Clark: Darron Thomas shows more than athleticism in Arizona victory

There was a moment in Saturday’s dismantling of the Arizona Wildcats that gave me chills.

Due to family obligations, I couldn’t return to my well-carved-out spot on the couch until midway through the second quarter, but when I sat and watched the replay of the game on ESPN2 the other night, it hit me.

Early in Oregon’s first drive, on one of junior quarterback Darron Thomas’ four carries on the opening possession, the lanky signal caller was pulled down awkwardly from behind and looked to be in pain as he grasped his knee.

For a second — and no longer than that — Thomas had gone down in an all-too-similar fashion to Dennis Dixon’s collapse in 2007. Maybe that night was in the back of Thomas’ mind, though I’d be surprised if it even registered. Because a split-second later, Thomas went from horizontal to vertical, screaming furiously as he looked over to Chip Kelly for the next play call.

The moment passed just as quickly as it came, but the statement had been made. I knew at that point Thomas and the Oregon offense were about to do something special. We’ve come to expect that every game around this time of year and for good reason.

As so many of his teammates praised him for his offseason, Thomas showed why he is the outspoken leader of the ninth-ranked team in the country. That brief moment of swagger (for lack of a better term) excited fans and reminded teammates that the Ducks were in the desert strictly on business. And from that moment on, Oregon only continued to build off Thomas’ early assertion.

Though he finished a modest 11-for-20 passing for a season-low 101 yards and two touchdowns, Thomas made all the right reads once again to fuel the Oregon ground game to 415 yards rushing.

Nobody here is forgetting about LaMichael James’ career night, either. We know all about James and what he’s capable of doing and we’re getting an even better feel for what exactly Thomas brings outside the X’s and O’s. Even the mild-mannered James was on another level that night from a confidence standpoint.

I know you remember when he absolutely truck-sticked Arizona defensive back Trevin Wade, a two-year starter and All-Pac-12 performer, down the left sideline. James could have just as easily taken one step to his left and ran out of bounds, but instead in an attempt to be a more physical runner as a junior, the reigning winner of the Doak Walker Award lowered the boom on Wade. As he got up, with Wade still on the ground, James looked at the 5-foot-11, 192-pound Wade and shook his index finger just the way Dikembe Mutombo used to on the NBA hardwood.

I suppose none of this is new information, but if you missed either of these plays, they’re worth revisiting. No one has ever doubted that Thomas, James and Kenjon Barner (this list could go for longer than I care to write) have swag for days, but it was beyond great to see it put on display in a hostile environment like Arizona Stadium.

To me, it said that not only do the Ducks belong here, but they’re going to come to your house and smack you around for four quarters.

By now, we should all understand that Oregon is headed on a crash course toward Palo Alto and the Stanford Cardinal on Nov. 12. Some people have the Ducks picked as the favorite to win the Pac-12 North; others say it will be Andrew Luck and Stanford. Either way, that game will likely be another top-10 showdown, as neither team should lose over the next month.

And when that game does roll around, I can’t wait to see what kind of swag Thomas brings to the table.

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