If running back LaMichael James is out for more than a few weeks, Oregon will need several players to step up. But the player who will need to step up the most is not the guy -- or guys -- who will replace James. It's QB Darron Thomas.
James is the Ducks A-lister. He's the Doak Walker Award winner, the unanimous preseason All-American. He's the first guy the Ducks look to. Thomas is the second.
Thomas has been overshadowed by other fancypants QBs in the conference thus far, but he entered Thursday's game with California ranked 17th in the nation in passing efficiency with 12 touchdowns and just one interception.
But he was mediocre-to-bad in the first half against Cal, completing just 8 of 19 for 101 yards with a bad interception in Bears territory. He was particularly bad when the Bears blitzed, according to ESPN Stats & Information, completing 4 of 9 with the pick.
In the second half, Thomas didn't need to pass much, but he was effective when he did, throwing all three of his TD passes after the break. And when Cal blitzed he was 4 for 4 with two TDs, averaging 23.5 yards per attempt.
Resilience might be Thomas' best quality. He rarely has two halves of bad football. Recall how bad he was early in the national title game against Auburn, and then how he bounced back and nearly led the Ducks to a comeback win.
The hope is James will be back sooner than later -- certainly sooner than how his dislocated elbow seemed to initially indicate -- but while he's not in the huddle, Thomas will need to take charge, starting with a tricky date with Arizona State on Oct. 15.