His lack of experience, he said, wasn't cause for concern. Hey, everybody has to start somewhere, and Saturday was Thomas' chance to begin building something great.
He finished the game with six tackles, an interception and a forced fumble, exceeding expectations (except perhaps his own) and contributing immensely the victory.
IlliniPlaybook briefly caught up with Thomas this week to discuss his breakout game, the upcoming matchup with Arizona State and more.
How did it feel getting out on the field and playing so well after a long offseason of anticipating your emergence?
ET: "I felt good. It was a good game. It was an overall good team effort, offensively and defensively, I felt. We were really just out there trying to execute the game plan and trying to play 110 percent every play and have fun."
But for you personally, the way you stepped in the starting lineup and played so well, it had to provide a feeling of accomplishment, right?
ET: "I mean, it always feels good when you play well, but the main thing is we just try to listen to the coaches, really, and follow the game plan and study film. We're studying our opponent and focusing on our opponent so we can go out there on Saturday and execute."
So you weren't trying to prove you were capable of filling in with no drop-off? That never entered your mindset?
ET: "Nah, not really. I really didn't think about it. I knew what I could do. I was really just happy to get out there and show what I could do and show the way I could play. I feel like I did that. I'm past it now. It's time for this next game. We're going out in Tempe and we need to do even better."
Last week you faced an opponent that liked to air it out and throw the ball. This week, you're up against an Arizona State team that has apparently committed to running the football. How does that change what you do and what your duties will be?
ET: "I mean, every week is a different week, but we've just got to focus in on their tendencies and things like that. Our front seven – we've got a heck of a front seven. That makes it a lot easier on us on the back end. I'm thankful for that."
It may seem obvious, but how does a strong front seven specifically help you as a safety?
ET: "I mean, when you know our front seven can stop the run like they can and get pressure on the quarterback like they can, we just know that the quarterback is going to have to get the ball out fast. We know that they're going to attack the run game, and it just makes us a lot more comfortable on the back end. We still, at the same time, we know we have to do our job and focus in on what we have to do to make it work."
Are you concerned at all about travelling to the West Coast or about the Arizona climate?
ET: "Nah, nah, not at all. It's just another game, another day to shine and show what we can do and showcase our skills and talents. We're just looking to have fun really."