The Oregon Ducks have been on a roll this season as they have risen to No. 2 in the latest BCS polls and sit firmly entrenched at the top of the Pac 12 standings. Last week, they handled business against the UCLA Bruins after pulling away for a major blowout in the second half. It was the first game back from an ankle injury for star running back De’Anthony Thomas and the Ducks’ offense seemed to struggle when he was heavily featured in the first half. The most success that Oregon had offensively, in fact, occurred with DAT on the sideline. So what’s the role of Thomas going forward?
Against the Bruins, Mark Helfrich fed Thomas early and often in the first half. While he scored the first touchdown for the Ducks from one yard out, he didn’t have all that much success in the offense. He finished the game with 10 carries for 31 yards and was bottled up to a long of just 14 yards running the football. He also caught three passes for just 17 yards as UCLA kept him very well contained. Part of it may have been rust after being out of game action for a month and some of it could have been UCLA playing at an elevated level, but the fact remained that DAT struggled.
In the second half, Helfrich went back to the rotation in the backfield that was so successful in Thomas’ absence and the Oregon offense took off. Byron Marshall finished the day with 133 yards on 19 carries and three touchdowns while Thomas Tyner chipped in with 77 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown. Both had seen expanded roles while Thomas was out with his injury and showed why the Oregon running game didn’t miss a beat once again when they took over against the Bruins.
If the poor showing from Thomas was just a bit of rust needing to get knocked off, then this bye week will serve him well. If he’s out of sync with what the offense is doing right now, it may be time to get him into a different role, similar to the “slash” position that he’s played throughout his career in Eugene. Getting him into space, moving him around the formation and getting him matched up with defenders who can’t keep up with him will only add another wrinkle to this offense as they make a push for the BCS National Championship game.
Whatever happens, Thomas needs to be a part of this offense moving forward. His explosiveness with the ball in his hands is too great a weapon to waste on the sidelines as a spectator. However he needs to get his touches to fit into this offense and maintain their momentum, Helfrich and company need to find it and unleash it when they head to The Farm next Thursday.