Oregon football: Maturing QB gives Ducks another feather in their cap

2011-09-23T00:00:00Z 2012-11-30T13:47:26Z Oregon football: Maturing QB gives Ducks another feather in their capPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 23, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Of the 120 teams that play Division I-A football, 110 have allowed fewer passing yards per game than the Arizona Wildcats.

So it would be tempting for any team - including No. 10 Oregon, which plays at Arizona Stadium on Saturday - to want to throw the ball every down.

Right?

Wrong.

"I'm sure Mike (Stoops) would be real excited," Ducks coach Chip Kelly said, "if we came in the game and threw it 55 times, and LaMichael (James) didn't carry it very much."

The Ducks will ensure James - the third-place finisher in last year's Heisman race who averages 108 rushing yards - touches the ball often.

But that doesn't mean Kelly isn't thrilled with the growth of quarterback Darron Thomas.

"Last year, he knew where everybody was and what he was supposed to do," Kelly said. "The biggest thing with Darron, now beside the 'hows,' is also the 'whys.'"

In his second year as a starter, the junior is proving his expertise running the Ducks offense.

"It's a little bit easier," he said. "We've opened up the playbook a lot."

The second-team all-conference quarterback logged 3,367 yards of total offense last year, the second-most in school history. His 2,881 passing yards was the fifth-best in school history, and his 363 passing yards in the BCS Championship Game was a career high.

He's better now.

"He taught me everything I know about the offense," said freshman De'Anthony Thomas, who has gained 170 rushing yards and 153 receiving yards this season. "He's always the one speaking up about the offense and talking about how to get things done."

Darron Thomas estimates he watches five hours of game film per day, be it on television or a laptop.

"That's one of the biggest things I do - make sure I'm prepared," he said. "There won't be nothin' shocking."

When the Ducks lost their neutral-site opener against LSU, Darron Thomas completed 31 of 54 passes for only 240 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

In blowout home wins against Nevada and Missouri State, however, Thomas was far more explosive.

He completed 24 of 34 attempts in those two games, totaling 501 yards and scoring nine touchdowns.

The LSU loss forced the Ducks to place "a bigger emphasis on being prepared and being ready to go," Darron Thomas said.

Opponents have them circled.

"If you're a great competitor," he said, "you want to compete against the best."

The Ducks need to be balanced Saturday.

Despite the LSU totals - Oregon trailed 30-13 in the third quarter, prompting more throws - the team is known for its lethal rushing attack.

Their 286.2 rushing yards last season was fourth-best in the country. They average 261 this year, eighth-best nationwide.

"The defenses are very good in this league," Kelly said. "If you're just one-dimensional, I think they can gang up on that."

Kelly said there's a danger in judging the UA defense - which has allowed 300.3 passing yards per game - because of its opponents thus far.

He called Stanford and Oklahoma State among the 5 or 10 best passing teams in the country.

"You can look at it," he said. "But if you don't have (OSU quarterback Brandon) Weeden and (wideout Justin) Blackmon, it's hard to say, 'Let's do what Oklahoma State did.' …

"You just can't look at the statistics and say, 'Hey we have to throw the heck out of the ball against these guys.'"

Which is why Darron Thomas likely won't throw 54 times Saturday.

"If the offense comes out executing, then I'll have a good day," he said. "If not, it's all on me."

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