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Darron Thomas: We Wouldn't Be Here Without Him

The analysis is done. The opening gameplans are set. Every possible matchup has been put under the microscope. And after over a month of media scrutiny, we know this much: the 2010 BCS Championship game sets up to be one of the most evenly-matched and entertaining games in college football history. Will Nick Fairley be able to disrupt Oregon's rushing attack? With the Ducks offense be able to wear down Auburn's defense in the second half? Can the Ducks D contain Cam Newton? All our questions will be answered Monday.

There is one question yet to be answered. Why hasn't anyone been talking about Darron Thomas? Remember back to August. This Oregon team was supposed to have trouble winning the Pac-10 without Jeremiah Masoli. Naming Darron Thomas the starter was the best choice for long-term success, even if he endured growing pains in his first year as a starter. Little did we know, we were getting a mature field general, a confident leader who believes in his abilities and the abilities of his teammates. We don't make the BCS Championship game without Darron Thomas as our quarterback. Heck, we don't win the Pac-10 without Darron Thomas as our quarterback. After the jump, a look back at our biggest regular season win, and how Darron Thomas has achieved his success.

Darron Thomas' performance against Stanford is one of the most outstanding QB performances of this college football season. The Cardinal game plan was to attack LaMichael James, and make Darron Thomas make plays both with his legs and his arm. He showcased both talents on the first drive. The first two plays from scrimmage were zone reads, and both times, not only did the Stanford DE crash hard on LaMichael James, but the read-side linebacker pursued James. Thomas pulled the ball out both times, rushing for 22 and 7 yards respectively. He followed that up with three quick pass plays to Davis, Paulson, and Tuinei. All told: five plays for 48 yards, and 3 points on the back of DT.

The sequence that makes me believe Darron Thomas can win a BCS Championship game was the last four plays of the first quarter. Stanford had just picked him off and scored to go up 21-3. Stanford's offense looked unstoppable, and we had spotted them an 18 point first quarter lead. Stanford's defense was fired up after forcing a turnover on the previous drive, and tackling Kenjon Barner at the 15 yard line on the kickoff return. A three and out here, and Stanford carries their momentum into the second quarter, and may have dug a hole too deep for the Ducks to fly out of. But Darron Thomas shows us that he's more than a mere sophomore. The four plays:

  1. Zone read, kept by Thomas for four yards. Could've been more, but Stanford LB Chase Thomas made a nice play to shed a Mark Asper block and bring Thomas down.
  2. Designed run for Thomas, sprints to the first down marker and stops the clock, gain of 7.
  3. Picture perfect bubble screen to Tuinei, gain of 6. With :16 left on the clock, it'd be easy to just let the quarter expire. Not this team. DT gets settled, pushes the tempo, and receives the snap with :01 left.
  4. The same bubble screen, but flipped. It goes to Josh Huff, who picks up 12 against an unprepared Stanford defense.
The quarter ends with the tempo up and the Ducks moving the ball. After two LMJ rushes and two more quick hits to the outside to start the second quarter, DT pump fakes the WR screen, hits a streaking Jeff Maehl for the touchdown, and begins a comeback that defined this 2010 team as a group you can never count out.

First quarter stats: 6-8 for 56 yards 1 INT, 6 carries for 48 yards. They aren't stats that jump out and wow you, but they laid the groundwork for the next three quarters, the run game in particular. LaMichael James can't rush for 226 yards in the final three quarters if DT isn't an effective runner in the first. In the passing game, Thomas was able to get into a rhythm with short throws and bubble screens, and stretching to the edges of the field rather than taking shots downfield allows him to run the offense faster and more efficiently.

We've seen Darron Thomas' composure under pressure. We've seen him get into a rhythm with his arm, and we've seen him open up the field with his legs. But he's got one other weapon in his arsenal, something we've seen before. It was either the top of a mountain in Tibet, or the Autzen Stadium locker room. I forget which. The legend goes as follows:

As Darron Thomas approached the door, the lights flickered and fell dark. A mist descended over him from the east. Eric Solis screamed and ran away, but Thomas pressed on. He entered the room. In the center of the room was a hooded figure dressed all in white, the number 10 emblazoned on its chest. It motioned for the young signal-caller to come forward. The spirit reached out and took Thomas' hands. Suddenly, Darron began to feel warm. His hands began to glow a bright yellow. The spirit flew through him, and as the room went dark, Thomas could hear the spirit whisper, "They will never know who has it."
Thomas woke abruptly. Was it all a dream?, he wondered. He looked down at his hands. They looked normal, but they felt....magic.

Now, this may not have been how it actually went down. But make no mistake, Darron Thomas is now the guardian of the Magic Hands. His zone reads have been excellent, he's got a great pump fake, and who can forget this play?

He's also mixed in a healthy diet of play-action, option pitches, and various other shimmies and shakes that have kept defenses off balance all season. We've seen his potential as a runner and a playmaker, and Monday wouldn't be a bad game to put it all together for the world to see.

What can we expect to see Monday?

While it's not necessarily a blueprint on how to stop the Ducks, Cal did provide a blueprint on how to make Darron Thomas' job more difficult. By stacking the line of scrimmage and playing a "Cover Zero", the Golden Bears took away the short passes, forcing Thomas to look deep immediately. The high-risk ploy worked, as Thomas never got comfortable and missed a number of throws he should have made. We could see Auburn start the game in a similar look, taking away the short passes on the edges and relying on Nick Fairley to take away the middle. If this happens, David Paulson becomes DT's best friend. He's got great hands, and presents matchup problems for Auburn's back seven. If Auburn comes out in their base set, look for DT to keep early and attack the edges with his arm. Of course, Chip Kelly's had more than a month to prepare for this game, so I'm ready for anything.

Cam Newton will get his yards. LaMichael James will get his yards. But if Darron Thomas gets his yards, both on the ground and through the air, it could be the difference in this game.

Win The Day. Go Ducks.