Thursday's Pac-12 match-up between Arizona State and Oregon will feature two of the most exciting young players in the nation
Neither of them is their team's starting back. Neither is six feet tall, nor weighs more than 185 pounds. Neither can buy beer.
Yet, Arizona State's D.J. Foster and Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas are their respective team's most dangerous weapon and each ranks among the elite playmakers in the nation. Better yet, they will get to face off on Thursday in front of a national audience. Talk about must see TV.
First, let's take a look at the numbers these two young men have put up through six games this season.
|Statistic||D.J. Foster||De'Anthony Thomas|
Impressive stuff, no two ways about it.
But the impact of these two players goes beyond the numbers.
Thomas came to Oregon last year as a five-star recruit from Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles. With LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner ahead of him in the Ducks' backfield, a typical highly-touted recruit may not have seen much, if any time. Thomas was not a typical highly-touted recruit.
Despite being slightly built at 5-foot-9 and 176 pounds, Thomas possesses other-worldly speed and acceleration, which he combines with his versatility to make him arguably the nation's most electrifying gamebreaker. Playing in the backfield, as a wide receiver and as a returner, Thomas was sensational as a true freshman in 2011.
He ran for 595 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 10.8 yards-per-carry (!) and led the team with 40 receptions and 605 yards and another nine touchdowns. Oh, he also averaged over 17 yards per punt return and 27 yards on kickoffs, including two he took to the house.
Plenty of players in the country are fast. Some have ridiculous wheels. Then there is Thomas. Look what he did in the Rose Bowl last year, against Wisconsin's 15th ranked defense.
As was proven in the video above and numerous clips on SportsCenter, that ASU cannot afford to give Thomas the smallest hole or the most narrow seam. Even when he doesn't get the ball, his mere presence helps to open things up for his other teammates.
The Sun Devils must also be extremely diligent in their assignments and not overpursue, as Thomas can cut on a dime and cutback and outrun the defense to the corner. Whether it's an inside handoff, an option pitch outside, or precise routes run from the slot, Thomas arguably represents the biggest match-up difficulty ASU will face all season.
Thankfully for ASU fans, the Sun Devils will bring their own multi-threat playmaker to Frank Kush Field to give the Duck defense similar headaches.
While it was expected that Foster—a highly touted four-star recruit from nearby Saguaro High School—would be a contributor as a true freshman, the speed of his ascent up the depth chart has been surprising. With Cameron Marshall leading a very deep backfield, and Jamal Miles heading up the wide receiving corps, no one thought Foster would have to be the go-to offensive threat. At least not this soon.
Yet, Marshall and Miles have struggled mightily through the season's first half while Foster has flourished.
After a great fall camp, Foster wasted no time in making an impact for the Sun Devils. He accounted for 99 yards from scrimmage against NAU on just 12 touches and scored his first career touchdown. His 33-yard catch-and-run score against Missouri helped jumpstart the ASU offense, and he led the team with 70 yards on the ground against Utah. Over the last two weeks, he has 11 receptions for 134 yards and made this sensational touchdown catch last week against Colorado.
Like Thomas, the Sun Devils use Foster in a variety of ways. He'll operate out of the backfield, running inside, taking the ball to the edge on sweep and going off-tackle. He'll also line up out wide in the slot as a receiver, or run routes out of the backfield.
At 5-foot-11 and 183 pounds, Foster is a bigger player than Thomas, and he plays like it. While Foster has great speed and rare acceleration, he also runs strong and is not afraid to lower his shoulder into a would-be tackler.
His 269 yards on the ground lead the team, and his 20 receptions and 296 yards through the air are both second-best. Through six games, he has been both the team's best runner and receiver. Not too bad for a true freshman on a 5-1 team in the Pac-12.
Among the on-field competitors, only one will leave Sun Devil Stadium a victor, anyone who watches these two young men work their explosive magic also wins. Football fans of any allegiance should appreciate the pure talent possessed by Foster and Thomas, and given the fact that they aren't schedule to face off again (barring an unexpected redshirt season or...ahem...Pac-12 title game meeting), this game should be relished.
Get your popcorn. And make sure not to blink.