Fresno State’s offense gets plenty of attention, but Phillip Thomas would have you know the Bulldogs are also ranked seventh nationally in pass efficiency defense. (Courtesy of Fresno State Athletics/Cary Edmondson)
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Profile in Ownage: Phillip Thomas, SS, Fresno State
It’s nine weeks into the first season of the Tim DeRuyter era at Fresno State, and if your thoughts turn to the Bulldogs, they probably turn to quarterback Derek Carr, the younger brother of David currently putting up more than 300 yards of offense a game, or Robbie “Mighty Mouse” Rouse, the diminutive back who scored four touchdowns in a quarter against Colorado. But as the season winds down, we’d suggest familiarizing yourselves with the body of work being assembled by senior strong safety Phillip Thomas. The Bakersfield, Calif., native has recorded an FBS-leading seven interceptions through two months of play, three of which he returned for touchdowns, and one fumble recovery. He’s also forced three fumbles, made seven tackles for loss and collected three sacks.
“This 3-4 defense that we run, we learned it from Dick LeBeau and the Steelers, and Phillip’s our Troy Polamalu,” DeRuyter told SI.com. “Where you’ve gotta have a guy who’s gonna be a difference-maker, you can blitz him, you can have him in pass coverage, you can have him as a run-force player, he can play man coverage and he can disguise everything? That guy, for us, is Phillip.”
Thomas is keying a major defensive turnaround. A team that ranked 116th nationally in turnover margin last season is up to 11th in 2012, thanks in large part to a player who spent most of his junior year watching from the sidelines on one good leg.
“I know we’ve had a reputation here offensively,” said DeRuyter. “When you’ve got players like Derek and Robbie, it’s deservedly so.
“What I think people don’t know is Phillip didn’t play a year ago.”