The Black Mamba Strikes Thrice

In a game where the Ducks struggled to kick their high-octane offense in to high gear in the first half, true freshman running back/wide receiver De'Anthony Thomas helped light the offensive charge Thursday night in No. 9 Oregon's 43-15 win over the California Golden Bears.

(PHOTO) Oregon Ducks running back De'Anthony Thomas (6) celebrates a touchdown reception against the California Golden Bears during the second half at Autzen Stadium. The Ducks beat the Golden Bears 43-15. Mandatory Credit: Jim Z. Rider-US PRESSWIRE.

Imagine a Swiss Army Knife.

Go ahead, close your eyes and consider what you see when it's uncoiled.

Perform this small exercise correctly and you likely imagined something that was equal parts knife, corkscrew, nail filer, tweezers and scissors; in essence, the quintessential object of versatility.

It's a jack of all trades, but a master of none.

It's your port in a storm.

It's De'Anthony Thomas.

Under the bright lights and the national eye of ESPN on Thursday night, the true freshman from Compton, California and one of the college football's brightest young stars put on an epic display of utility and function; running, catching and returning his way to 169 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns.

"De'Anthony is a real talented young man," said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. "He's played a lot of different positions for us and he did a nice job tonight, despite his position coach, which is me right now."

With Thomas cross-training at a number of different positions the last few weeks, Kelly joked about being a detriment during the weeks of preparation, though Thomas' impact via Kelly's tutelage proved vital in a game where much of the offense struggled, excluding another rousing 200-plus yard rushing performance from junior running back, LaMichael James.

In the first quarter, Thomas jetted 17 yards to pay dirt off an end around that extended Oregon's lead to 14-6 after the Golden Bears previously cut the Ducks' lead to one with a 38 yard field goal from kicker, Giorgio Tavecchio. However, just as it appeared the Ducks would step on the throttle and leave their visitors from Berkeley in the dust, they didn't. Instead, Oregon surrendered nine unanswered points to the Golden Bears before halftime, sputtering and stalling uncharacteristically and appearing wholly out of sync.

When asked to sum up his team's performance in the first half, Kelly's response was quick and to the point.

"Not good."

Set to receive the kickoff to begin the second half, the Ducks needed a spark; something to set the offense ablaze. On cue, De'Anthony Thomas rose to the occasion.

Of his six receptions for 114 yards, Thomas did most of his damage in the second half, catching three passes for 85 yards and hauling in two touchdowns, extending the Ducks' lead to 14, effectively burying any hopes for a Cal comeback.

"Just a credit to the kid, he really is a dynamic player," remarked Kelly. "If you're gonna play us in man coverage, you gotta have some guys who can beat man. I thought Josh Huff made some big plays, but De'Anthony really kind of changed the game for us."

Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich grinned ear to ear as he discussed Thomas' performance after the game, crediting the young player's attention to detail and willingness to be an active learner.

"(De'Anthony)'s learning curve has been awesome," said Helfrich. "His commitment to getting better -- which, he's pretty good right now -- has been great. The guy will put in time, he's a great practice player...he's a gym rat-type kid and is going 100 percent on the practice field all the time."

Thomas admitted as much after the game as reporters huddled around him, chalking up his electric performance Thursday night to preparedness and study.

"Basically it's all just preparation and practice," said the precocious freshman. "When we practice hard and we come out, it just shows on the field. I just go wherever the coaches put me and I just like to contribute...I feel like every game we're gonna get better."

With James' status for the foreseeable future in serious question after suffering an apparent dislocated elbow early in the fourth quarter, Thomas could find himself taking more snaps in the backfield as he, fellow freshman Tra Carson and established veteran, Kenjon Barner, look to fill James' void. If that's the case, Helfrich for one isn't worried, stating he expects Thomas will fill in seamlessly no matter what the situation.

"I think he's a skill guy," said Helfrich. "He can line up in a lot of places and do a lot of things."

Like a Swiss Army Knife.

Follow Chris Courtney on Twitter at eDuckCCourtney


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