Tales from the stat sheet: De’Anthony Thomas’ Oregon career off to an historic beginning

De’Anthony Thomas is not the next Reggie Bush. He’s not the next anyone. He’s the first De’Anthony Thomas.

Which makes him one of the most exciting and dynamic open-field runners you will ever see. In space, as the announcers like to say, with one man or a couple of defenders to beat, he often makes them look helpless, a blur on the way to a touchdown with one simple juke. Already as a Duck he’s set a record for true freshman with 13 touchdowns, five rushing, 7 passing, and one on a 93-yard kickoff return against Washington State.

Here’s the incredible part: there are four games to go in his freshman season, and the Ducks are still figuring out ways to get him the ball.

photo left: A familiar sight in Oregon’s drive to a third straight conference crown: the player they stole from the Trojan’s backyard, claiming some more valuable real estate for the Oregon offense. (insidesocal.com photo).

From sports-reference.com, here’s some historical perspective. Reggie Bush, who was awarded the 2005 Heisman Trophy before being stripped of the award in 2010 due to NCAA sanctions, is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous and dynamic all-purpose backs in college football history:

Southern CaliforniaPac-10 Southern CaliforniaPac-10 Southern CaliforniaPac-10 Southern California
Reggie Bush, college statsRushingReceiving
Year AttYdsAvgTDRecYdsAvgTDPlaysYdsAvgTD
2003905215.831531420.941058358.07
20041439086.364350911.8718614177.613
200520017408.7163747812.9223722189.418
Career43331697.32595130113.71352844708.538

Note that as a freshman, Bush had 7 touchdowns in 105 offensive touches, an average of a td every 15 touches. As a senior, his Heisman Trophy year, a td every 13 touches.

Through 10 games, De’Anthony Thomas’ numbers, from espn.com:

RUSHINGRECEIVING
SPLITSATTYDSAVGLNGTDRECYDSAVGLNGTD
Season463668.06252742315.7697

Thomas has 12 tds in 73 offensive touches, a td every 6 touches. Again, with four games to play. He also has the kickoff return touchdown. Bush returned one kickoff for a td as a frosh, the only ko return td of his college career. As a sophomore, the Trojan speedster scored twice on punt returns, and once as a senior. Already this season, Thomas has 1497 all-purpose yards, second on the team, just 23 behind feature back LaMichael James.

The amazing thing about The Black Momba’s phenomenal productivity is that the Ducks have broken him in slowly. Here is his game log, from espn.com, which shows he’s never had more than 10 rushing attempts or 6 pass receptions in any one game. On average, he gets 7 plays from scrimmage a contest, with a high of 12 against Missouri State. In the Washington State game he carried the ball just four times and caught two passes, but still accounted for two touchdowns, one on a 45-yard pass reception and the other on his dazzling 93-yard dash with a third quarter kickoff. A week later against the Huskies his number was called successfully on just one play, but he made the box score, scooting 9 yards with an option pitch to give the Ducks a 31-17 lead late in the third.

DAT is momentum in a small package. He hasn’t needed a lot of touches to make a big impact:

2011 Game LogRushingReceiving
DATEOPPRESULTATTYDSAVGLNGTDRECYDSAVGLNGTD
9/3@LSUL 40-274225.51016477.8180
9/10NevadaW 69-2088110.162029346.5692
9/17Missouri StateW 56-710676.71402136.570
9/24@ArizonaW 56-31133.03011919.0190
10/6CaliforniaW 43-152189.0171611419.0412
10/15Arizona StateW 41-2777310.42924246.0110
10/22@ColoradoW 45-245012.52002189.0141
10/29Washington StateW 43-284266.518025427.0451
11/5@WashingtonW 34-17199.091000.000
11/12@StanfordW 53-305173.417024120.5411

Punt returns, season: 3 att 52 yards, 17.3 yard average, 0 tds, long of 48

Kickoff returns, season: 26 att, 656 yards 25.2 average 1 td long of 93

Last year, Josh Huff had an excellent season as a freshman, averaging 17.8 yards per rush on 12 carries, 15.9 yards per catch on 19 receptions. In all he accounted for 5 touchdowns and 1086 all-purpose yards, a very productive first year. But De’Anthony Thomas, in just 10 games, has 400 more yards and 7 more tds, making him a special player on a team of special players.

