In addition to being one of the most potent weapons in college football, De’Anthony Thomas is one of the best decoys.
Last winter at the Fiesta Bowl the Ducks faced a vaunted defense from #5-ranked Kansas State of the Big 12. The Wildcats were led by a physical middle linebacker, a tackling machine named Arthur Brown, brother of Bryce, 6-0, 235, now with the Baltimore Ravens.
When De’Anthony Thomas wasn’t baffling Bill Snyder’s squad with blur-fast kick returns or a sudden touchdown with a screen pass, he motioned hard out of the backfield on a dozen plays, forcing Brown to follow him out of the play as Kenjon Barner ran up the middle or the tight end caught a seam route in all that inviting empty space.
Thomas forces defenses to account for him, with or without the ball. He’s hungry, eager and ready in his return to the lineup, so he’s likely to break a few big plays. It’s the plays where he doesn’t get the ball where he does hidden damage. He’ll influence defenders. They don’t want to get beat for a big play, so there’s a lot of pointing and gesturing, shading in DAT’s direction, wild Duck chases along pathways Marcus Mariota and the offense never really intended to go. He’s the ultimate weapon not only in space with the ball in his hands, but roaming free creating frustration and confusion.
Because of this, the soundest, strongest thing the Oregon offense can do Saturday is to return The Black Momba to the multiple “slash” role that saw him score 36 tds in his first two seasons. Move him around. Put him in the slot, running the fly sweep, in motion, as the pitch man in a triple option. Sneak him into the backfield for a couple of quick hits in the middle when speed and tempo catch the Bruins with their heads on a swivel.
Over the past two seasons Oregon has made big gains with a simple wheel route to the tailback along either sideline. With the receivers spread out wide, a linebacker typically has to take that coverage, and they’re aren’t more than three linebackers in the country who can stay with De’Anthony Thomas or Thomas Tyner. With the threat of the Texas Twosome, Bralon Addison and Josh Huff occupying the safeties, Oregon can get two of the fastest and most dynamic athletes in the game one-on-one for a big play. It’s simple to run and deadly effective, stretching the field as far as the lines can be painted.
Similarly, when Thomas runs a drag route across the defensive formation, it draws defenders to him. If they don’t close, Marcus Mariota has an easy toss to a an explosive, sure-handed receiver who can inflict big damage with the ball. If they rally to DAT, Addison and Huff are likely to be open somewhere else.
Byron Marshall and Tyner are doing a superb job with the inside running game. Marshall was the quickest, most decisive and elusive he’s ever been last Saturday. Maybe it was the pink shoes. The two young guns have established they can handle the heavy lifting on the inside zone read. Both broke big runs against the Cougars. That frees Thomas to be the change of tempo and pace, a multiple threat that keeps the defense thinking. If you take time to think against the Oregon Ducks, the results are usually disastrous.
Look for Mark Helfrich and Scott Frost to unleash the Momba tomorrow in his most effective role: ultimate decoy, ultimate big-play weapon. Every time he lines up in a different place, you’ll see the shifting, pointing and scrambling. When that starts to happen, the defense is already beaten. They have to show their intentions. They have to commit to stopping, or trying to stop, the one player on the field who’s faster and more elusive than anyone in the game.
DAT is such a threat he can sometimes “block” one to three people merely by sprinting in motion before the snap. Even then, there are times he can beat all three.
In these three videos from Mike Wines of Oregon Duck Soup and Youtube channel madmike1951, note how many differents ways Thomas can be used. In the third video, the highlights from the bowl win over KSU, note the plays where a clear-out from The Momba or Kenjon Barner springs a teammate for a big play.
Fiesta Bowl January 2013: