Following Oregon’s loss a couple of weeks ago to the Huskies, Head Coach, Mark Helfrich was asked about his decision to start true freshman quarterback, Justin Herbert, against one of the toughest teams in the country.
“We needed a spark,” Helfrich said.
Herbert now has three starts under his belt and despite two of those being losses, it is evident he has indeed provided that much-needed spark.
Against Washington, Herbert worked out the jitters and showed promise. He was steady and poised, immediately drawing Mariota comparisons from fans and media alike. Against Cal, Herbert lessened the sting of the loss by throwing 6 touchdown passes. And Despite throwing a game-ending interception, Herbert earned solid praise after those 6 touchdown passes in a single game added him to a family of honored Oregon QB’s including: Danny O’Neil, Joey Harrington, Darron Thomas, Marcus Mariota and Vernon Adams Jr.
Then, If Herbert hadn’t already started to meet fan expectations, he marched into Autzen Stadium yesterday and led the team to a 54-35 victory over the Arizona State Sun Devils. Admittedly, the Sun Devils have also been struggling and were also playing a freshman quarterback but Herbert stole the show after racking up 489 passing yards with a 74% pass completion percentage, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. Those 489 passing yards, by the way, tied the school’s single-game passing record set by Bill Musgrave in 1989. (In case you’re horrible at math like I am, that was before Justin Herbert was born).
Following the game, Mark Helfrich praised his young quarterback but added, “This is just one game. We don’t need to anoint the QB.”
Helfrich is a coach. He has to say that. Fans, on the other hand, don’t.
The Ducks seem to have found their quarterback and nothing made that clearer than the loud “Ju-stin- Her-bert!” chants from the crowd following yesterday’s victory. Finally, there is reason to hope for brighter days for Oregon Football and as an added bonus, Justin Herbert just so happens to have a very similar demeanor to Oregon’s beloved Heisman winner, Marcus Mariota, a quarterback the Eugene Native spent years watching at Autzen.
Following the game yesterday, Herbert was asked if Mariota had reached out to him at all over the past couple of weeks. Herbert said he hadn’t been contacted by Mariota (or any other former Oregon quarterback). “It would be really cool, but I know he’s busy,” Herbert respectfully added.
My bet is that news has already reached Mariota and he’s probably already reached out.
When Mariota left Eugene, most fans and media agreed that a quarterback like Mariota, both on and off the field, wasn’t likely to come along very often. Not to at all diminish Mariota’s incredible contributions to the Oregon program and Eugene community, but we may all soon be eating our words. Sure, it’s early, but after just three starts, the comparisons are already glaring.
Not only is Herbert “borderline amazing,” as described by fellow teammate and fan favorite, TE Pharaoh Brown, he has the same shy, quiet and humble demeanor Mariota continually displayed. When bombarded by press questions, he respectfully sticks to the point and gives short, safe answers. And when he succeeds, he deflects praise to his coaches and teammates. As Bri Amaranthus from CSNNW.com put it yesterday, it’s like he’s studied Mariota to a “T”.
There’s no denying this has been a difficult season for the Ducks and many questions still remain. The defense, though making some improvements, is still dismal and Mark Helfrich’s coach’s seat may still be a bit warm (for the record, I personally feel it shouldn’t be). One question, however, has clearly been answered.
Just ask yesterday’s Autzen crowd.
Follow Nichole Brown on Twitter @UOgridirongirl