniform, many fans will be ready to annoit him the immediate starter and the next Dennis Dixon, while sending Bryan Bennett back to number two. Fans loved Bennett in the middle of last season when he came off the bench against Arizona State and Washington State to spark wins, while starting and going the whole way against Colorado and performing steadily in a lopsided win.

Bennett had a bad day Saturday, out of rhythm without a dependable running game or open targets, harried into three costly mistakes, two interceptions that included a pick six and a fumble. He struggled behind a patchwork line, falling victim to the red jersey/touch rule on a number of occasions. Elusive and nimble in live action last season while compiling a rushing average of 8.7 yards per carry, BB looked frustrated yesterday as plays were blown dead anytime the defense laid a hand on him.

Meanwhile Mariota, with better blockers and targets, and Ayele Forde running capably, thrived. His offense clicked in a 41-14 victory. The young islander looked poised and cool in his decision making, hitting 18 of 26 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown, in addition to rushing for 99 yards and two more tds. Mariota was so fast he couldn't be touched on his two scoring runs, displaying impressive touch and the command of a veteran in his first live action in an Oregon uniform.

Trouble is, a lot of players have shined in a spring game. Aaron Pflugrad and Blake Cantu both turned in 100-yard receiving days in recent springs, and neither ever had a day that big for the Ducks in the fall, Cantu plagued by injuries, Pflugrad transferring to Arizona State. And the best measure of Bennett's  ability is not his worst day of spring practice, but the capability and maturity he showed leading a comeback win against the Sun Devils last fall. In that one he led his team to four straight scoring drives, running and passing sharply.

Kenjon Barner only had one carry on Saturday, held out to prevent injury. The Fighting Duck offense also missed out on Colt Lyerla and Josh Huff. Either quarterback will benefit in the fall from having his full complement of weapons, and similarly, the offense has to benefit from having a cohesive line rotation and a quarterback who is a true dual threat. Both the young signal callers struck downfield Saturday, Bennett with a sharply thrown 28-yard scoring pass to B.J. Kelly, Mariota with a 37-yard laser to Daryle Hawkins, a nifty 27-yard touch pass to De'Anthony Thomas, and a crisp seam throw to Rahsaan Vaughn down the right sideline. Mariota's most impressive play may have been an incompletion: flushed out of the pocket on third and long, he rolled left and cooly threw the ball ten yards out of bounds to perserve a field goal, a veteran move.

The measure of a quarterback has to combine his physical tools with his ability to process information under pressure. Saturday, Mariota looked like one of the best quarterback talents the Ducks have ever had, in terms of his knack for handling situations and relying on his skills and the skills of his teammates. He looked special, while Bennett looked harried and out of synch. The coaches insist the decision will be based on a body of work that will extend to the end of August, but many fans filed out of Autzen Stadium chatting excitedly, believing they had seen the debut of Oregon's next great quarterback. This time the optimists may be right.

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