Good, but not great.
That was how Oregon head coach Chip Kelly described Darron Thomas’ performance last week against LSU. After a game that saw the junior signal caller complete just 31 of 54 passes for a touchdown and an interception, it seemed like fitting characterization.
After Saturday’s 69-20 win over Nevada, Kelly had far more effusive praise for Thomas. A school record six touchdowns and 68 percent completion rate will do that.
“I thought Darron was outstanding today,” Kelly said. “That’s the Darron Thomas I know, and for us to be successful, he needs to have days like this for us to really continue to roll as a football team.”
Indeed, Oregon may boast a Heisman runner-up in LaMichael James and a heralded play caller in Kelly, but Thomas knows that the fortunes of the team ride mostly on his slender shoulders.
“The team is pushed by me,” Thomas said. “Telling me every game, ‘You’ve gotta play great for us to go out and do great things.’ So I just gotta come out and do it better game by game to lead the this team to victory.”
This is particularly true against opponents like Nevada, who loaded up on the running lanes in a clear attempt neutralize James and the rest of Oregon’s fleet footed backs.
“If they’re going to gang up on the run game, we have to be able to throw the ball to be successful,” Kelly said. “And that’s what happened. We took advantage of some of the things they were trying to do, scheme wise, and getting after us, and when that happens I think we can be pretty explosive offensively.”
When Nevada sent its blitz packages at Thomas, he stood his ground in the pocket and lofted the ball up for receivers to grab. Five of his touchdown throws went for 20 yards or more, and he professed to have full confidence in his teammates’ abilities to haul in the throws.
“I’m very confident in them guys making the big play,” Thomas said. “I just gotta get the ball in their hands, that’s how I feel.”
At times he was forced to watch the path of his throws from the ground after taking jarring hits, as was the case when freshman running back De’Anthony Thomas caught a 24-yard pass in the corner of the end zone.
“That’s the ones I like,” he said. “Getting off the ground and the guy’s making a big play.”
The virtuoso performance served as a distinct reminder of Thomas’ considerable abilities, while also affirming to teammates just how much the Texas native has grown as a leader.
“The exciting thing about Darron is his sideline demeanor,” left guard Carson York said. “It’s totally different this year, and from the LSU game, (when) we were down and trying to come back, to this game trying to keep the pedal to the metal, he’s really evolved into that guy we can look to.
“He knows that he’s the leader. It’s a good feeling, especially as an offensive lineman, to have sort of a field general out there that you can look to.”
Thus, it should come as no surprise that Thomas professed to have no indication of his record-setting performance while on the field. It didn’t matter whether he had six touchdowns or one, so long as the team remained focused and motivated.
“I really didn’t know I had six,” Thomas said. “Just went out and did great things. I’m happy for all of the receivers.”
After Saturday, it’s safe to say that the receivers are just as happy to have Thomas throwing them the ball.