The Oregon Ducks have been rolling offensively in 2013, ranking No. 2 nationally in both total offense and scoring offense. They’ve raced out to a 7-0 start and are in the mix for a berth in the BCS National Championship game at season’s end after getting ranked No. 3 in the initial rankings last week. They’ve looked unstoppable offensively and they’ve been doing it without their No. 1 running back De’Anthony Thomas. Now, DAT says he “expects to play” against the UCLA Bruins this Saturday, giving the Ducks yet another weapon in their high-flying attack.
Thomas has been out for four games since injuring his ankle on the opening kickoff against the Cal Bears. In the three games before that, Thomas had rushed for 338 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 8.0 yards per carry. While he’s been sidelined, Byron Marshall has filled in quite nicely and put concerns about his ability to be the primary back to rest, carrying the ball 111 times for 746 yards and nine touchdowns, eclipsing 100 yards rushing in each game Thomas has been out with his injury. True freshman Thomas Tyner has also chipped in nicely as the change-of-pace back, gaining 360 yards and scoring seven touchdowns.
DAT’s injury may have been a blessing in disguise for the Ducks because they learned just how deep their running back situation is this season. With Marshall emerging as a solid workhorse in the backfield, Thomas can be used in the hybrid role he was so successful in during his first two years with the Ducks. That would allow him to rotate in and out regularly and get some opportunities in the open field without having to test that ankle in a pile after tough run between the tackles.
Head coach Mark Helfrich hasn’t talked about how Thomas will be deployed against UCLA this Saturday, saying “We’ll have to wait and find out from a game-plan standpoint how everything shakes out.” Marshall and Tyner have given Oregon plenty of confidence in their running game and allowed Thomas to heal 100 percent before coming back. That will give him confidence in his cuts when he gets back on the field and make him the home-run threat he has always been.
While the Ducks have been great even in DAT’s absence, there’s no denying the explosive element that he brings to the offense when he’s on the field. If the Bruins were worried about slowing down this Oregon attack before, they just got a whole other level of issues to worry about with the return of De’Anthony Thomas.