Darragh O’Neill’s punt bounced somewhere around the Ducks’ 40-yard line and continued to bounce toward the Ducks’ endzone before De’Anthony Thomas picked it up and continued to run in every direction except forward, scurrying left, right and backward and confusing not only the 11 Buffaloes trying to stop him but all 57,521 fans in attendance.
“I don’t even know what I was thinking,” Thomas admitted.
After running 12 yards backwards Thomas ran nearly the length of the field to the left sideline and turned upfield, evading multiple tackles and finishing with his trademark pure burst of speed en route to an electrifying punt return touchdown that covered far more ground than the 73 yards Thomas was credited with. Even Chip Kelly could only laugh.
“It wasn’t designed that way, I can tell you that,” Kelly said.
His quarterback was equally impressed with the all-over-the-place run back.
“It was quite amazing to watch,” Mariota said.
After a relatively quiet start to Pac-12 play — thanks in large part to defenses keying on him — the punt return marked a return to his elite form from non-conference play.
“Some other teams have done a decent job of defending him,” Kelly said. “It wasn’t like we did not try to get him the ball or get the ball in his hands in some of those other games. Give the other teams we were playing credit because they did a good job of tackling him in open space.”
To go with the special teams performance, Thomas averaged 19.4 yards on five carries falling just short of the century mark with 97 yards, all of which came in the first half. Aside from his punt return touchdown, Thomas’s day was highlighted by a 44-yard run along the opposite sideline where he was just a step away from breaking it.
But while some fans have called Thomas’ start to conference play a slump the back himself said he hasn’t been bothered by his lower numbers.
“I’m not really a guy about stats,” he said. “I’m just a guy about winning games and just being there for my team.”
Thomas’ team can now look ahead to next week’s matchup against USC, a long anticipated rematch with the last team to win in Autzen Stadium, and a homecoming for Thomas, who won two Los Angeles City Section titles in the Coliseum when he played at Crenshaw High School. But make no mistake, this is a business trip.
“I’m not going down there for a vacation,” Thomas said. “I’m going down there to play football and just get the win and come back to Eugene.”