QB's knee injury has limited Oregon on offense, Frost says

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Earlier in the season, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota sprinted into the open field against Virginia and other teams.EUGENE — Several Oregon players say quarterback Marcus Mariota’s left knee injury has not affected his performance.

“I haven’t seen it affect him at all,” receiver Josh Huff says. “Marcus is a tough guy.”

Says receiver Keanon Lowe: “I don’t really see a difference, because he plays his heart out every single day in practice, and in the games he puts it all on the line.”

Offensive coordinator Scott Frost gives a more unbiased answer.

“We’re a different team when he can’t take off and run it,” Frost says. “When he can, he gives us a whole other weapon and a whole other dimension.

"We’re trying to get him healthy.”

Frost also admits that Mariota’s health has changed the way he, as coordinator, calls the games.

“We’ve been careful to try to keep him as healthy as he’s been,” Frost says. “It limits us a little bit, but we still need to be able to find answers when he’s not able to take off.”

So, how will Mariota’s knee hold up Friday, when Oregon plays host to Oregon State in the 4 p.m. Civil War?

“He’s right,” Frost says, of his QB's condition. “I think he’s pretty much there now. He was close in the last game, but we were still a little bit careful with him.”

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich was flippant when asked how Mariota looked in practice on Monday.

“Great,” Helfrich said. “Awesome.”

When asked whether Mariota had practiced fully, Helfrich repeated himself.

“He was great,” he said. “He was awesome.”

Mariota’s knee is not the only concern for the Ducks. Late in last week's lost at Arizona, after throwing only his second interception of the season, Mariota tried to make the tackle. He received a knee to the helmet for his efforts. When Mariota left the field, he looked woozy and was attended to by a crowd of team personnel.

“I just got my bell rung a little bit,” Mariota says. “I went after the guy. I was more mad that I threw the interception than anything.”

Mariota says he passed tests for a concussion.

"My symptoms are good,” he says.

Over the last three games, Mariota has been wearing a thick brace on his left knee. While it has added protection, it has also made him even less mobile.

“I’m not going to make that an excuse,” he says. “It is what it is, and I’ve learned to play with it, especially through practice.”

Mariota says he is not sure whether he will wear the brace Friday.

“We’ll see,” he says. “I continue to work with the training staff, and we’ll make a decision at the end of the week.”

Mariota says Oregon State’s defense will pose some challenges for the Ducks, especially because Oregon isn't sure what to expect from the Beavers.

“They’re good up front, and they’re going to bring some pressure,” Mariota says. “They’ve been good taking the ball away, and we’re going to have to focus on that.

"They played us differently last year than they played anyone else. So we’ll have to see how that plays out.”

Some have wondered whether Oregon will show up mentally and emotionally, given that the Ducks have lost their chance to play in a top-flight bowl.

Mariota says it is now a matter of pride and brotherhood for the Ducks.

“We’re just playing for each other,” he says. “We’re always playing for each other. We’ve always wanted to play for the brother on our left and our brother on our right. Wherever that takes us, it’s not in our control.”

Given that he is projected to be a very high NFL draft pick, should he forgo the final two years of his eligibility, there is a chance Friday could be Mariota’s last game at Autzen Stadium. He says he is not thinking about that, though.

“Not at all,” Mariota says. “And I’m being truthfully honest. After the bowl season, I’ll go home and talk through this with my family.”

Helfrich says that whether Mariota is healthy or not, there is no one he would rather have taking snaps for the Ducks in the Civil War.

“I would take Marcus Mariota any day and … what’s the expression? Twice on Sunday," Helfrich says. "I would do that."

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