The Ducks made history in more than one way this past Saturday when three different players rushed for more than 100 yards, totaling for a team best of 772. But the stat lines that drew the most attention weren’t the ones listed above. It was the career high 18 carries that De’Anthony Thomas recorded in the season opener against Nicholls State.
“I’d like to think that I’m going to keep him (Thomas) under 20 carries just because I want to keep him healthy. But again, sometimes you get into the flow of the game and it’s hard to count reps,” running backs coach Gary Campbell said.
While Thomas was listed as the starting running back heading into the game, the amount of touches he received will be worth noting moving forward. Even the Ducks didn’t have a set plan heading into the game in regard to how the touches would be distributed in the backfield.
‘There was no plan for [Thomas] to get the most carries,” Campbell said. “I was just going to alternate the guys in as I saw fit, but sometimes when you get a flow going, you keep that drive going. Sometimes you put a guy in and you want him to get a lot of reps and all of a sudden, the drive ends.”
With no set blueprint for the Ducks at running back, the stat line could vary from game-to-game between Thomas and Byron Marshall.
What makes this situation unique is that Marshall — who was listed as the No. 2 running back — managed to rush for 124 yards on only eight carries. There was heavy anticipation that Marshall would see significant time in the backfield, using Thomas more at the usual slot position. But that wasn’t the case in week one of play.
“It’s going to fluctuate from game to game,” Campbell said in regard to Marshall’s touches against the Colonels. “If we get on a drive and Byron’s in there and we’re moving the ball; if we get on a 15-play drive, he could be in there for all 15 plays as long as I think that he’s holding up physically and he’s holding up as far as his stamina is concerned.”
Aside from two long-distance Marshall touchdown runs in the second half — one coming from 47 yards and the other from 49 — Thomas was the one getting the touches while his counterpart took full advantage of minimal opportunities. But Marshall fully understands that his number one responsibility to the team is to be ready whenever he’s up, not worrying about how many reps he gets in a particular game.
“I don’t choose how many reps I get or how much playing time I get,” Marshall said. “I’m just waiting for my number to be called and when it’s called, I’m just going to go to work.”
The discussion of the Oregon backfield was initially brought up at the Pac-12 media day when head coach Mark Helfrich acknowledged that both he and Thomas mutually felt that Thomas served the team well as a multi-tool player.
In regard to continuing Thomas at the feature back role, both Campbell and Marshall agreed that he’s more than capable of carrying that load.
“De’Anthony is a running back,” Marshall said. “He’s not a slot receiver and he’s not a receiver either. With that said, he stepped into that new role for this game and he handled it well.”
“I don’t think anything has changed as far as what we want to do,” Campbell said. “We want to let him (Thomas) do both and obviously in the game on Saturday he was having a good day running the football, so we let him run with it. We’re still going to put him out and do things that we did with him last year, but that was an opportunity for him to get some carries in the backfield.”
The bottom line is that the Ducks are loaded at the running backs position and it is now merely a question of which back will be featured on what day. Sure, Thomas was the first among the backs to have career day on the ground, but who says that won’t be the case for Marshall and Tyner in future games?
The amount of touches will be dependent on the opponent and the game. The Ducks may have traditionally featured two main backs in the past, but this could be the year that the Ducks revive the 1-2-3 punch that was first present in Kenjon Barner, LaMichael James and Thomas three years ago.
“We had three 100-yard rushers, what about a 1-2-3 punch,” Campbell said in response to labeling Thomas and Marshall the next “If I can get three guys to rush for 100 yards, that would be fine with me.”