DeAnthony Thomas has been described as electric, scintillating, sick, and most importantly…the Black Mamba. However, I would now call him The Magician, as lately he has just disappeared. I’m not going to bore you with the numbers; we know what we have seen since the Pac-12 season began. I’m not an expert, but I do watch this offense more than most and feel a familiarity with it that few sportswriters do. I’m offering just my opinion, as I wish to share some FishDuck thoughts about one of the most curious droughts in my memory of Oregon football.
We have seen the repeated line plunges by DAT that have gone nowhere, and the natural tendency for us as fans is to shout, “get him outside in SPACE!” Believe me I was saying that last year, as I felt he should be used more as a pass receiver and less as a running back. Chip can be stubborn about a strategy, but he was correct in staying with Thomas as a RB. Remember the signature run of DAT in the Rose Bowl? It was the Inside Zone Read portion of the Straddled Triple Option, or in other words “right-up-the-gut.” We never would have had that touchdown if Chip had listened to me! It was that way through the season prior to that, as Chip’s stubbornness and his patience rewarded us all.
Four games into conference play with lackluster results, and the question now becomes “are you playing the odds too long of repeatedly running him in the middle?” Teams have done superbly tackling DAT in open space on the Bubble Passes, and the omission of him running longer pass patterns looms from every corner of Autzen, along with the absence of the roars from the tremendous plays we saw last year. As Cal learned last season, this is unique talent that defensive backs cannot keep up with, and has wonderful hands for catching the long ball. We threw one against Washington, got a pass interference and it worked so well we’ve never done it again?? Why not use him more as a pass receiver? Put him in the slot and run a post while Marcus bootlegs to the same side, throws it and let him run under it!
Is DeAnthony The Greatest Decoy in College football? Are we sending him running into the middle, causing Mariota, Addison, and Lyerla emerge as they have? Is this part of a long-term game plan? Chip has not been given credit as one of the master strategists of the college game and the last three games should be textbook examples of this glaring omission. If DAT is going to be thrown to later—isn’t that a risk? Shouldn’t you run those plays in live action? You reveal your play intentions, but you also open up the field and the vertical lanes are the last vestiges to be conquered by this offense.
Don’t even get me started on the Sports Illustrated curse. Yes, he appeared on the cover the week before this slump began, but I simply don’t go along with that nonsense. What makes more sense is having an offensive line that has missed the senior leadership of last year, and with this year’s injuries they are still coming together. Coach Greatwood is building depth never before seen on the offensive line at Oregon, but that does not negate how so many plays have had the majority of blockers being underclassmen (Johnstone, Grasu, Fisher, Lyerla, Stevens, Brown & Kai are all sophomores or freshmen).
Think that makes a difference for DAT? It may be that Barner is uber-experienced and looks polished, while DAT is still learning how to read the blocks on an Inside Zone Read. It is common for a running back to take a year to master the Inside Zone Read, as LMJ and Kenjon needed that amount of time to refine their skills with this play. DAT had so much thrown at him in his first year, which perhaps he didn’t get as many reps with that play and now, with different personnel, the running lanes are forming differently than a year ago.
I say…Free DeAnthony! Let him run open into the secondary of Colorado and catch some passes. Send him long – give him the confidence that comes from scoring again through the air, and that will complement his running game. Let USC watch this and become paranoid about DAT, as this is about Thomas getting his MoJo back, welcoming one of the best players ever at the U of O back into our offense. Even Offensive Coordinator Gary Crowton used Cam Colvin for reverses in our Spread Offense back in 2005. Have we run a single reverse this year with DAT as we did against Cal last year at this time?
Free DeAnthony! Make sure he has nine catches in this game and send him long three times. Future opponents will double-cover Thomas and when we drag Huff and Lyerla across in medium patterns, they’ll be wide open. Sending DeAnthony on streaks or posts has Win-Win results as it helps him, it helps our other receivers, and it helps our offensive balance. Free DeAnthony! Make it Rough on the Buffs!