Thomas ready to shine against buddy Luck

September, 30, 2010
9/30/10
12:39
PM ET
One team has a star quarterback who already has been tapped for future NFL greatness. The other has the green starter who has yet to play against a ranked foe.

But Stanford's Andrew Luck hasn't always been the shiniest quarterback when compared to Oregon's Darron Thomas.

"I was always No. 1 and he was No. 2 in the Houston area,’’ Thomas said of Luck, whom he called a "good friend."

That said, Thomas admits that Luck went 2-0 against him in high school. Obviously, he's hoping a change of venue -- rowdy Autzen Stadium -- will provide a different result Saturday when Luck and the No. 9 Cardinal square off with Thomas' fourth-ranked Ducks.

[+] EnlargeDarron Thomas
AP Photo/Paul ConnorsDarron Thomas's biggest test of the season thus far comes Saturday against Stanford.
"He's got the upper hand on me right now, so I'm trying to change it up," Thomas said.

Speaking of hands, the game could end up significantly in Thomas'. It's no secret what Oregon wants to do: It wants to run LaMichael James -- another Texan! -- over and over. And when a defense makes a mistake -- poof! -- he's gone like the wind. So the obvious defensive strategy is to gang up on the spread-option and constantly spy James -- or talented backup Kenjon Barner -- and force Thomas to throw the ball.

That obvious strategy hasn't exactly worked: Oregon is No. 3 in the nation in rushing with 321.8 yards per game, and James is second overall with 158.3 yards per game. But part of that is inferior competition. Last weekend at Arizona State, a good defense mostly bottled up the Ducks' running game, holding them to just 4.0 yards per carry. James, himself, averaged 4.1 yards per tote, half his season's average.

Stanford's defense might not be as athletic as the Sun Devils', but it nonetheless ranks 11th in the nation and it's already thwarted two previous option attacks in Wake Forest and UCLA. In other words, Thomas is likely going to have to throw for the Ducks to win (and that might be easier with Cardinal safety Michael Thomas -- another Texan! -- doubtful with a leg injury).

"That's been happening all year, defenses trying to take away the running game," said Thomas, acknowledging this likelihood. "We've been doing some good things outside with the receivers."

That's true. While Thomas has only averaged 206 yards passing per game -- he's being chilling on the bench during blowouts -- his 10 TD passes are third most in the Pac-10 and he's only thrown three interceptions. Luck has 11 TDs and two picks. In terms of efficiency, Thomas ranks fifth in the conference, ahead of veteran QBs such as California's Kevin Riley and Washington's Jake Locker.

"Darron is managing the game very well," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "He's playing with great poise. We've been down 10 at Tennessee. We were down 10 at Arizona State. [But] there's not any panic from your quarterback. I figure other players thrive on that. He's been really efficient with the ball. ... I think he's been really smart with what he's doing, not forcing the issue. The one thing I've been really impressed with him is he's stood in there and taken hits while he's been delivering the football. He hasn't shown any concern about the rush."

Stanford likes to hit QBs. It has14 sacks so far, which ranks first in the Pac-10 and sixth nationally. Oregon, however, doesn't let Thomas get hit much. It's yielded just one sack. Something might give there.

The Sun Devils didn't get a sack but they knocked Thomas down plenty. Yet, as Kelly said, Thomas never seemed to lose his poise. He threw a second-quarter interception that set up an ASU touchdown, but he then led consecutive touchdown drives that put the Ducks ahead for good. He finished with 260 yards passing, completing 19 of 33 attempts with two touchdowns.

Not too shabby, particularly on the road.

"I thought he played well; he made plays when he had to make plays," Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said. "He threw the ball very efficiently when he had the opportunity to throw it -- he had that one down the middle in first half to the tight end [David Paulson for 61 yards]. I was impressed with him. He runs that offense extremely well. He's got good speed. But I was impressed with how he threw it very efficiently."

Thomas said he's played "good enough to win" so far. But he wants more and seems confident that he can handle more.

So Luck is the potential All-American, Heisman Trophy candidate and first-round NFL draft pick? Fine. Thomas is eager to reclaim the Houston quarterbacking crown.

"It's going to be competitive," he said.

Ted Miller | email

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