What’s Up With DAT?

Where did you go, DAT?

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!

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Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer has been an intense fan of the Ducks for thirty years and has written reports on football boards for over a dozen years. Known as “FishDuck” on those boards, he is acknowledged for providing intense detail in his scrimmage reports and in his Xs and Os play analyses. He and his wife Lois, a daughter, Christine, and their dog (Abbie) reside in Eugene, Oregon, where he has been a financial advisor for 30 years serving clients in seven different states. He does not profess to be a coach or analyst, but simply a “hack” that enjoys sharing what he has learned and invites others to correct or add to this body of Oregon Football! See More...

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.parmenter1 John Parmenter

    Who are you,what makes you think you are better to decide how CK uses DAT!! HE IS THE COACH AND YOU ARE A BIG O

    • fishduck

      Hello John,

      I said in the early part of the article, that Chip knew how to use DAT last year better than I. While I am not qualified to be a coach, I can offer my “hack” opinion like anyone else. It is an interesting situation to reflect upon and discuss.

  • Rudy

    I’m worried that the fame factor and pressure could be affecting DeAnthony. He is not one that thrives on notoriety, like other stars of his caliber. I’ve read quotes about the response he gets on campus, and he calls it “crazy!”. It’s hard to focus on football, and at play in a free-flowing instinctual way when you’re feeling uncomfortable, and possibly under pressure, in your everyday life. And unlike a silly ‘curse’, this pressure did increase with the notoriety that came with the SI cover.

    What do you think Charles? (Also, nice article!)

    • fishduck

      I am not close enough to him to know about the pressure he’s feeling. It could be the reason, but I didn’t sense that,

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1261867474 Seamus Calmari

    What a stupid comment John made.

    • Rudy

      Big time. Super defensive for some reason. CK doesn’t need anyone to defend him, trust me.

  • j10eff

    Let him fly……Get DAT all over the field….make USC wonder how he will be used and OVER PREPARE for him…..mess up there gameplan. Let DAT do some quick slants over the middle and use his speed to get the job done…then do some option outside runs….let his speed be the deciding factor.
    Chip can take notes from Florida offense a few years back…running Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps up the middle was a dud move…but then you get them to the outside and its 80 yards later they are scoring.

  • kixxs1199

    I just think they are letting KB shine… it’s his year, he is a SR and stood in the background while LMJ made his mark. I hope KB gives the Heisman a serious run for it’s money… KB is the glue of the offense, the guys look to him. I can’t remember what game it was but the O was just stalling and KB went out there and pulled them back together. I love DAT, but this year belong to Kenjon Barner… DAT’s year will be next year, plenty of time for DAT to shine and win the Heisman. On the side not I wish he would gain 20-30 pounds cause I worry about our “DAT” getting splatted when he runs down the middle and those D lines are pounding on him. Go Ducks!!

    • kixxs1199

      I mean “note”

  • longtimeduck

    Relax – its his second year. Teams adjust – as a parallel look at Cam Newton. Teams are stacking to stop the Mamba. Not only is that awesome but it still doesnt work. Recall that inspiring, twisting, 16 yd TD run vs Udub… BTW the mamba has a 7.6 yd rushing average, 9.1 yd receiving average, with 9 TDs. So yeah I am ok with dat. ;) (pun intended). Also I am stoked teams are focused on him. Anyone remember that Aloha means Touchdown? http://youtu.be/HkDwCVHzJHI – Note who BOTH defensive players chose to take rather than the QB.
    Lastly I do believe at some point this season a team is going to either forget about DAT or have the hubris to think “well he hasnt done that much…” and they will rue that day. Go Dux – WTD!

  • SeanG

    I don’t think DAT is “slumping” or “feeling the pressure.” If he were, it’d be HIS mistakes that would be costing him yards: drops, missed reads, inability to escape tackles, etc. (Think most of the Huskies’ offensive skill players.) I think the Fish is on point here: Chip Kelly has something up his sleeve. He tells his players: every week is a one-game season! But he coaches like: this season is a rising and falling drama, and we need to put the right pieces in at the right time to influence that drama to our advantage.

    Coming into 2012, there wasn’t a player better known in the Pac-12 than DAT. His speed and elusiveness weren’t going to sneak up on anyone. I think the playcalling has reined him in, purposely. Just look at our crew of receivers who have stepped up, and developed into reliable and big-play guys: Lowe, Addison, Stanford, Hawkins, Lyerla, P. Brown have all made bigtime plays and have become dependable players without DAT making 8-9 catches a game. Now that they have that confidence, they know they can produce if DAT actually IS being held in check by a great defense down the stretch (USC, Stan, Ore St, Bowl opponent).

    As we’ve all seen from Charles’s look at Chip’s game plans, Chip plans weeks in advance.

    (For example: shoot way back to 2010. Remember our game vs. Arizona, where we had our backup punter (Maldonado) punting from the 1-yard line, and our long snapper snaps it 3 yards over his head for the safety? Then the very next game, we FAKE the over-the-head snap, and Clay rumbles for like 50 yards against Ore. St., for one of the biggest momentum-shifting plays of the season? What if Chip was planning that fake punt a week in advance? Consider: 1) it’s not that inconceivable of a strategy to take a safety in that punting situation; 2) has our long snapper been THAT off the mark before or since? Just a thought.)

  • Chris

    FishDuck,

    Glad to see you keep the op-eds coming (after having been one to give Joel some honest criticism earlier this week). It certainly does seem (to the untrained eye, at least) that there have been a number of blocking breakdowns when we’ve tried to run DAT between the tackles; there have also been a few runs, including some kick returns, where it seemed to me like DeAnthony might have been overreliant on following blocks inside, rather than breaking outside toward what looked like open space and one contain-defender to beat. So maybe his reads have something to do with it.

    However, count me amongst those hoping that DAT’s more limited deployment (and use as a decoy) is part of a longer-term strategy whose rewards will be reaped in the coming weeks. In addition to the appealing idea that Chip has secreted some tricks away for our Nov. 3 matchup, here are three points on behalf of this view: 1) we haven’t really been tested in any game after the opening minutes of the 3rd quarter, so we’ve had the luxury of playing DAT closer to the vest; 2) we have a bevy of young skill players whose development has been emphasized (notably, the underclassmen receivers — especially Addison, who seems to be taking on the receiving role that DAT had last year — and Colt in the backfield), which should help us for the November slate of games coming up; and 3) running back depth was a major concern coming into the year, so increasing the chances of keeping DAT healthy for our stretch run may well have been a priority.

    Finally, two other things should probably be kept in mind: the coaches always talk about taking what a defense gives us, so if teams are monomaniacally focused on containing DAT, we’ll exploit the resulting weaknesses elsewhere; and we also needed Kenjon to step up and establish himself as the every-down back we could rely on, which, in my opinion, has been a highlight of the offense so far.

    Here’s to hoping that as we turn our calendars to November, the Free DeAnthony movement will be unleashed in full force!

    • fishduck

      Great post Chris, and I agree with your analysis, although it has been curious that often when they have run the Straddled Triple Option that DAT was the back for the Inside Zone Read portion of it.

      On one hand I am agreeable to being held to a higher standard…but that also means we have to be more clear in what we’re presenting as opinion. This one was clearly opinion, but backed up with examples as to why I felt that way–and with our earlier versions we assumed too much.

      This is how we learn and improve as a site and while we are smarting from some of shots at us…we are using those bits of “advice” to get better. We are discussing it tonight in a staff meeting. My thanks.

  • emmitt

    Decoy indeed. Look where the defense is when Mariota runs for a TD against ASU. DAT is under six or seven Devils leaving MM to run like the wind.