And we’re back. You thought you could get rid of this series that easily? Not so fast, because I’ll be posting a new play daily for the next week. For those of you who missed out on the previous two editions of this series, here they are: #9 – The Arrival – #8 – The Pick-6
That said, on we go to #7!
7. The Stomp (November 24, at Oregon State, 3rd quarter)
The Play: After an 8-yard run on 2nd and 12, De’Anthony Thomas is flagged for unnecessary roughness after stomping on Oregon State defensive back Jordan Poyer.
Remember when De’Anthony Thomas appeared to be a full-fledged Heisman candidate? Yes, those same days in September when Thomas, West Virginia’s Geno Smith and USC’s Matt Barkley stood atop lists predicting who would fly to New York for the presentation of college football’s most prestigious award.
Something funny happened on the way to the Big Apple. Opposing defenses honed in on Thomas. Throughout Pac-12 play, the sophomore wunderkind was often stifled and saw few offensive touches, giving way to Kenjon Barner – who, as it turns out, came a whole lot closer to the Heisman Award than Thomas, finishing 9th in the overall voting.
Even in some of the Ducks’ biggest games, Thomas took a backseat to Barner as a rusher. Case in point: the USC game, in which Barner carried the ball 38 times for an astounding 321 rushing yards (more on that later in the rankings). Thomas, conversely, took just three carries for nine yards.
Granted, the “Black Momba” was far from a non-factor against the Trojans, hauling in five receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown. The following week, Thomas caught eight passes for 101 yards while gaining only 13 yards rushing on five carries.
The reasons why? Plainly, Thomas had proven ineffective in Pac-12 play unless he got the ball out in space. Especially with opposing defenses having stacked the box against him, he struggled to find the patience and technique to find open lanes. Too often, he was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage, and even looked sluggish at times.
More and more, Thomas’s role in the Oregon offense was evolving as a slot receiver, rather than a running back. Besides, given Barner’s wild success running the ball, what was the point of force-feeding Thomas?
November 24; the Civil War Game. 6:22 left in the first half. Barner goes down with what appears to be a leg injury. Suddenly, Thomas is the Oregon Ducks’ #1 running back. On three carries in what’s left of the first half, Thomas gains just four yards. Trouble appears to be brewing for the Oregon offense.
Second half. Oregon State opens with a touchdown drive to cut Oregon’s lead to 20-17. After a 7-yard completion from quarterback Marcus Mariota to wide receiver Josh Huff, Thomas opens the Ducks’ ensuing drive with three more carries for 12 yards.
More of the same, it appears. And then, after that third carry, an 8-yard run to right side, as often seems to happen in rivalry games, things get heated. Oregon State defenders, including All-American cornerback Jordan Poyer, continue to push Thomas back and pull on his legs and facemask even after the whistle has blown, eventually bringing him to the ground.
Without hesitance, Thomas stands up, takes a couple steps at Poyer, still on the ground, and stomps on his chest. Then, he turns around, as if nothing has happened. Flags fly, a small scuffle ensues, Thomas is penalized for unnecessary roughness, and the game goes on.
“Did you kick the guy?” asks one reporter after the game.
“Yes, I did,” responds Thomas, with a tone devoid of remorse.
Transgressions of decency like this in sports happen more often than many of us like to think. Sometimes, the transgressor is scorned. Sometimes, they are not. In the public eye, this case appears to have fallen into the latter. Why? Most likely, it’s because of what De’Anthony Thomas does next.
On his next five carries, Thomas nets 50 yards and two crucial touchdowns, turning a close game into a comfortable Oregon lead. He runs with a conviction that quite simply didn’t seem to be there for much of the season, as well as that patience that had often lacked, finishing the game with a season-best 122 yards rushing on 17 carries, along with three touchdowns.
Running angry? You bet, at least in this writer’s view.
“I was kind of mad, because, all the other plays, (there were) cheap shots and trying to twist people’s ankles up under the pile and stuff like that,” says Thomas after the game, though he denies this anger factored into his on-the-field play.
Not exactly known for revelatory press conferences, Thomas offers some wisdom into the pitfalls of being a national powerhouse program, proceeding with surprising candor when asked if the “cheap shots” had happened before.
“A couple of teams,” he answers. “I don’t know what’s the reason for it – I guess we’re just Oregon.”
Check in tomorrow for #6 – on a particularly painful night for one of the Ducks’ premier defensive players.