Few thought coming in to Saturday's game that Washington State would out-gain the Ducks on offense and gain 10 more first downs. For Oregon, the offense lacked its typical explosive feel and the defense was downright putrid in every area of the field, except for the red zone.
Sporting a 15-10 lead at halftime, the Ducks were lucky to have a lead at all, as quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James struggled in their first game back from knee and elbow injuries, respectively. In fact Thomas, who finished the game 8-of-13 for 153 yards, one touchdowns and two interception, was replaced in the second half by redshirt freshman Bryan Bennett, who led the Ducks to 28 second half points.
"Darron handled it great," said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly as he discussed Thomas' second half benching.
"It's all about the team. This team is all about we and not all about me. I just felt that in the best interest of what we had to do for (Darron), that we were going to go with Bryan.
"When he goes in there, we know he has a lot of weapons," said Kelly of Bennett. "What Bryan can do is he plays within himself. I don't think he forced the issue for the third straight game, he took what the defense gave him."
Kelly went on to say that he already knows who his starter is for next week's game at Washington and that Thomas' absence in the second half against the Cougars was a combination of Thomas' performance and the injury he was nursing.
When asked if he believed he would be the starter against the Huskies, Thomas confidently stated that he didn't believe there was any competition at his position.
"I've been starting, I'll continue starting. Looking at the stats I didn't think I played THAT bad," chuckled Thomas.
Despite Thomas' optimism, it appears that a legitimate question could be raised concerning who is most deserving to start next Saturday in Seattle. With Bennett at the helm, the Oregon offense almost immediately came to life once again, as the Encino, California native's first pass went 45 yards for a touchdown to true freshman De'Anthony Thomas who delivered arguably the most electrifying highlight of the year, darting and weaving his way to the score.
"That was awesome," giggled Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. "He's fun to watch. We have a few guys like that, but (De'Anthony's) at a different level in some ways.
"I was smiling," continued Helfrich as he recollected Thomas gallop to paydirt. "As soon as he got in the open field and it's him and a lot of defenders in space like that, good things are going to happen. When (De'Anthony) made (the defender) flip his hips like that, it's tough to tackle. It was a great finish; a great play."
As it turned out, Thomas was only getting started en route to gaining 223 of his 262 all-purpose yards in the second half.
Later in the third quarter, Thomas returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, which tied for the tenth-longest play in school history and gave Thomas the single-season Oregon record for touchdowns scored by a true freshman (11). The record was previously held by Derek Loville.
"He's an unbelievable competitor and he just loves playing football," remarked Kelly of Thomas. "He's a lot of fun to be around, he's a lot of fun to coach...there's not many guys that are out there that you just kind of catch yourself being a spectator when you're watching them.
"You watch him catch that swing pass and run down the sideline and I'm thinking to myself, ‘Why is he going there, why is going there, wow, that was an unbelievable move.' I taught him that last move."
Teaching his team to put together a more complete performance will be essential next Saturday, as Kelly and the Ducks head north to face off against a vastly improved Washington Husky team that aims to snap a seven game losing streak against Oregon in the final game at Husky Stadium before its renovation.
Though you could argue there are more questions than answers as the Ducks take their 7-1 record to Seattle, Bennett says that he for one won't be distracted with what figures to be week long speculation on who starts the game at quarterback against Washington.
"All we can worry about is ourselves, this team and this offense," stated Bennett. "We're going to go in each week in practice and we're going to continue to prepare ourselves.
"Whether it's me starting or it's Darron starting, we've got to play together as a team."
Follow Chris Courtney on Twitter at eDuckCCourtney
SoCal Duo of Bennett, Thomas Ignites Oregon
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