Lieberman: De'Anthony Thomas is making a fool of USC
Whether you’re a bandwagon fan or longtime supporter of Oregon football, things have been gravy lately. Nowadays, it takes concerted effort to recall a fresh, raw memory of a time when Oregon football was getting kicked in the mouth.
In case you need a reminder, I’m here to help. The day was Oct. 4, 2008, and the opponent was USC. The Ducks were ranked No. 23@@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPID=233&DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=1596935@@ in the country coming into the matchup and were led by two unknown junior-college transfers playing their first seasons in Division I: Jeremiah Masoli@@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=1550447@@ and LeGarrette Blount@@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=1550406@@. The unpolished Masoli was only called upon to start when presumed first-stringer Justin Roper@@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=529219@@ was unable to go with a knee injury.
Not that it really mattered. The No. 9 Trojans@@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPID=233&DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=1596935@@ — fresh off a loss to Oregon State that cost them the top spot in both national polls — took the Ducks to the woodshed. USC racked up a 17-point@@not on goducks, but do the math here: http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPID=233&DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=1596935@@ lead before halftime and never relented, shutting out the Ducks the rest of the way for a 44-10 victory@@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPID=233&DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=1596935@@. Oregon’s respected rushing attack@@idk what this means@@ — which came into the contest averaging more than 300 yards per game@@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?&DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=1574805@@ — was held to 63 yards on 39 carries. Things got so desperate that Oregon threw in an inexperienced, true-freshman backup quarterback to wrap things up. Darron Thomas completed two of four passes for 23 yards during limited action in the fourth quarter.
That season, the Trojans claimed their last of seven consecutive conference championships@@http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/columns/story?columnist=schlabach_mark&id=4815758@@. My, how times have changed for both programs. Pete Carroll@@CE name in previous link@@ is gone, replaced by a coach that’s arguably even more maligned (sorry, Kiffin fans@@http://www.usctrojans.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/kiffin_lane01.html@@). In Eugene, Chip Kelly@@CE@@ has taken the reins and instituted a unique variety of football that has turned college football (or at least the Pac-12) on its head.
Most journalists and fans said the proverbial torch was passed between the two programs last season when Oregon went to the Coliseum and handed Matt Barkley and Co. a 53-32@@http://www.goducks.com/SportSelect.dbml?SPSID=3377&SPID=233&DB_OEM_ID=500&Q_SEASON=2010@@ drubbing. If that game signaled a nail in USC’s coffin, De’Anthony Thomas@@roster@@ has pounded it through the heart of Trojan Nation with a sledgehammer this season.
If you didn’t know, Thomas was highly recruited by USC, which has managed to continually haul in top-10 recruiting classes even in the face of daunting NCAA sanctions. Thomas was a local legend in Los Angeles, wowing crowds and scouts with his mind-bending footwork, agile hands and track-team speed. As signing day approached for the class of 2011, Thomas was seen wearing Trojans gear at camps and had a strong relationship with Kiffin and his staff. Did I mention his high school was practically a stone’s throw from the USC campus?
However, the Trojans — seemingly preoccupied with other recruits and their inflated self-worth — weren’t offering Thomas the individualized attention he deserved. USC wanted Thomas to play cornerback (a position he excelled at in high school) and were unwilling to commit to getting the ball in his hands on a constant basis. In a last-second coup, Oregon was more than happy to scoop up the five-star recruit to join their already-stacked backfield.
Fast-forward@@m-w@@ nine months. The Trojans remain unranked in one national poll and sit behind Arizona State in the Pac-12 South. Meanwhile the Ducks are firmly entrenched in the top 10, with a competitive loss to the nation’s top-ranked team, LSU, as their only blemish. Thomas, in the meantime, has put on a dazzling show after a rough first outing in which he coughed up the ball for two costly fumbles.
The Black Mamba has 36 carries@@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?&DB_OEM_ID=500&ATCLID=205266631@@ on the season. In those touches, he’s amassed 314 yards (8.7 per carry) and four touchdowns@@see previous@@. However, rushing hasn’t been his true forte. De’Anthony also has 23 receptions for 328 yards (14.3 yards per reception) and five touchdowns@@see previous@@. He’s already creeping up on Oregon’s all-time record for touchdowns by a true freshman.
If LaMichael James@@roster@@ and Darron Thomas@@roster@@ had endured as Oregon’s main rushing threats in 2011, these stats could be chalked up as meaningless figures amassed in garbage time. But unforeseen injuries and strategic changes in the Ducks’ offense have made Thomas’ role more important than ever. De’Anthony Thomas is getting vital touches against powerful opponents and making them count. I can’t help but think that Kiffin grimaces every time he sees De’Anthony dizzy a crowd of defenders on his way to paydirt.
Oregon doesn’t play USC until Nov. 19@@schedule@@. By then, De’Anthony’s workload will likely be reduced to a supporting act. But don’t mistake the significance of his performance this season. Not only are the Ducks a more appealing destination than ever, their willingness to color outside the lines and cater their system to individual abilities means they will continually use their embarrassing talent lode to the fullest extent possible. With a Heisman@@CE@@ candidate and one of the best reserves in the country already established at running back, Oregon could have easily made the same mistake as USC and put Thomas on the other side of the ball. Luckily for Oregon fans, they didn’t.