Ducks respond — QB Thomas' first-half flurry leads Oregon to 69-20 rout of Nevada
EUGENE - The opponent wasn't LSU or any other top-tier team, and the score reflected it.
Oregon rediscovered some of its mojo, as quarterback Darron Thomas threw a school-record five first-half touchdown passes and a record-tying six total, LaMichael James scored touchdowns in three different ways, and the Ducks' offensive speed and execution overwhelmed Nevada in a 69-20 win on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Autzen Stadium.
The Ducks play an outmanned Missouri State next, 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17 at Autzen and, if they continue to make strides, they could be ready to defend their league title in the new Pac-12 Conference.
"We'll build from this," said coach Chip Kelly, who added that the Ducks (1-1) responded well in practice after losing to LSU. "You try to build in these early games. We still have some question marks in terms of depth."
"It's just not about Missouri State. It's about going out doing our thing," Thomas, a junior, said of the next game. "Making sure we stay clean up on our offensive side. It's going to be a big challenge for us to come out and do the same thing because it's not a good team we're going to play next week, but we've still got to come out with that same fire like we're playing LSU."
Their fans and followers were curious to see how the Ducks would play, and possibly improve, after their opening 40-27 loss to LSU, which knocked them from No. 3 in preseason national rankings to out of the top 10.
Oregon improved and executed well offensively against the non-BCS Western Athletic Conference team, led by Thomas, who had 12 completed passes - five for touchdowns - and 226 yards in the first half. He finished 13 of 19 for 295 yards in the air.
"I thought Darron played outstanding," Kelly said. "He was a little bit more settled."
Added James, who's believed to be the first Duck ever to score touchdowns rushing, receiving and returning in the same game: "Darron was definitely on his game. I think he really found out all the mismatches and put the ball on the money."
Thomas felt he had a lot to prove after being shaky in passing and decision-making against LSU.
"I just came out and did my thing," he said. "Receivers came out and did a good job. We held on to the ball - catching, eyes to the tuck, finishing.
"I really didn't know I had six (TDs). I went out and did great things. I'm happy for all the receivers. ... I gotta come out and do better, game by game, to lead this team to victory." He also said that "better defense" was also a factor in the big win.
The Ducks put up 603 yards - 272 on the ground, 331 in the air, as backup QB Bryan Bennett also saw action. Standout freshman De'Anthony Thomas had eight rushes for 81 yards, including a 62-yard jaunt, and two catches for 93 yards and two scores. James had 12 carries for 67 yards, and "it was kind of the LaMichael we all know ... he hit it up in there," Kelly said, of his star back.
Most importantly, the Ducks got a lot of players involved in the offensive game plan, even with receiver Josh Huff and running back Kenjon Barner out injured.
"We want to be a balanced football team," Kelly added, "and take what the defense gives us."
Limiting penalties and not turning the ball over was emphasized in practice, and the Ducks had only three penalties and no turnovers. "We had a busy week of holding on to the ball," Thomas said. "It paid off."
The Oregon defense also showed some improvement, allowing Nevada to get to the UO 20- and 25-yard lines in the first half but blocking a field goal (John Boyett) and intercepting a pass (Troy Hill) to keep Nevada from scoring when the game was still being contested. The Wolf Pack still finished with 513 yards offense.
Clearly, Nevada wasn't the same team without quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a run-pass threat who led the Wolf Pack to a 13-1 record and wins over BYU, Cal, Boise State and Boston College in a bowl game last season. Fifth-year senior Tyler Lantrip (21 of 35 for 219 yards) found some holes in the UO defense, hitting ex-Duck signee Rishard Matthews for seven passes in the first half alone, but the Wolf Pack scored their first points only after trailing 34-0. Matthews had only one catch in the second half.
The Ducks scored on six of seven possessions, and the score was 41-7 at halftime, and it got worse. James, who had earlier scored on a run and a pass reception, returned a punt 58 yards for a touchdown to make it 48-7.
"The whole game I was telling myself, 'He's not going to kick me the ball,'" James said. "He was shying away. Then, he kicked one to me."
Nevada wouldn't quit, recovering its own fumble at the UO 1 and scoring on Stefphon Jefferson's 1-yard run, drawing the Wolf Pack within five touchdowns.
But Thomas stayed in the game as Oregon ran up the points. He hit De'Anthony Thomas on a pass, and the true freshman standout finished off a 69-yard touchdown play, his second score of the day, and Oregon extended the lead to 55-13.
Nevada moved to the Oregon red zone and, after a Michael Clay tackle-for-loss, Lantrip threw incomplete on fourth down. And, Oregon changed the complexion of the game by installing backup Bennett for his Duck debut at quarterback, replacing Darron Thomas after his grand day. Bennett went 2 of 7 for 36 yards.
