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'Mamba' strikes back

After often quiet Pac-12, Thomas makes presence felt vs. Beavers


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - De'Anthony Thomas gets a lift from his Oregon Ducks teammates as he helps lift UO to a 48-24 victory over Oregon State.Oregon had just won the 116th Civil War, and De’Anthony Thomas played one of the starring roles with three touchdowns, two of them coming when the Ducks most needed some contribution from their little bolt of lightning.

Then, the “big” news happened.

Thomas took off his helmet and showed his new look — no more corn rows.

“STILL CAN’T BELIEVE I CUT MY HAIR BUT I LOVE IT,” Thomas tweeted the day after Oregon’s 48-24 victory against Oregon State. A few days earlier, he had revealed his look on Twitter, lying shirtless in bed in the photo titled “CHOPPED OUT.”

The 5-9, 175-pound true sophomore from Crenshaw High in Los Angeles wasn’t perfect in the Civil War — he kicked OSU’s Jordan Poyer, drawing a 15-yard personal foul. Thomas said there were precipitous acts leading to the kicking, but a kick was a kick.

Oregon coaches talked with Thomas about it. Maybe, in another time and place, Thomas would have been pulled from the game. Who knows.

“Yes, I did (kick Poyer),” Thomas said. “But I just tried to stay focused and not let that get to me. I just gave a little shot.”

Other than that, Thomas, with an injured Kenjon Barner on the sidelines briefly, stepped up big-time for the Ducks. He finished the drive in which the Poyer kick occurred with a short touchdown run that put Oregon up 27-17. Then, after an OSU turnover on the kickoff, he showed all his dazzling moves and speed in scoring on a 29-yard TD run as the Ducks broke open the game.

His performance begs one question: Where had the dynamic Thomas been for the previous eight games? Something seemed different about him in Corvallis. Maybe the overt missed block on QB Marcus Mariota’s touchdown run-to-be against Stanford the week before embarrassed him, or motivated him. Maybe it was the hair.

Thomas was crucial for the Ducks in the Civil War, rushing for 122 yards and three scores on 17 carries to complement Barner’s 198 yards and two TDs on 28 carries. Then again, Mariota complemented both, bursting for a 42-yard TD run on a pretty quarterback draw, and finishing with 85 yards on eight carries.

It was Thomas’ highest rushing total of the season, and clearly his biggest impact in the Pac-12 season. Save for the highlight-reel punt return for TD against Colorado, the huge explosion plays that people had witnessed in his first 17 games weren’t seen in Pac-12 play — curiously, the drought coming after his appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Defenses keyed on him, hitting him before he could stretch his legs and outcut and outrun defenders. He proved not to be strong enough to break tackles.

Thomas had nine touchdowns during the Pac-12 season and finished the regular-season with good numbers: 90 carries for 676 yards and 11 TDs rushing, and team-leading 41 receptions for 385 yards and four scores. He also returned punts (when punters kicked to him) and kicks. So, all in all, Thomas proved to be a versatile, worthy weapon for the second year in a row, which meant also serving as a decoy.

In his somewhat scripted manner, Thomas described his Civil War performance: “I was trying to get the momentum going for our team and make plays and get everybody on the same page and have fun. The linemen out there were making key blocks and having fun.”

n Wow, what an unfortunate season for the Ducks.

A clear national title contender, Oregon loses by three points in overtime to very good Stanford — and drops behind three one-loss SEC teams in the BCS standings, effectively ending the Ducks’ national title hopes. In a way, the Ducks blew it; in another way, the BCS system exposed more flaws. Oregon is headed to a BCS game (Fiesta Bowl), but the Ducks are not the Pac-12 champs.

More curiously: When has any team ever had three Heisman Trophy candidates during the season, and none of them likely to be finalists? Pundits believe that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, USC receiver Marqise Lee and Kansas State QB Collin Klein will be the finalists, or at least most of them (see: heismanpundits.com).

First, there was Thomas, who entered Pac-12 play near the top of Heisman projections, coming off TD runs of 59, 51, 39, 33, 64 and 91 yards in calendar year 2012 (including the Rose Bowl). At that point, he had 25 TDs in 17 career games, and had scored in 12 of the previous 13 games, averaging a TD every 5.2 touches. He appeared on the SI cover and then, relatively speaking, fell off the Heisman radar.

Next was Barner, who racked up a school-record 321 yards with five TDs against USC and drew praises nationwide. But then he had 65 and 66 yards, respectively, against Cal and Stanford, and out went his Heisman hopes.

And then there was the fabulous freshman Mariota threading 20 of 23 passes for 304 yards and four scores against USC, going 27 of 34 for 377 yards and six TDs against Cal and then ... struggling to make the UO offense move and registering a mediocre 21 of 37 for 207 yards and one score against Stanford. Manziel would keep the glory as the country’s most ballyhooed redshirt freshman QB and be a Heisman frontrunner.

All three of them — Thomas, Barner and Mariota — starred against Oregon State, and it didn’t matter in the Heisman race.

For the record: Mariota, named first-team all-Pac-12 quarterback over Matt Scott and Matt Barkley (and, deservedly so, UO’s offensive MVP), finished the regular season with 218 of 312 passing (69.9 percent) for 2,511 yards, 30 TDs and only six interceptions. He also had 690 yards rushing on 98 carries and four TDs, and caught a TD pass against ASU.

Barner, a Doak Walker Award finalist, had 1,624 yards rushing on 248 carries (6.5 yards/carry), tied the school record with 21 rushing TDs and added 19 receptions for 232 yards and another score.

Those are good numbers for a team three points from being undefeated, but presumably not Heisman-worthy.