After an injury in the season opener, Kayvon Thibodeaux missed the Ohio State and Stony Brook games and was on a snap count against Arizona. He was then ejected in the second half of the loss to Stanford and as a result only was allowed to play the second half against Cal. With potentially the biggest conference game of the season coming up against UCLA, having the star defensive end will be completely game-changing.
“Things happened the way that they did,” Thibodeaux told reporters this week. “I’m just focused on staying healthy and keep fighting for the rest of the season.”
Despite being sidelined for a majority of the season, the Ducks have done enough to keep themselves in control of the conference, which is something Thibodeaux is excited about.
“We just keep fighting. I feel like Coach Cristobal has a great gameplan,” he said. “The way we practice, the way we play is just really hard and we kind of prepare for the worst."
Throughout his career at Oregon, Thibodeaux has taken his game to the next level in big games. In last season’s Pac-12 championship, Thibodeaux was named the MVP after he terrorized the USC offense. He ended up getting five tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and even a pass breakup. In the 2019 Pac-12 Championship, he also had five tackles with 2.5 sacks and a blocked punt.
He brings leadership to the defense that is needed to win the big games. The Ducks will need more of the same as they take on UCLA on the road.
In games where Oregon’s defense desperately needs that leadership, Thibodeaux has been able to give the Ducks a ton of big plays, which is something Oregon has been missing at times this season. Fans can’t help but wonder what the Oregon defense would have been able to do on the closing drive of regulation against Stanford had Thibodeaux been able to play and put pressure on the quarterback.
Now, he won't be on the sideline in the game's big moments, as he prepares to play in his first full game of the season.
“I feel like there’s a couple games where that real leadership was missing or lacking, but even I tried to make it up on the sideline,” Thibodeaux said. “There’s nothing like really being with the team.”
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This Oregon team so far has been subject to a lot of criticism from fans and experts. They have seen their ranking slightly drop after barely beating Cal and losing to Stanford. While the outside might not believe it, Thibodeaux is still committed to improvement.
“Criticism doesn't come to you directly when you’re doing everything right,” he said in regards to people who have criticized him so far this season. “It’s always speculation from the back."
"Being able to be who I am and show people the way that I’m doing it and how I want to do it, I don’t think anyone can really stop it. I just gotta make sure that we're still keeping the main thing the main thing.”
Thibodeaux and the Ducks prepare for the big matchup at the Rose Bowl Saturday at 12:30 p.m. The game will be shown on ABC and is even the marquee matchup for this week’s College Gameday.
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