It was a Signing Day shocker when Los Angeles (Calif.) Crenshaw running back De'Anthony Thomas signed with Oregon after a long-standing verbal commitment to USC. But the 5-foot-9, 173-pounds freshman has proven to be an incredible fit in the Ducks' wide-open spread option offense.
Thomas, given the nickname Black Mamba by Snoop Dogg as a Pop Warner player, has scored 13 touchdowns – seven receiving, five rushing, and one kick return – second on the team only to Heisman Trophy candidate LaMichael James.
Head coach Chip Kelly gets Thomas involved in multiple ways: screens, reverses and as a wide receiver. Thomas is actually the Ducks' leader in receiving yards, helping offset the graduation of receivers Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis.
The USC defense will have to be aware of where Thomas is at all times Saturday.
The rebuilt USC offensive line, more specifically its ability to keep quarterback Matt Barkley upright, was regarded as the defining question coming into the season.
After allowing just six sacks in 10 games, it's fair to say they have answered all doubters. Head coach Lane Kiffin's playcalling and Barkley's decision-making help keep that total down, but the front five have continued to improve every week.
This week in ridiculously loud and hostile Autzen Stadium is the final test, against an Oregon defense that has 32 sacks this season, best in the Pac-12.
All due respect to Stanford and its star quarterback Andrew Luck, but Oregon has yet to face a passing offense of the quality of USC's.
The Cardinal was missing top receiver Chris Owusu because of concussions, leaving freshman Ty Montgomery as the only legitimate speed on the outside. Without that challenge, the Ducks defensive backs were able to smother Stanford and force Luck to hold onto the ball for far too long.
Not that USC fans, players or coaches need a refresher course, but the Trojans have lost their last five visits to the Evergreen State, outscored the last two years 83-27.
Reversing that trend against the prohibitive favorites to win the inaugural Pac-12 conference championship game would represent the first signature accomplishment for Kiffin in his tenure, along with the biggest win of Barkley's college career.