De'Anthony Thomas: The Black Mamba's Venom

"In Africa, the saying goes 'In the bush, an elephant can kill you, a leopard can kill you, and a black mamba can kill you. But only with the mamba is death sure.' Hence its handle, 'Death Incarnate.' Pretty cool, huh?" - Elle Driver, Kill Bill Vol. 2

In Pac-12 football, speed kills. And no one is faster than Oregon's all-purpose all-star De'Anthony Thomas. Snoop Dogg -- yes, THAT Snoop Dogg -- dubbed Thomas the Black Mamba long before a certain NBA'er gave himself the nickname.

Thomas has worn the moniker well. Since bursting onto the collegiate scene at Oregon via Crenshaw High School, the Black Mamba has struck one opponent after another with lethal doess of offensive venom. At wide receiver, at tailback, on special teams, it doesn't matter: Thomas can hurt a team in so many ways, causing paralysis before dispatching victims with a loss.

If any coach in the conference knows that, it's Rich Rodriguez. He's obviously never faced Thomas, but while the head coach at Michigan, Rodriguez threw his maize-and-blue hat in the recruiting ring.

"When he got out of high school, we were trying to recruit him," Rodriguez said in his weekly press conference. "At that time he was one of the most explosive high school players and now he is one of the most explosive college players.

"I had no doubts that he was going to have a successful career. I just wish he wasn't in the Pac-12," he added.

Rodriguez probably isn't alone. Thomas' presence ensures the Oregon offensive juggernaut continues along without missing a step, despite losing former Heisman Trophy finalist and the 2011 national rushing leader LaMichael James.

James took his 51 career touchdowns and over 5000 yards to the NFL. That's not production easily replaced, but Chip Kelly doubled up in his efforts to do so. Kenjon Barner handles the workload, averaging just south of 20 carries per game, luring in defenses for Thomas to explode with his quick strikes along the edges.

Thomas won't replicate James' rushing numbers -- the former isn't that kind of player -- but his versatility makes him just as valuable.

"There's no one catching him," Rodriguez said. "They'll hand him the ball, they'll throw it to him, and he'll return kicks and punts."

Thomas has 228 yards rushing, averaging a ridiculous 17.5 per carry and has scored four times. Three of his 11 receptions have gone for touchdowns. He has a 48-yard punt return. His play landed Thomas on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

So, does there exist an anti-venom for the Black Mamba's bite? That's the question Rodriguez and Jeff Casteel must answer on Saturday. Much like his reptilian namesake, Thomas can do so much damage with a single attack. Numerous means lights out.

Rodriguez appeared on Wednesday's Jim Rome Show and said that trying to keep the ball out of Thomas' hands was paramount. Since the Duck offense is predicated on getting Thomas the ball, and doing so quickly, that translates to the Wildcats having to bring blitz packages that test Marcus Mariota's ability throwing down field.

Kyle Dugandzic's role is also vital. The Wildcat punter may need to test his coffin corner ability to limit Thomas' return opportunities.

Indeed, the fewer chances Thomas has, the better Arizona's odds of an upset become. But even one misstep can have impact on the game that proves gargantuan.

You know, I've always liked that word, gargantuan. So rarely have an opportunity to use it in a sentence.

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