From cfbstats.com, here are the all-purpose numbers for Oregon’s triple threat backfield, James, Thomas and Kenjon Barner:

NameYrPosGRushRecv.Punt Ret.Kick Ret.Int. Ret.PlaysTotal YardsYards/PlayYards/G
1LaMichael JamesJRRB8120717511921017415228.7190.3
2De’Anthony ThomasFRRB10366423526560102149714.7149.7
3Kenjon BarnerJRRB864389-611501168417.3105.1

LMJ ranks 3rd in the country in all-purpose yards with 190.3 per game, the freshman Thomas, 16th, and Barner, 90th.

In long all-purpose plays (running, receiving and returns) James ranks 6th in the nation with 13 plays of 30 yards or more in just 8 games, and Thomas is 36th with 9, 8 of those for 40 yards or more. The remarkable thing about DA’s long plays is that they have come on 102 total touches in a part-time role, easily making him one of the most explosive and dangerous players in the country, a Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson of football.

Barner and DAT have also done a superlative job as gunners on the Ducks’ punt coverage team, part of the reason Jackson Rice is a finalist for the Ray Guy award, 3rd in the country with a 46.8 yard average, and the national leader in net punting at 44.2. Rice has 13 inside the 20 against only three touchbacks, and the hustling special teams contribution by two speedy stars is a big part of the reason Oregon’s punt coverage is such a powerful defensive weapon. Both players are extremely versatile, standout cornerbacks in high school who could have played for John Neal, had they not been so dynamic carrying the football.
 
EDIT: We apologize for the table formatting issues from the original article. The Web Engineer has fixed these formatting issues.
 

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  • profem

    This is great, Dale; but can you redo the tables (perhaps as images)?  They are very difficult to read.

    • Dale Newton

      Sorry about the tables. They go nuts sometimes when you try to reproduce them. The web editor did a great job of cleaning it up; I am not a techno-savvy guy.

  • SeanG

    Dale: thanks for this. I literally just wrote to Ted Miller yesterday to ask him to put Thomas’ TD-per-touch ratio in historical perspective! I included his PR and KOR numbers, which pushes the ratio up to 7.85. But a TD for every 6 offensive touches is, in a word, insane. Thanks for doing the homework.

    • Dale Newton

      Sean, thanks for your comment. His productivity IS utterly insane, and I don’t sense it’s the result of a small sample size. Like Kalen said above, any time he touches the ball you expect him to score, and what’s even more significant, HE expects to score.

      Next year, I expect the Ducks will move him around like the Trojans used to do with Bush, in the slot, in motion, out wide, at tailback. Make the defense account for him on every play, get them nervous, and get DAT about 15-20 touches per game. He’s simply a game-changer, and it’s awesome to contemplate how devastating a weapon he might be adding 10-15 pounds of explosive muscle to his frame in Jim Radcliffe’s weight room.

    • Dale Newton

      Oh, Raghib Ismail, in his Heisman Trophy senior season? 5 tds in 100 offensive touches. Johnny Rodgers, Nebraska, senior year 1972, 15 tds in 113 touches, 7.53, another runaway Heisman winner. He’s the closest historical parallel I can think of to baby DT, and he was a Hall of Fame player on a loaded team in the days of the 105-man scholarship limit.

  • Kalon Jelen

    Nice writeup.

  • Kalon Jelen

    Nice writeup. I do have to say that every time DAT touches the ball I almost expect him to score. I thought (and still think) that LMJ is insanely explosive and has been since he was a freshman, but DAT makes LMJ look almost slow. His football speed is absurd. I liked the comment on SBNation – DAT when running looks like he has an overabundance of legs.

    • Dale Newton

      He’s so quick to get to full speed, and sees his openings beautifully. One juke, gone. Electric and quick-striking, like a deadly snake should be.

  • Jgreg

    Black Mamba. Spelled with an “a”…

    • Dale Newton

      Actually it isn’t. In August, Thomas did a radio interview with John Lund of 750 the Game in Portland, and he indicated that he spells it with an “O” to differentiate the nickname from Kobe Bryant. The snake is a black mamba, Kobe Bryant is The Black Mamba, but DAT’s stated preference is m-o-m-b-a, and I have consistently used his preferred spelling.