Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota may be without a key playmaker in De'Anthony Thomas after the running back suffered a leg injury on the opening kickoff against the California Golden Bears on Saturday night:
However, Thomas' absence hasn't hurt Oregon's offensive production in the Pac-12 opener, as the Ducks carried a 41-3 lead into halftime in Eugene, Ore., with Mariota accounting for three total touchdowns.
Mariota's Heisman Trophy campaign also won't be harmed if Thomas is out of action for next week's game against Colorado, who sport the 91st-ranked scoring defense in yielding 31.7 points per game.
The sophomore signal-caller can make the requisite throws to exploit defenses that try to stuff the box against Oregon's lightning-quick, up-tempo rushing attack. As dynamic as Mariota is in the open field as a ball-carrier, he entered the Cal game having averaged 10.84 yards per pass attempt in 2013.
That statistic showcases Mariota's ability to stretch the field vertically and how he gives defenses nightmares in play-action situations, where throwing windows grow enormous.
Mariota notched 11 total touchdowns in the first three games of the season, and is No. 1 on ESPN.com's Heisman watch list. Nothing he's done to date should change that ranking.
At 5'9" and 175 pounds, Thomas' small stature is an advantage in running behind bigger linemen, and it makes his elusiveness in the open field seem all the more sudden.
Thomas is an intriguing talent, but the Ducks have a deep backfield headlined by Byron Marshall—who ran for 103 yards and two TDs in the first half against Cal—and Thomas Tyner.
As long as that duo can keep the momentum going and run the system well, Mariota will continue operating the offense at a high level and be a prime contender for the Heisman Trophy.