EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Marcus Mariota has publicly declared his candidacy for the starting quarterback's job at Oregon.
The redshirt freshman emerged Saturday as serious competition for sophomore Bryan Bennett in the battle for the position that opened when Darron Thomas decided to skip his senior season to go pro.
Mariota completed 18 of 26 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown, in addition to rushing for 99 yards and two scores, leading his team to a 41-14 victory in Oregon's annual spring game at Autzen Stadium.
Bennett, who completed 19 of 32 passes for 209 yards and a TD, is the more experienced of the two QBs, having started a game last year when Thomas was injured. Oregon went 12-2 last season, capped by a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin.
Mariota said he was a bit nervous playing in front of a spring-game record 44,129 fans.
"My dad has always told me it's human nature. You're not human if you don't have butterflies," he said. "But I felt like I was prepared."
The spring game won't necessarily decide what the Duck will look like come the fall, but Mariota was impressive from the opening drive for the light-jerseyed "Mighty Oregon" side, with a march that was capped by Ayele Ford's 3-yard touchdown run.
Mariota ran for his own 14-yard score before the end of the first quarter to give Mighty a 14-0 lead over the Bennett-led "Fighting Oregon" team.
Not to be outdone, Bennett answered with an impressive 28-yard touchdown strike to B.J. Kelley to narrow the gap.
On his next drive, Mariota ran 82 yards for a score. His speed was impressive — even by Oregon's breakneck standards — but quarterbacks wear red jerseys in the spring game, meaning they can't be touched.
He padded the lead with a 35-yard scoring pass to Daryle Hawkins and Mighty Oregon went into the break with a 38-7 advantage.
Kenny Bassett opened the second half — which featured a running clock, with a 4-yard TD run for the dark green-clad Fighting Oregon team.
Part of what made Mariota's emergence so intriguing was that it was the first real look that anyone outside the program has had of him in a game-like situation. Last season he was part of the practice squad, and this spring Oregon coach Chip Kelly closed practices to fans and the media.
Kelly reminded reporters after the game that it is April, and that the opener is a long way off.
"It's not a position I worry about, whether it's Marcus or Bryan," Kelly said about his quarterbacks. "I'm confident in both those guys."
The Ducks will no doubt look different this season, with the departure of Thomas and prolific running back LaMichael James. Both decided to skip their senior seasons, and James was selected by the San Francisco 49ers with the 61st overall pick in the NFL draft on Friday.
Thomas surprised many when he announced he was declaring for the draft. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior passed for 2,761 yards and a school-record 33 touchdowns last season despite missing a game because of an injury.
In contrast, James' decision had been widely anticipated. The All-American who was a Heisman finalist his sophomore season rushed for a school-record 1,805 yards as a junior despite missing two games with a dislocated right elbow. He led the nation with an average of 150.4 yards rushing per game.
Kenjon Barner is James' heir apparent as Oregon's starting running back. Barner also considered turning pro before his senior year.
Barner, James' backup for the past two seasons, ran for 939 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, while pulling down 17 passes for 184 yards and three scores. On Saturday he was used sparingly to avoid injury, with only one carry for a 1-yard gain.
"It's amazing," he said of the crowd that showed up for the scrimmage. "From my freshman year to now, it's crazy. It's a game crowd for some people."
Among those in uniform for the spring game were quarterback Jake Rodrigues, tight end Evan Bayliss and defensive end Arik Armstead, all recruits who finished high school early to enroll at Oregon.
Armstead, imposing at 6-foot-8 and 295 pounds, was considered a five-star prospect by many coming out of Pleasant Grove High School in California.
Among the projected starters not in uniform on Saturday were tight end Colt Lyerla, wide receiver Josh Huff and safety John Boyett.
The Ducks open the coming season against Arkansas State on Sept. 1.