Thomas, Bennett give Ducks 1-2 punch – if they want
EUGENE - Darron Thomas is a star quarterback. In 2010, he led the Oregon Ducks to a 12-1 season and the BCS national championship game.
He has been the same excellent quarterback this season. But, two weeks ago against Arizona State, Thomas hurt his left knee when a Sun Devils player fell on him.
Redshirt freshman Bryan Bennett replaced Thomas that night and led the Ducks to victory. Bennett started last week's game against Colorado and again led the Ducks to victory.
Despite Bennett's success, it was no surprise that Thomas - playing with a brace on his knee, but healthy - was under center to begin Saturday's game against Washington State.
The surprise came at halftime.
With the Ducks leading 15-10, Thomas was benched for Bennett.
In the second half, the 6-3, 205-pound redshirt freshman did everything the Ducks could have asked of him in helping Oregon to a 43-28 win.
Now, the inevitable questions come up: Is there a quarterback controversy in Eugene? And, who will be the starting quarterback next week when the Ducks travel to Seattle to face Washington?
'I really don't know,' Bennett says. 'That's up to the coaches. I'm just going to continue getting better each day, and whatever they ask me to do is what I'll do.'
Asked whether he is still the starter, Thomas responded with just a single word: an emphatic 'yes.'
Thomas then elaborated that with his body of work over the last season and a half he could not see losing the starting job.
'I've been starting, I'll continue starting,' Thomas said.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly said he already knows who will be the starter next week, but refused to say who it is.
'I don't have to answer that question, but I know who he is,' Kelly said.
Thomas was not bad in his only half of work against the Cougars. The 6-3, 215-pound junior was 8 of 13 passing for 153 yards and one touchdown, although he did throw two interceptions - after dropped passes - including a 76-yard pick-6.
'You look at the stats, I don't think it was that bad,' Thomas said. 'If ya'll don't think I'm supposed to be starting, I don't know. But I'm very confident.'
Thomas' touchdown pass may be in the No. 1 spot on the Ducks' 2011 highlight reel play-list.
Thomas dropped back, was chased from the pocket, ran nearly 15 yards back, ran close to the line of scrimmage and launched a pass down field to Lavasier Tuinei, who was wide open. Tuinei caught the ball and stumbled into the end zone for the 55-yard TD.
'It was kind of a broken play,' Thomas said. 'We didn't get the correct read, guys were running after me. I just saw two guys open. Just gave one of them a shot.'
At halftime, Thomas was informed by offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich that Bennett would be taking the snaps in the second half.
'I just felt like he wasn't setting his feet, and sometimes I worry about can he get out of the way?' Kelly said, of Thomas. 'There were a lot of instances, not just one particular instance. We just felt that Bryan gave us a better chance in the second half.'
Said Thomas: 'I didn't talk to Chip about it. Coach Helfrich came and explained it to me. He said that they were just looking out for me. That's what they told me, and I'd have to agree with it.'
Bennett admitted he was surprised when Helfrich told him that he would be entering the game.
'I wasn't expecting it,' Bennett said. 'But I couldn't lose my mind or anything like that. Stay poised, stay calm.'
Bennett did just that. He threw a 45-yard touchdown to De'Anthony Thomas on his first pass of the game.
Bennett finished the day 4 of 7 passing for 88 yards and two touchdowns. He also introduced his speed into the Ducks' offense, rushing four times for 25 yards, compared to the minus-8 yards that Thomas picked up in the first half.
'Bryan did a good job,' Kelly said. 'When he goes in there, we know that he's got a lot of weapons. What Bryan can do is he plays within himself. I don't think he forced the issue again for the second straight game. He took what the defense gave him. He made some really good decisions and put the ball on people when he had to put the ball on people.'
One option on the table is that the Ducks could use a two-quarterback offense moving forward.
Kelly has said that he does not believe in a two-quarterback system.
But Helfrich said that the old adage of 'if you have two quarterbacks you have none' is misused in this situation.
'We'll play who will win us the game,' Helfrich said. 'We'll play (safety) Eddie Pleasant at quarterback if it will help us win games.'
The biggest issue with a quarterback controversy is that it can fracture a team. Bennett said he doesn't see that happening at Oregon, though.
'The team knows that this is football,' Bennett said. 'No one has even said that there's going to be a quarterback controversy yet. I don't know what the coaches have planned. Darron and I - I'm sure I can speak for him - are just going to continue to go in and get better each week.
'The team knows that. The team has confidence in both of us. Whoever the coach asks to play is what they do. We have no control over that. The players have no control over that, so it's up to the coaches, and whatever they ask us to do we'll do.'
Kelly said both Thomas and Bennett have the mental makeup to handle whatever comes next.
'It's all about the team,' Kelly said. 'This team is all about we not about me.'