It’s really hard to follow up perfection. Marcus Mariota found that out the hard way this week in his second stint as Titans starting quarterback. It wasn’t the magical afternoon that his debut produced, though he still appeared poised and almost brought Tennessee back for an improbable comeback win. But the Cleveland Browns handed him his first pro loss and gave reason to believe that Tennessee still has a way to go in terms of competing for a division title.
As expected, the Browns used more pressure looks and got to Mariota much more frequently than Tampa Bay had a week prior. Cleveland is able to rely on their all-world cornerback Joe Haden to usually shut down one half of the field and Travon Williams on the other side is a pretty strong second banana. That allowed the Browns to take chances up front and they ended up putting 11 hits on Mariota for the afternoon.
Though he did end the day with a pair of touchdown passes and no picks, Mariota lost two fumbles and was fortunate to have one interception negated on a penalty. His numbers were solid, but this time it was Mariota on the wrong side of an early deficit, as he had done to Jameis Winston in Week 1.
This result is probably more in line for what Mariota’s rookie campaign will produce. He wasn’t able to make many big plays in the passing game and continued to eye the safe routes, but he was again good down near the goal line and finished the team’s two scoring drives with clutch throws. He’ll need to get a bit better at securing the football because he’s guaranteed to take a lot more hits — and by much bigger men — than he did his entire Oregon career.
Next up is a home date with the Colts, which seems like it’s already a must-win game for Indianapolis. Andrew Luck’s team has Super Bowl aspirations, but it’s really hard to get there starting off 0-3. Mariota shouldn’t be trying to outduel Luck, but he’ll need to be better protected and focus on playing strong, smart football, just as he has been.
UH eyes another big test against Big Ten
The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors took care of business Saturday, though it was a bit closer for longer than they probably would have liked. UC Davis gave the ‘Bows all they could handle for most of the first half before Hawaii rattled off 27 straight points and led by as many as 30 midway through the fourth quarter.
(But if you had UH giving the points, that meaningless last-minute field goal certainly soured your evening.)
Now Hawaii (2-1) heads out to Madison, Wisc. to take on the 22nd-ranked Wisconsin Badgers (2-1) in their fourth of five non-conference games this season. UH hasn’t started a season 3-1 since 2002 and it’s difficult to imagine that changing this week. But if the ‘Bows are to remain in this one to give themselves a chance at the shocker, it’s going to require a big day from Paul Harris. The junior running back carried 11 times for 147 yards against UC Davis, including a 95-yard touchdown scamper to give the ‘Bows a 20-10 lead early in the third quarter.
The Badgers have been a bit more pass happy than we’re used to seeing, but Hawaii will need to shore up all aspects of its defense to remain within striking distance.
I’m not one for moral victories, but the scoreboard shouldn’t really be Hawaii’s focus this week, just as it shouldn’t have been in Week 2 at Ohio State. Continuing to get production from Max Wittek, getting defensive pressure into the opposing backfield and making Harris a central figure within the offense will be how UH contends for a Mountain West title. If they’re able to accomplish those things against Wisconsin, then the confidence around this program should continue to grow.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.