This is one week in which Rich Rodriguez really regrets that De’Anthony Thomas isn’t wearing Maize and Blue.
Instead, Thomas will be wearing some shade of Oregon Ducks’ green and yellow (or black or grey or white), topped with a reflective helmet, and, very possibly, giving the Arizona Wildcats a great view of this week’s sartorial splendor from behind.
Oh, if only Rodriguez could have lured him to Michigan a couple of years ago.
“I remember when he was coming out of high school and we were trying to recruit him,” said Rodriguez, whose 22nd-ranked Wildcats play at No. 3 Oregon on Saturday night.
“Had a few conversations with him on the phone. We thought at the time he was one of the most explosive players in the country; now, he’s one of the most explosive college players. I mean, there’s nobody catching him.”
(This would be a good time to pause and ponder the awesomeness of a Michigan backfield that would have included Thomas and quarterback Denard Robinson.)
Rodriguez didn’t get too far down the recruiting road with Thomas, and then he was fired as the Wolverines’ coach after the 2010 season. Thomas, from Los Angeles Crenshaw High, had been committed to USC but ended up at Oregon, where he quickly has become the nation’s most exciting player.
“The couple of conversations we had with him, I really enjoyed it,” Rodriguez said. “He’s a nice young man. I had no doubts that he was going to have a great college career. I just wish it wasn’t in the Pac-12.”
This is the kind of great college career Thomas has had in 17 games:
–He already has scored 25 touchdowns.
–He is averaging 12.1 yards per rush.
–He has scored on runs of 91, 64, 62, 59, 51, 39, 35, 33 and 29 yards.
–He has scored on receptions of 69, 45, 41, 41, 33 and 29 yards.
–He has scored on two kick returns.
“Can he come out early?” Rodriguez asked about the true sophomore.
“I think he ought to push for it right now. De’Anthony, you’ve shown enough, you’ve proven enough. It’s time to go to the NFL. Maybe he’ll go before Saturday, you think?”
Sure, it’s all jokes in a Monday afternoon news conference, but stopping Thomas and the Ducks will be serious business on Saturday night in Autzen Stadium.
Thomas (5-9, 173) isn’t the team’s primary ball-carrier — another potential game-breaker, Kenjon Barner, is — but he does lead the team with 11 catches, three of which have gone for touchdowns. He has 13 rushes for 228 yards and four scores.
So, he is scoring 27 percent of the time he touches the ball on offense this season.
“He’s not just fast, he’s shifty, too,” Rodriguez said.
“He’ll make you miss. And he runs through arm tackles. That’s the thing. Some fast guys, they maybe don’t play fast. But he’ll stick his foot in the ground and get north and south.
“(Former Oregon running back) LaMichael James was the same way. When they get going, get a crease, they get north and south. There is no wasted movement. If you didn’t have to play them, it would be a great teaching tool to your kids, saying, ‘This is how you use your speed.’”
Thomas also is using that speed to return punts this year. Gulp.
We’ll see if the Wildcats can be any match for “Black Mamba” — Thomas’ nickname since he was playing in a youth league when he was 11, given to him by the artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg. The Black Mamba is one of the world’s fastest and deadliest snakes.
“Every week he makes amazing plays,” said Arizona sophomore cornerback Jonathan McKnight. “So we need to run to the ball, tackle hard and wrap him up.”