An experimental and somewhat silly series of timeline-style hypothetical seasons and players by qrsouther. Have some fun with it.
Following the graduation of Jeremiah Masoli, the Oregon Ducks were coming off another impressive season. They did not reach their goal of the 2010 National Championship, but they made their second consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl where they squared off with Joe Paterno's Big-10 champion Penn State Nittany Lions. This time, the Oregon team would come out prepared for a Big-10 opponent and would emerge with a victory and a Rose Bowl champion trophy the size of Marcus Lattimore's arms.
In the fall of 2011, though, they would turn to their long prepared underclassman quarterback, Darron Thomas. Thomas was recruited and signed on to be a Dennis Dixon-like athlete in Oregon's spread system in the spring of 2008 after Dixon graduated. In his first career game, Thomas had thrown for 210 yards and 3 touchdowns in a losing effort against Boise State his freshman year. In 2009 he would redshirt, thus making him a redshirt sophomore going into the 2010 season when he would again sit behind Masoli and Costa. He would receive minimal snaps throughout the year, still waiting for his time to step in. After Oregon's January 1st, 2011 Rose Bowl berth, Masoli graduated as one of the most effective and esteemed quarterbacks in Oregon history. He may have been 5'10", but he had impossibly large shoes to fill. Nonetheless, Thomas would rise to the task and take control of the starting quarterback position on the depth chart with ease over the summer.
Thomas' first career start would come against the Kansas State Wildcats in Manhattan, Kansas on September 3rd, 2011. Also making his first start at quarterback -- this time for the boys in purple -- was one Chris Harper.
September 3rd, 2011: In the months leading up to the season opener at KSU, Duck fans were collectively giddy at the prospect of finally seeing Thomas operate Oregon's offense. Standing 6'3" tall and weighing in at just about 205 pounds depending on how rainy the day was, Thomas reminded most Oregon fans of the another celebrated Oregon quarterback of the recent past -- Dennis Dixon. The exciting semblance of the two provoked many stoked Oregon fans into making signs and chants proclaiming him, quote, "Dar-ron Dix-on" *clap clap clapclapclap*.
The face-off of quarterbacks was the story for the evening. After the 2008 season that found Oregon in the Holiday Bowl, ATH-turned-QB-turned-WR Chris Harper transferred away citing homesickness and the want to play quarterback. Just the spring before it had come down to Oregon and Kansas State for Harper, who chose Oregon at the time. Tried out at as an athletic run-first quarterback for the first few games of the 2008 season, Harper's inability to throw would be ultimately exposed during the Boise State game where he would go 0/3 passing with 2 INTs, eventually being relieved by Thomas who would nearly lead Oregon back to victory, falling just short.
So the game began. Oregon fans were jazzed for their Darron Thomas day, and were expecting to see a show. The zone-reads, the downfield passing, the TZR... the enchiladas at the tailgater wouldn't measure up to the whole enchilada we'd be seeing on this day. Chris Harper was supposed to be the same old "quarterback" that we gladly let loose.
It wasn't so.
Oregon came out with short passes and dinks and dunks to get Thomas warmed up and started, but it wasn't happening. KSU came in fired up on D with a surprisingly juiced crowd. After the inaugural Jackson Rice punt of the year, the ball was in Chris Harper's hands. Coming out of the gun on play one, Harper was ready. KSU, too, came out passing. For them, it would work. Harper's throwing motion had changed and he was throwing accurately and with confidence. KSU would march down the field twice in their first two drives but stall in the redzone the latter drive, coming out to a 10-0 lead halfway through the first quarter.
On Oregon's fourth drive of the game after two three-and-outs and only two first downs*, Oregon would work towards the run at last. LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner would take their carries on this drive and open up lanes for Thomas to throw through. Being 6'3", Thomas could survey the field thoroughly and find the same passing lanes that made Dennis Dixon so effective as a decision-maker in his senior year. The drive would take Oregon down the field and into the endzone for their first points on the year. Conspicuously missing from the drive, however, were the QB keeps on the reads. Thomas was always handing the ball off even though he appeared to have a lane if only for one DE to beat.
* In spite of it being only 8 minutes into the first game of the season and only three drives having taken place, Addicted To Quack user axemen23 began the calls for Thomas to be benched in favor of backup QB Bryan Bennett.
The drive would turn out to be the gameplan in a nutshell. Assuming the playcalling duties for the first time, OC Mark Helfrich got his young and newly minted quarterback's feet wet. The Oregon team was running using solely their RBs in James and Barner for the most part. Thomas would only "sell", or scramble, a few times on the day. On the zone-reads they called, he kept it only a few times with moderate success. "Whatever works," thought Oregon fans as the team would put up points and come out winners in Manhattan as Thomas would throw the ball very well for a debut and James would run the ball as explosively as ever. Oregon fans liked what they were seeing on offense, even though a rather large part of the game was missing: the zone-read.
Next up: September 17th, 2011: @Utah. To be continued...