Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas enjoyed a record-setting season en route to the Rose Bowl.
Not that many outside the Northwest noticed.
Playing in a Pac-12 Conference that featured Stanford’s Andrew Luck, the presumed No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL draft, and USC’s Matt Barkley, the possible No. 1 pick in 2013, Thomas quietly directed the Ducks’ hyperkinetic offense.
Thomas, a junior, passed for 30 touchdowns with six interceptions. He also established an Oregon record for career touchdown passes (63) and tied the mark for touchdown passes in a game (six).
A year after leading the Ducks against Auburn in the Bowl Championship Series title game, Thomas is preparing to face Wisconsin in the 98th Rose Bowl game.
“You are really not too worried about the atmosphere now,” Thomas said Thursday. “I’m comfortable because I’ve played in four or five of these games, big-time games.”
Thomas completed 27 of 40 passes for 363 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions in the Ducks’ 22-19 loss to Auburn in January at Glendale, Ariz.
This season, the Ducks lost to Louisiana State in the season opener in Cowboys Stadium at Arlington, Texas, and to USC at Eugene, Ore.
Thomas directs a unit that has averaged 46.2 points and 515.2 yards a game. He has completed 61.4% of his passes.
“He’s never going to be Joe Montana … making every 100% perfect throw,” said Mark Helfrich, Oregon’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. “But he will strive to do that every single time.
“He’s one of the smartest quarterbacks I’ve ever been around, one of the toughest guys I’ve ever been around. He definitely doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s done with our offense lining up the younger guys and communicating with [center] Hroniss [Grasu] and just running the show.”
Thomas, who began playing quarterback as a high school junior in Texas, said he did not feel lost in the shuffle playing in the same conference as Luck and Barkley.
“My name is going to come out one day or another,” he said. “It’s just winning the game, maybe just getting this big win.”
We don’t get fooled again
Wisconsin defensive backs should be ready if the game comes down to the final minute.
They learned the hard way that anything can happen.
On Oct. 22, Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins bounced a 44-yard Hail Mary pass off the facemask of one receiver and into the hands of another for a 37-31 victory over the Badgers.
The next week, Ohio State completed a 40-yard touchdown pass in the final 50 seconds for a 33-29 victory.
“The longest two weeks I’ve ever had in my life,” Wisconsin cornerback Antonio Fenelus said. “But you know, it happened and you learn from stuff like that.”
Safety Aaron Henry recalled the criticism that followed.
“People that don’t usually watch football somehow, some way, they watched those two games,” he said. “It was definitely disheartening for me to hear some of those things.
“That can definitely change a player’s career. All I could think about is Bill Buckner and when he missed the routine ground ball down first base, that — that’s all people are going to remember him for.
“We could have easily gone down a different track from there. I mean, guys got on task and guys stuck together, and we started playing as a unit.”
Mark Asper, the Oregon offensive lineman who helped a man by performing the Heimlich maneuver during the Ducks’ turn at the “Beef Bowl” on Wednesday at Lawry’s the Prime Rib in Beverly Hills, is a married father of two daughters.
Asper, 26, went on a Mormon mission in Spain after high school.
Coaches and teammates were not surprised by his actions at the restaurant.
“He was probably doing the play-by-play in Spanish as he was saving a life with one hand and playing the piano with the other hand,” Helfrich said. “Unbelievable, but very believable at the same time.”