Oregon‘s De’Anthony Thomas is so fast and explosive that it seems every time he touches the ball, it’s a huge gain for the Ducks. He averaged more than 9 yards per carry and nearly 12 yards per reception across his first two seasons at UO, but until now, he’s always had a powerful, NFL-caliber running back sharing responsibility for the offense.
With LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner also in the backfield, Thomas’ workload was comparatively light, but he made the most of his touches. Many were curious to see how new head coach Mark Helfrich would use Thomas, amid concerns about whether the speedy back was durable enough to handle more carries without another established rusher — outside of quarterback Marcus Mariota — to share the load.
Through two games, Thomas appears to be as effective as ever, turning a limited number of carries into big gains for Oregon touchdowns. Against Virginia this weekend, he carried the ball 11 times and scored three touchdowns, and his 124 rushing yards matched the Cavaliers’ total team rushing yards.
On the year, Thomas has 29 carries for 252 yards and five touchdowns. On many other teams, running backs can routinely carry the ball more in a single game without coming close to Thomas’ production.
Concerns about his durability because of his increased role have been unfounded, because to this point his touches have not significantly increased. Rather than limiting carries, the Ducks are using Thomas almost exclusively at running back, rather than as the hybrid RB/WR he’s been in past seasons.
It’s been a gradual shift since the end of 2011, when Thomas, in his true freshman season, had 55 carries for 595 yards and seven TDs and 46 receptions for 605 yards and nine TDs.
Thomas’ overall numbers were nearly identical during his first two seasons: 16 offensive touchdowns in each, with 1,190 yards of total offense in 2011 and 1,146 in 2012. But in his second season, his workload was less evenly divided: 92 carries for 701 yards and 11 TDs on the ground and 45 receptions for 445 yards and 445 yards.
The Ducks are on track to keep pushing Thomas into more of a true running back role. He has only two receptions in 2013, one in each game, and Oregon may not need or want that to change as the season progresses.
The Ducks have other potent weapons in the passing game. Senior receiver Josh Huff is the team’s leading receiver with 173 yards on 8 catches this season. Through two games, he’s averaging more than 20 yards per receptions.
Sophomore Bralon Addison averaged 11 yards per catch as a true freshman in 2012, and like Thomas, he doesn’t need many touches to make a big impact. He’s only caught five passes in 2013, but he already has two touchdowns and just under 200 receiving yards.
In another offense, transitioning a flashy speedster into the team’s leading rusher may not work, but at Oregon, where speed is the name of the game, Thomas and Addison are proving that it’s the effectiveness of each carry, not the total number of touches, that wins games.
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