We have a new coach at Arizona State. Sorry, we take that back.
Chip Kelly for the NFL! For what?
Go, Matt Barkley. Go pro.
The regular season in college football ended a week ago (not counting Army-Navy), leaving everyone who reports or blogs about the sport — like a heroin addict in search of a fix — scurrying high and low for story lines to fill the void.
I’ve been a bit edgy myself. I haven’t written or posted the name, Oregon Ducks, in several days. Yikes!
Give me a story angle, please. Someone, anyone, please.
Kelly standing up to Gov. John Kitzhaber. Tempting.
Cliffy’s departure. Sad.
A football recruiting scorecard. Early.
So let’s see here. I need — hmm, that word again — something substantive, if not a tad controversial, that deserves further poking.
Here’s the opening line: Keep doing what you do, Darron Thomas, the most underappreciated Duck quarterback in recent memory.
There, that feels better.
Oh, and sorry Thomas detractors.
Don’t get me wrong, I get the criticism about the Houston native’s mechanics. He doesn’t always set his feet when he’s passing the ball. His release needs work. His throws are occasionally too high.
As a runner, Thomas is shifty in the open field, but he is not a blazer north to south.
And in directing the offense, he seemingly is out of control at times, just the opposite of the calm persona most associate with a good QB.
It didn’t help that Thomas faced the über-defense of LSU in the nationally televised opener and came away looking mediocre, although there was plenty of blame to be spread around that night. Then came a mid-season knee injury that sidelined him for eight quarters. When he returned he was rusty.
I get the argument about Thomas being, at least partly, a byproduct of the system.
I get that if he was a better runner, the Ducks would be that more dangerous.
I also get that it’s the nature of fans to be on the look out for something better.
But at some point you gotta tip your hat to the kid.
At some point, you have to admit a slightly imperfect quarterback who leads his team to a league title is better than the star quarterback who doesn’t or can’t.
Thomas possesses a 21-3 career record as a starter at Oregon and two Pac-12/Pac-10 titles. He guided the Ducks into last season’s BCS National Championship Game and has them ranked No. 5 this season and headed to the Rose Bowl. He holds the Oregon record for career TD passes with 63 with a season still to go. Only two other players in Pac-12 history have two seasons of at least 30 TD passes: USC’s Matt Leinart (USC) and Stanford’s Andrew Luck.
His career completion percentage of 60.8 percent is better at this point than what Bill Musgrave (.574), Akili Smith (.566), Danny O’Neil (.562), Joey Harrington (.552), Chris Miller (.552), Tony Graziani (.540), Dan Fouts (.504) finished with. Only Dennis Dixon (.639) and Kellen Clemens (.609) had a better percentage.
With 5,642 career passing yards, Thomas stands No. 7 on the all-time list. If he throws for 2,702 yards in 2012, he’ll surpass Musgrave (8,343 yards) as Oregon’s career leader.
We could go on and on (for a look at his past two seasons, see the chart at the bottom of this story).
So why do the message boards go ape-crazy on DT every time the Ducks don’t score 14 or more points in the first quarter?
Here’s to the theory that the style of play sought by coach Chip Kelly may be partly to blame.
Since Kelly arrived in Eugene in 2007, these quarterbacks have been in the spotlight: Dixon, Jeremiah Masoli, Nate Costa and Thomas. Costa’s career was cut short by injuries, so there is a limited body of work there. The same goes for Dixon, too, since Kelly didn’t arrive until he was a senior.
But of those four, Thomas has achieved Kelly’s desired “freneticness” better than any of the others. Think back for a moment. Dixon was smooth and silky and ran the offense extremely well, but not close to the speed of the Ducks of today. Masoli and then Costa were a step-up in the hurry-up but like Dixon never matched how fast Thomas gets plays off.
If the refs mark the ball promptly these days, it’s 10 seconds and Go Ducks! Literally.
And that blur, perhaps, is playing into the notion that Thomas is erratic.
The team plays hurried. Thomas plays hurried.
Historically, hurried isn’t thought of as a good formula for success on the football field.
The same was the case a year ago. But Thomas was a sophomore then and that magical team went undefeated until losing to Auburn on the last play of the BCS title game.
This year, there are the losses to LSU and USC.
It’s unlikely Thomas will ever be crowned the best quarterback in Oregon history. But, as his record attests, he is pretty darn good at the college game.
Does he have room for improvement? No doubt. And if he returns for his senior year, as expected, he’ll have that chance. He’ll also certainly face a spirited battle from backup Bryan Bennett, who caught the eyes of many this season, mainly due to his running ability.
In the meantime, some Duck fans may want to re-access their criticism of Thomas.
And provide the media with another story angle come next season.
Darron Thomas, most appreciated Duck QB in recent memory.
Model of consistency
(A glance at Darron Thomas’ stats from the past two seasons)
Completion percentage: 61.4
Passing yards: 2,493
Yards per attempt: 7.89
QB rating: 155.2
* With one game to play.
Completion percentage: 61.5
Passing yards: 2,881
Yards per attempt: 7.98
QB rating: 151.0