Ducks' stars turn it on in Rose Bowl win
Oregon’s fastest player was gone before a Badger could take a step.
In the closing seconds of the Rose Bowl’s first quarter Monday, freshman De’Anthony Thomas — 5 feet 9 and 173 pounds of speed — took a handoff on the Oregon 9-yard line and was in the end zone in a matter of seconds.
“I just saw open field and tried to take it for a touchdown,” said Thomas, who credited his offensive line for the longest run and scoring play in Rose Bowl history.
Thomas only had one more carry in the game, and that was a 64-yard touchdown run on the third play of the second half. He ended the game with 314 all-purpose yards (also a Rose Bowl record) in the 45-38 win over Wisconsin — an exciting contest that will be remembered for the Badgers’ failure to spike the ball before time expired on a potential game-winning drive.
“Well, No. 6 (Thomas) is special. . . . We talk about tackling, but on a couple of those plays, you look at the 98-yarder, or whatever that was, nobody put a hand on (him),” said Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, whose Badgers fell in their second straight Rose Bowl appearance. (For the record, it was a 91-yard TD run.)
It wasn’t a bad day for the Los Angeles native, who verbally committed to USC before switching to Oregon before National Signing Day last year.
“I'm going to have to be a better play-caller,” joked Oregon coach Chip Kelly, whose program is 1-2 overall in BCS bowls. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a kid average 77 yards a carry. I’ll see if next year we can get him an extra carry or two.”
It was a banner day for the Ducks, who won their first Rose Bowl since 1917 and avenged their 2010 Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State.
And Oregon did it the way it’s become famous for — with a flashy and fast offense, and a defense that struggles to really stop any team with above-average talent.
Of the Ducks’ six touchdown drives on the night, five were fewer than seven plays, and three drives took less than 50 seconds to reach pay dirt. Between the two teams, nine Rose Bowl records were tied or broken, including most total points scored (83) and most touchdowns scored by both teams (11).
“What we learned from it, I think, is that it really just kind of validates what we stand for. . . . This team is fearless. They’re resilient, and they’ve got faith,” Kelly said.
On a team well known for running back LaMichael James (25 carries, 159 yards, one score), quarterback Darron Thomas (17 of 23 for 268 yards and three touchdowns) and those awesome and ever-evolving helmets and uniforms, senior Lavasier Tuinei had the biggest game of his Oregon career in his last game with the team.
The 6-5 receiver hauled in eight catches for 158 yards (both career highs) and two touchdowns, none of which was bigger than his 11-yard grab to open the fourth quarter. It gave the Ducks a 42-38 lead they would not relinquish.
“When the opportunity came my way, I just knew I could catch the ball,” said Tuinei, who was named offensive player of the game. “I wanted to do well for my teammates. I wanted to be that guy to help this team win.”
James is likely to declare for the NFL Draft in the coming days, but the Ducks are still loaded with talent and have the 17th overall recruiting class for 2012, according to Scout.com.
And the speedy Thomas is able, and more than willing, to take over James’ carries.
“I feel like our freshman class has a lot more to accomplish, so I feel like we’ll be back next year,” Thomas said.