Darron Thomas 'manages' Ducks to big win
EUGENE - Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas took his share of the blame for Oregon's loss to LSU last week. Thomas completed 31 of 54 passes for 240 yards and just one touchdown against the Tigers. Thomas was not much of a factor running the ball in that game, rushing twice for 12 yards.
There could be no better way for Thomas to silence any doubters than tying a school record with six TD passes and setting a single-half school record with five touchdown passes - both of which he did Saturday against Nevada at Autzen Stadium.
In 2 1/2 quarters, Thomas was 13 of 19 passing for 295 yards. He was also a threat on the ground, rushing three times for 34 yards.
'I was really determined to come out this game and not let last game happen,' Thomas said.
As well as he played against the Wolf Pack, Thomas was unaware that he had etched his name into the school record book alongside Joey Harington (who had six TD passes twice) and Danny O'Neil.
'(I) tied the school record today?' Thomas exclaimed, in surprise. 'That's very exciting. I'm very happy about that. I didn't know that. New information every day.'
With Oregon using the first quarter to establish its running game, Thomas got started on his record setting first half relatively late. His first TD pass did not come until 1:56 remaining in the first quarter when he found Lavasier Tuinei open in the back of the end zone from three yards out.
The Ducks getting their ground game going early wound up helping Thomas throughout the rest of the afternoon.
'We ran on them early in the game,' Thomas said. 'It opened up the pass because they wanted to stop the run.'
Thomas threw a touchdown pass on each of the Ducks' four possessions in the second quarter.
The junior QB found running back LaMichael James wide open out of the backfield for a 44-yard TD. Then he connected with receiver Rahsaan Vaughn for a 25-yard TD. Later, he hooked up with tight end Colt Lyerla for a 20-yard TD. Thomas finished out the half with a 24-yard touchdown pass to running back De'Anthony Thomas.
Darron Thomas credited much of his success to his receivers, and to fortune favoring him.
'I'm very confident in those guys making the big play,' he said. 'I've just got to get the ball in their hand. I'm just glad everybody caught the ball, and I got it to all the guys.'
The Ducks' offensive line also gave Thomas enough time to throw against Nevada - something he sorely lacked against LSU.
'The offensive line did a great job this week,' Thomas said. 'Those guys are young guys, but they're maturing each week. You're going to see them improve each week.'
Thomas' last touchdown came with 7:25 remaining in the third quarter, when he made something out of a broken play. Thomas ran a play- action fake to De'Anthony Thomas. The true freshman back was supposed to roll out and pick up the Wolf Pack's strongside linebacker. Instead, De'Anthony Thomas rolled out into the empty flat in the middle of the field.
With pressure bearing down on him, Darron Thomas saw that De'Anthony Thomas was wide open. Darron Thomas got off the pass, being hit as he threw. De'Anthony Thomas caught the ball and was off to the races for the 24-yard TD.
Making things happen with disaster imminent is something the Ducks coaches have come to demand of Darron Thomas.
'He did a couple of things where we had a couple of busts in protection,' offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. 'But that is his job. He's an experienced guy, and he needs to make those guys right around him. And we talk about that all the time: 'Hey, you have the ball, make us right.' And whether that's throwing it away, or running, or making a couple nice plays out of the system, that's what we expect of him. He did a nice job of that.'
Although Thomas' ability to air it out is what will grab all of the headlines, the Ducks made a conscious effort to make him a weapon with his legs, too.
'(We were) just making a big emphasis on me being a carrier,' Thomas said. 'I don't know if Nevada came in worried about me being a carrier from last week's game because I didn't have to carry the ball a lot. But this week we wanted to emphasize me getting the ball in my hands and making the offense as diverse as possible.'
Thomas gained the majority of his rushing yards on a designed quarterback draw in the first quarter. After dropping back, he exploded through a hole in the Nevada defensive line. He gained 26 yards before he was finally brought down.
Even though he was effective on the ground, with a quarterback as mobile as Thomas in the Ducks' spread-option offense, it seems strange that he would only have three carries. Thomas said that the reason he handed the ball off so much was because Nevada was keying on stopping him.
'We ran some zone read today,' Thomas said. '(Backup QB) Brian (Bennett) had good options to pull the ball. But when I was in the game, the defensive ends gave me reads to give the ball, and the running backs did a great job.'
Thomas' determination to go from a pedestrian first game against LSU to a record-book performance a week later did not surprise Ducks coach Chip Kelly. And if the Ducks want to keep winning, Kelly says Thomas will have to keep being just as good.
'Last week, he understood that he missed a few things,' Kelly said. 'He's just such a competitor that he's not going to let that happen to him twice. Today, he really came out and managed the game very, very well. He just took what the defense gave him. That's the Darron Thomas I know. And for us to be successful he needs to have days like this.'