Top stats to know: Heisman contenders

Scott Olmos/USA Today Sports

Against the blitz and on deep balls, Marcus Mariota is among the best.The competition for the Heisman Trophy might be down to two junior offensive stars: Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. We take you inside their numbers, providing context and perspective to their accomplishments.


That’s a lot of yards: Gordon set the FBS single-game record with 408 rushing yards against Nebraska. Penn State (388), Washington State (316) and Wake Forest (173) all have fewer than 400 rushing yards this season in conference play. Gordon had six rushes in the game that gained at least 35 yards, which is more than 85 FBS teams have had for the entire season.

Sanders’ record in trouble? Gordon leads the FBS in rushing yards (1,909). If he stays on his current pace (190.9 rushing YPG) and Wisconsin makes it to the Big Ten Championship, Gordon would break Barry Sanders’ record for most rushing yards in a season, set in 1988 when Sanders won the Heisman. To be fair, Sanders set the record in 11 games and Gordon is on pace to do it in his 14th game.

Melvin Gordon, This Season

The undisputed yards-per-rush king: With his 16.3 yards-per-rush average on 25 carries against Nebraska, Gordon set the FBS record for most yards per rush in a game with 25 or more carries. For the season, he is averaging 8.6 yards per rush, on pace to break the FBS record for yards per rush in a season (7.8) with at least 215 attempts set in 1983 by Heisman winner Mike Rozier. For his career, Gordon is averaging 8.29 yards per carry, on pace to break the career yards-per-rush average record (8.26) set by Army’s Heisman winner Glenn Davis from 1943-46.

The new “Mr. Outside”: Davis was known as “Mr. Outside” during his days at Army. Gordon might be the modern-day version. He is averaging a Power 5-high 10.9 yards per carry outside the tackles this season and has 19 such runs that gained 20 yards or more. No other FBS player has more than 16 total 20-yard rushes.

Teams should try the Leathernecks’ blueprint: Gordon has run for at least 100 rushing yards in nine of 10 games this season, including his last eight, the longest active streak in the FBS. The one team to hold Gordon to fewer than 100 yards was Western Illinois, which currently ranks 41st in the FCS in opponent yards per rush and 35th in yards per game.


A touchdown machine: Mariota has been responsible for 38 touchdowns this season, tied with Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett for most in the FBS. Mariota has been responsible for four or more touchdowns in an FBS-high seven games.

If he has four touchdowns Saturday against Colorado, Mariota will move past USC’s Matt Barkley, who was responsible for 41 touchdowns in 2011, for the Pac-12 record. He would also be two shy of Barkley’s career record of 122. We should mention that Mariota was responsible for a career-high seven touchdowns against Colorado last season, which tied the Pac-12 record for a regulation game.

Keeping good company: Mariota leads the FBS in Total QBR (90.9) this season after ranking second in each of the previous two seasons. Since 2007, every player who has led the nation in Total QBR is either a Heisman winner or a current starting NFL quarterback.

Mariota has an FBS-high seven games this season with a Total QBR of at least 90, and no player in our QBR data set (since 2004) has had more such games in his career than Mariota.

Most Games with 90+ Total QBR
Qualified QBR Games Since 2004

Good things happen when he passes: Mariota leads the nation in yards per attempt (10.0) this season and ranks second in touchdown percentage (11 percent) and interception percentage (1 percent).

Blitzing is a bad idea: On plays with five or more pass rushers, Mariota is completing 72.6 percent of his passes, the highest for a Power 5 quarterback with at least 40 attempts. For his career, he has 25 touchdowns and three interceptions in such situations.

One of the best deep balls in the nation: Marcus Mariota is completing 53.7 percent of his passes thrown 15 yards or longer, second-best among Power 5 quarterbacks this season behind Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and 16 percentage points higher than the Power 5 average.