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Recap: Derek Carr vs Marcus Mariota in college

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A look back at when Oregon reigned supreme but it was Fresno State that had the Raiders future starter at QB

Fresno State v Oregon Photo by Kevin Casey/Getty Images

There was a time in the last decade when Derek Carr led “mid-major” Fresno State to a near-upset of fourth-ranked Oregon. Carr helped the Bulldogs build a three-point lead with just 55 minutes and 16 seconds remaining on the clock, but that was a hair more than enough time for the Ducks to unload 35 unanswered en route to a 42-25 victory. The quarterback for Oregon that day was playing in only his second career college game and now seven and a half years later he’s backing up Carr with the Las Vegas Raiders.

Marcus Mariota didn’t light up Fresno State that day but Oregon head coach Chip Kelly didn’t need him to since Kenjon Barner rushed for 201 yards and three touchdowns. Backup De’Anthony Thomas had 102 yards and two scores. Somehow the game didn’t get completely out of hand, as the Bulldogs scored 16 unanswered at one point, but they were no match for the 366 yards of Ducks rushing that day.

Coming out of St Louis School in Hawaii, Mariota was only offered scholarships by Memphis and Oregon, and you can just tell by the look on his face how annoyed he was by that:

Though Kelly’s coaching career hasn’t gone as he planned it, it was clear from the outset that choosing Oregon was the best decision for Mariota and that choosing Mariota was the best decision for Kelly. With (BLANK*) as the QB in 2011, the Ducks went 12-2 and that QB had 33 touchdowns against only seven interceptions. The backup QB, whose name is (BLANK2*), also contributed six touchdowns and no picks. Just imagine Mariota’s salivation at the prospect of being the main guy in 2012.

*Fun trivia: Name that QB without looking it up

*Fun trivia2: Name that QB without looking it up (You may actually have to be this person or his parents to know it)

After a Week 1 loss to LSU in 2011, Oregon propelled themselves to 9-1 after a 53-30 win over third-ranked Stanford with Andrew Luck at QB. Now ranked fourth, the Ducks hosted 18th-ranked USC and fell behind 38-14 late in the third quarter. Oregon rallied back 38-35, but after getting 1st-and-10 from the USC 18 with :14 seconds left, they eventually wound up at 4th-and-12, missing a 37-yard field goal try by Alejandro Maldonado as time expired.

Matt Barkley threw four touchdowns for the Trojans in victory and Oregon lost their bid for a national championship. They still won the Pac-12 and ended up beating Russell Wilson and Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, 45-38.

That was the table setting for Mariota’s 2012 debut against Arkansas State, in which he had three touchdowns and no picks in a game they led 50-3 in the first half.

Up next was hosting Carr and Fresno State, a school coming off of a 4-9 finish in the WAC and starting play for the first time in the Mountain West under near head coach Tim DeRuyter. But the Bulldogs had long been a competitive “mid-major” team, going to a bowl game in all but one year from 1999 to 2010. Then came their 4-9 season but there was hope because Carr, the Fresno Bakersfield native and brother of a former top overall NFL draft pick, was going into his second year as starter.

After a warmup against Weber State (Carr went 20-of-25, 298 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT in that game), it was onto the number four team in the country. Few expected the game to be competitive and ... it wasn’t ... but we got a glimpse of two quarterbacks who’d both be NFL starters for the majority of 2015-2019 and are teammates in 2020.

The full game is available on YouTube, starting with Fresno State getting the ball to open things up and running a fake punt on the road against a national title contender that actually worked. You can watch it right here:


Mariota ended the game 19-of-27, 166 yards, one touchdown, no picks, 14 carries for 67 yards. It was one of the least effective games of his career as a passer but repeat, they didn’t need much from him. Oregon got off to a 10-0 start and were ranked first in the country after a 59-17 win over Cal. It’s worth it to repeat Oregon’s point totals, in order, over their 10-0 start:

57, 42, 63, 49, 51, 52, 43, 70, 62, and 59.

The 42 points they scored against Fresno State was their lowest output of their first 10 games. They spent six weeks ranked second until finally climbing after Alabama dropped a game to Texas A&M, led by Johnny Manziel. Ranked first, the Ducks hosted Stanford, now led by Kevin Hogan instead of Luck. Oregon led 14-7 in the fourth quarter but couldn’t get a solid offensive drive going all day and eventually Hogan, Zach Ertz, and Stepfan Taylor guided them to 4th-and-1 at the Oregon 12. They picked up the first on a two-yard run, then Hogan to Ertz for the game-tying score with 1:35 remaining.

Mariota didn’t have a game-winning drive in him that day. Maldonado missed a 41-yarder on the opening possession of overtime. Jordan Williamson didn’t miss for Stanford. The Ducks were no longer ranked first.

Oregon started 8-0 and were ranked second for most of 2013, but again lost to Stanford when they really needed a win. They finished 11-2, ninth in the polls. In 2014, Oregon was again ranked second when they dropped a game to Arizona — also for the second year in a row — before eventually getting to a 13-1 record and playing in the national championship against Ohio State, now with Heisman-winner Marcus Mariota at QB.

They lost 42-20 to a team with Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas, and many others. Mariota finished his career with 105 touchdowns against only 14 interceptions, plus another 29 rushing scores. He was selected second overall in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Carr ended that game against Oregon 29-of-47, 234 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions. It was the lowest passer rating he’d post in any game from October 15, 2011 to December 7, 2013, a stretch of 32 contests. He threw five touchdowns against Colorado the following week but then dropped one to Tulsa. Fresno State finished 2012 with a respectable 9-4 record, losing to SMU in Mariota’s home state for the Hawaii Bowl.

But in 2013, Carr wound up on the Heisman watch lists after the Bulldogs got off to a 10-0 start, though they had a road game at Colorado cancelled because of flooding. Ranked 16th in the country and on the road vs San Jose State, the game was halftime...until San Jose State pulled away in the second half to win 62-52.

Carr ended the season with 50 touchdowns against only eight interceptions, throwing passes to three 1,000-yard receivers:

Davante Adams, 131 catches for 1,719 yards and 24 touchdowns

Isaiah Burse, 100 catches for 1,026 yards and six touchdowns

Josh Harper, 79 catches for 1,011 yards and 13 touchdowns

He placed eighth in Heisman voting, well behind winner Jameis Winston, the quarterback who’d be selected over Mariota one year later. Carr ended his college career at the same place where he’s now starting over Mariota: Carr struggled heavily as Fresno State lost a no-contest matchup against USC in the Las Vegas Bowl, 45-20.

He entered the 2014 draft and was the fourth quarterback selected, going after Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, and Manziel. He has thrown nearly as many touchdowns as those three quarterbacks combined.

The two quarterbacks now play on the same side and Mariota makes no false aspirations about being anything other than Carr’s support QB for the near future. But it really wasn’t that long ago when things were seen much differently. Perceptions can change quickly.

So can scores.