GLENDALE, Ariz. — Many teams this year have avoided kicking to De’Anthony Thomas, and it only took Kansas State 12 seconds of playing against him to learn why. Thomas fielded the kickoff at the six-yard line along the Ducks’ sideline, made a few moves and simply turned on the jets on a 94-yard return of the opening kick, finishing off the highlight reel play like a sprinter finishing a race.
“I have a big track season coming up,” Thomas said. “I just feel like I have a lot more to accomplish.”
The Ducks added a two-point conversion after the return — scored by defensive end Dion Jordan, of all people — and led 8-0 before either team’s quarterback had seen the field. The crowd inside might have been decidedly pro-Kansas State, but after Oregon took the early lead the Wildcat crowd was silenced — and the Duck fans went crazy.
Thomas wasn’t done after the return, either. After the Ducks were forced to punt on their first offensive possession Thomas took a screen pass on second and five 23 yards slicing and dicing his way through the defense before reaching the endzone for his second score of the night.
Thomas had two scores in last year’s Rose Bowl too, finishing that game with the insane statline of two rushes, two touchdowns, 155 yards.
This time around, Thomas finished with two touchdowns and 75 yards of offense on just six touches (two rushes and four receptions), and a 60-yard average on his two kickoff returns, good enough for a game-high 195 all purpose yards.
It begs the question, does Thomas reach back for a little something special during BCS games?
“I think he clicks into a different ‘Black Mamba mode’ than he does in the regular season,” Josh Huff said of his teammate.
Thomas acknowledged that he does step it up for BCS games, but was characteristically humble after the game.
“I’m just out there having fun,” he said. Thomas has said the same thing on multiple occasions this season and throughout his career.
Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said that if Thomas really does have that extra gear the coaching staff would like to see that mode earlier in the season.
“If he does we need to acquire that mode a little earlier in the season. No, I don’t think he has an extra gear or anything,” Helfrich said. “He’s got a lot of great gears … (the return) was obviously a huge play to start the game.”
It was the first time in Fiesta Bowl history that the opening kickoff was returned for a touchdown.