EUGENE — De'Anthony Thomas is an enigma, and No. 2 Oregon would like to keep it that way.
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound running back can confound defenses with his versatility and lightning speed. The trick for the Ducks is to manage Thomas on the field so as to keep opponents guessing while not over-taxing him.
"He's a guy who will do anything," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "We obviously need to sometimes pick our spots or be smart with him. But he's — knock on wood — been a tough guy, a durable guy."
During Oregon's season-opening 66-3 rout of Nicholls State, Thomas rushed for 128 yards and two touchdowns on a career-high 18 carries. Some were surprised that the Ducks ran him so many times, especially against a lower-division opponent.
"We're going to call what we think gives us the best chance to be successful," Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. "(Thomas) does some freaky things with the ball in his hands and he took advantage of the opportunities he had and made some big plays."
Thomas moved into fourth on Oregon's career list with 38 touchdowns; LaMichael James is first with 58. He has 4,122 career all-purpose yards, good for eighth on Oregon's all-time list. And they came from several places: 1,424 on rushes, 1,052 on receptions, 1,372 on kick returns and 274 on punt returns.
"I'm going with the flow," Thomas said. "Whatever the coaches say, I'll do it. I just want to focus on getting stronger and being there for my team."
On Saturday, Oregon visits Virginia, which came from behind to beat BYU 19-16 in last weekend's opener. The Cavaliers allowed the Cougars 187 yards on the ground.
The Cavaliers play an aggressive defense designed to get penetration, which could leave them susceptible to misdirection against the Ducks' overall speed, Thomas included.
"I think you can stop anybody if you call the right plays," said Virginia defensive end Eli Harold, who had two sacks against BYU. "When the Patriots went 12-1 and lost in the Super Bowl, they got stopped at some point. You just have to do the right things at the right time."
Thomas established his reputation as a dual threat last season, running for 701 yards and 11 touchdowns and catching 45 passes for 445 yards and five more scores. He also scored on a kickoff return and a punt return. He was the first Oregon player in 47 years with a touchdown four different ways.
In last season's 35-17 Fiesta Bowl victory over Kansas State, Thomas scored on a 94-yard return of the opening kickoff, the longest ever in an Oregon bowl appearance. In two career bowl games, he has amassed 509 all-purpose yards.
There were questions in fall camp about whether Thomas would be used more as a running back or a receiver, since he is adept at both. At least in the opener, it appeared the Ducks are running him more.
However, sophomore Byron Marshall showed ability as the backup with 124 yards rushing on eight carries against Nicholls State. And Oregon has yet to introduce recruit Thomas Tyner, who rushed for 3,415 yards for Aloha High School as a senior, setting a new single-season rushing record for the state.
The emergence of Marshall and the potential of Tyner give the Ducks flexibility in how they try to maximize Thomas' talents this season.
"De'Anthony is special," Helfrich said. "Talk about a guy that had an awesome fall camp. He really grew up helping some of these other guys like Thomas (Tyner) and showing them how to practice. It's amazing how much more mature he is. Everything about him is better. That's a good thing when you are that good to begin with."