The six touchdown passes tied Thomas with Joey Harrington (twice) and Danny O'Neil (once) for the Oregon record.
The Wolf Pack (0-1) drove for their final touchdown, which came midway through the fourth quarter (Cody Fajardo 7-yard run).
Oregon had one more offensive score to go, and got it on a 26-yard run with 2:24 left by Ayele Forde.
And then it was linebacker Boseko Lokombo, who intercepted a Nevada pass and returned it 67 yards for the final UO touchdown, at the 20-second mark.
The game saw the lifted suspensions of linebacker Kiko Alonso and cornerback Cliff Harris; Alonso played in the first half, Harris the second and then neither would submit to media interviews after the game.
And, coaches put in new starters at right guard (Nick Cody, for Ramsen Golpashin), receiver (Rahsaan Vaughn, for injured Huff) and defensive tackle (Isaac Remington, for Ricky Heimuli). Barner, who suffered an injured leg against LSU, did not see action. And kicker Rob Beard was in street clothes on the sideline, also injured, replaced by Alejandro Maldonado.
Kelly said he didn't know that Huff and Barner couldn't play until Saturday morning. Turns out they weren't needed.
QB Thomas starred, James ran well and caught passes, and newcomers De'Anthony Thomas, Vaughn and Colt Lyerla all made an impact in the first half.
Oregon went ahead 6-0 on its first drive. James, who struggled to find space against LSU, ran 19 yards on his first carry. Darron Thomas, who didn't carry the ball much against LSU, tucked the ball on a 26-yard QB draw to the Nevada 4. James scored on a 4-yard run, but the Ducks messed up the two-point conversion attempt.
"To get (a touchdown) out of it," Kelly said, "... that's a good start for us."
Oregon and Nevada exchanged defensive stops, and the Wolf Pack drove to the UO 20, but Boyett blocked a field-goal attempt by Anthony Martinez.
De'Anthony Thomas, playing his first home game, tore up right sideline for 62 yards. "I was asking for the end zone to be there," he said. "I'll get there next week."
The QB Thomas threw his first TD pass, three yards to Lavasier Tuinei, and it was 13-0.
The Wolf Pack got to the UO 25, and had the first-quarter break and a timeout to set up a few plays. But on the first play of the second quarter, Hill intercepted Lantrip's pass intended for Matthews, and returned it to the Nevada 44.
Thomas threw a 44-yard TD to James, and the rout was on.
The Wolf Pack couldn't stop the Ducks, and stopped themselves by punting twice from near midfield on fourth down.
Thomas threw a 24-yard TD pass to Vaughn, threw 51 yards to Daryle Hawkins and then had a 20-yard TD pass to Lyerla.
Nevada got on the board, as Lantrip and Matthews clicked. Lantrip and Mike Ball hooked up for a 5-yard TD pass, finishing an 11-play, 80-yard drive and drawing within 34-7.
But the Ducks, not satisfied being up by 27 points, forced the ball down the field. Thomas completed his fine first half, firing a 24-yard TD pass to De'Anthony Thomas to make it 41-7.
The Ducks had 413 yards in the first half - 187 on the ground, after achieving 170 rushing yards total in their previous two games against Auburn and LSU.
NEVADA 0 7 6 7 -- 20
OREGON 13 28 14 14 -- 69
OREGON -- 1st, 11:17: LaMichael James 4 run (rush failed)
OREGON -- 1st, 1:56: Lavasier Tuinei 3 pass from Darron Thomas (Alejandro Maldonado kick)
OREGON -- 2nd, 14:36: James 44 pass from Thomas (Maldonado kick)
OREGON -- 2nd, 9:57: Rahsaan Vaughn 25 pass from Thomas (Maldonado kick)
OREGON -- 2nd, 5:43: Colt Lyerla 20 pass from Thomas (Maldonado kick)
NEVADA -- 2nd, 1:52: Mike Ball 5 pass from Tyler Lantrip (Anthony Martinez kick)
OREGON -- 2nd, 0:13: De'Anthony Thomas 24 pass from Thomas (Maldonado kick)
OREGON -- 3rd, 13:30: James 58 punt return (Maldonado kick)
NEVADA -- 3rd, 8:38: Stefphon Jefferson 1 run (kick failed)
OREGON -- 3rd, 7:25: De'Anthony Thomas 69 pass from Thomas (Maldonado kick)
NEVADA -- 4th, 7:26: Cody Fajardo 7 run (Martinez kick)
OREGON -- 4th, 2:24: Ayele Forde (Maldonado kick)
OREGON -- 4th, :20: Boseko Lokombo 67 interception return (Maldonado kick)