The much-anticipated news came via Twitter on Friday, as Oregon coach Chip Kelly announced that Darron Thomas has won the Ducks’ heavily contested and debated quarterback competition.
Thomas, after showing improved passing during fall camp and winning the statistical battle in Thursday’s scrimmage, beat out senior Nate Costa for starting quarterback honors in the Ducks’ season opener Sept. 4 against New Mexico.
“It’s anybody’s guess,’’ Costa said after the Ducks held their annual “O Games’’ at Autzen Stadium, a light-hearted series of “competitions’’ that seemed to relieve some pressure from the 2 ½ weeks of neck-and-neck competition. “I really look forward to sumo soccer.’’
About two hours after the frivolity, the Ducks tweeted the hard news. Thomas, the sophomore, had prevailed, thanks in part to a superior performance (14 of 23, 125 yards, 3 touchdowns) over Costa (17 of 35, 138 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception) in the scrimmage – the Ducks’ only real game-like competition of fall camp.
The scrimmage was closed, so fans and media were left reading the stats as if they were tea leaves. Costa chuckled at the attention and admitted he’d probably be doing the same thing.
“It’s a fun thing to do that, it’s part of being a fan,’’ Costa said. “But being in the situation, I’m not going to read into it.’’
The quarterbacks spent Friday afternoon digesting the information before reconvening for dinner and a motivational speech from conditioning coach Jim Radcliffe. Kelly headed north to Portland for what promised to be a lively meeting of the Oregon Club of Portland at the Oregon Convention Center.
Thomas admitted the competition has been a bit tough mentally and to being “a little nervous’’ about the announcement, which was expected to come late Friday or Saturday morning.
“Whatever happens, happens,’’ Thomas said.
A lot happened for Thomas this fall. Improved footwork led to much better passing. Previously, the occasional fluttering pass would undo the good ones Thomas delivered. As camp went on, the spirals came nearly every time. He executed the zone reads well, he threw balls away when needed and showed escapability.
Costa, meanwhile, played his game: Crisp passing after some early hiccups, good decision-making, some fleet scoots up the middle on keepers and an ability to get his unit into the end zone that appeared better than that of Thomas.
And Daryle Hawkins assumed the "slash'' role of quarterback/running back/receiver, leading the Ducks in receiving (9 catches for 60 yards) in Thursday's scrimmage. True freshman Bryan Bennett, after an extremely impressive camp, awaits his turn.
Neither Kelly nor quarterbacks coach Mark Helfrich was not available for comment Friday, so we don’t yet know all the factors that went into the decision. But apparently, in Thomas, he saw more of a running threat, and Thomas’ relative inexperience – Costa (38 career passes) has been in the program twice as long as Thomas (33 career passes) – was not a negative.
For Costa, his dream of finally grabbing the starting job in his fifth year is still unrealized (he did start one game, at UCLA, last season). But at least it's the end of a discussion that even his mother joined.
"She’ll ask me questions, and I’ll kind of ignore them,'' Costa said. "I hate to talk football with my mom. I’ll talk football with my coaches or my dad, but I don’t want to talk football with my mom.''
Asked if he was hearing about the competition from people around town, Thomas said, "Not a lot of people know my face right now.''
That is about to change.