One play later, the Ohio Valley Conference Champions were up 7-0 on the fourth ranked team in the country.
“I was trying to get some of my players out of the way and trying to signal for a fair catch and, you know, I got bumped,” Thomas said of the play.
It was the first deficit the Ducks had faced all season. And it lasted all of one minute. By the end of the first quarter, behind stellar play from Thomas and redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota, Oregon (3-0) was up 21-7 and had racked up 223 yards from scrimmage.
Oregon would eventually post 652 total yards en route to a 63-14 stomping of their FCS opponent on Saturday afternoon. And for the first time all season, it looked as if the Oregon offense was in gear for a full sixty minutes. Well, there were a couple exceptions.
Thomas ended up with two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving, but was prevented from a possible third score with a little over five minutes left in the first quarter when he was caught from behind and fumbled on the goal line. So which speedy Duck recovered the ball for the score? Sophomore right tackle Jake Fisher.
It might have been that Thomas didn’t see the defender, but seeing Thomas get caught in a footrace is a rarity in itself ever since he arrived at Oregon. He said it was a teachable moment for him, and head coach Chip Kelly seemed to agree.
“If Jake Fisher, our right tackle, beats you to the end zone then I don’t think you’re running full speed,” Kelly said.
Still, Kelly said the play showed that the team is putting forth a better effort three weeks into the season.
“When you get a guy fumbling the football sixty yards down the field and your right tackle is there to recover it for a touchdown, I think it says a lot about Jake and a lot about the effort that we’re trying to coach,” he said.
Thomas did show flashes of his usual self with a 59-yard touchdown run, 73 yards receiving and four punt returns for 87 yards. But the backfield duo of Thomas and senior running back Kenjon Barner were relatively quiet (for them), getting only 16 touches between them for 119 yards.
Instead, the Ducks took to the air. Marcus Mariota led the charge from behind center, finishing with 308 yards passing and four touchdowns on 21-for-28 passing before leaving the game in the third quarter.
Thomas was his favorite target, but Mariota tossed touchdown passes to Keanon Lowe and Colt Lyerla as well. In total 14 different receivers caught passes on Saturday for Oregon.
“I feel like as an offense we are doing well,” Mariota said. “To put up 42 points in a little over two quarters is something to be happy about, but we aren’t satisfied.”
Several backups also shined, most notably freshman running back Byron Marshall. After grinding through 24 carries for 64 yards two weeks ago against Arkansas State, Marshall was more explosive against Tennessee Tech, taking 13 carries for 125 yards and a touchdown.
“I felt a lot more comfortable out here,” Marshall said. “The first game I had a lot of built up energy and anxiousness. For this game, I knew the difference between high school and college game and I was able to relax.”
Backup quarterback Bryan Bennett provided a few highlights too, taking two keepers into the end zone, the second of which saw him tumble up and over the Golden Eagles defense for the score.
Now, with stiffer competition coming to town in No. 24 Arizona next week, Oregon is looking to minimize mistakes heading into conference play. The 12 penalties for 105 yards that the Ducks posted against the Golden Eagles is a stat that they would like to do away with before playing against Rich Rodriguez’s high-octane Wildcats.
“You’re not going to survive with 12 penalties against anybody that’s coming up on our schedule,” Kelly said.
But, even with a higher caliber opponent coming to Autzen Stadium next weekend, the process will remain the same for Kelly and his team.
“We’re on the schedule every week,” Kelly said. “Our Monday’s the same, our Tuesday’s the same. The only thing that changes is our opponent.”