James runs wild, Oregon starts fast, and Ducks pass first Pac-12 test
UO leads from start to finish, beats Arizona 56-31 as James sets rushing records
TUCSON, Ariz. - Led by the resurgent LaMichael James, Oregon sparkled in its first Pac-12 Conference game Saturday, running up a big first-half lead and then cruising past Arizona 56-31.
James, a junior and a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, enjoyed his breakout game of 2011, rambling for a career-high and school-record 288 yards on 23 carries, with 133 yards and two touchdowns in the first half when the Ducks built an insurmountable lead.
"This was a great accomplishment for me and my teammates," said James, who surpassed the 285 yards by Onterrio Smith against WSU in 2001, and also supplanted Derek Loville as the school's all-time rushing touchdown maker with 42. He also owns the total TD mark with 47.
James added 60 yards on three punt returns and two receptions for 15 yards for 363 all-purpose yards, another school record. Quarterback Darron Thomas added two touchdown passes and two rushing scores. Kenjon Barner, returning to action after being injured against LSU, scored three touchdowns - two rushing, one receiving.
"It was a good win," coach Chip Kelly said. "We closed it out."
Added Barner, who had 72 yards rushing: "I am proud of my boys."
It was billed as UO's explosive offense against Arizona's prolific passing game, but the Wildcats largely flunked their passing test against the susceptible UO defense in the first half.
Give the Ducks some breaks, and the two-time defending league champs usually put the hammer down. And, the hammer was put down.
Quarterback Nick Foles overthrew a wide-open receiver on a play that would have been an early touchdown, and star receiver Juron Criner dropped another pass destined for a touchdown - among the numerous overthrows and drops that slowed the UA passing game in the first half.
"If those receivers make some of those catches, this is a much closer ballgame," Kelly said. "Sometimes it wasn't us beating them, it was them beating themselves."
Said UA coach Mike Stoops: "I thought that the first half was very frustrating and humiliating in some ways. I thought our receivers played the worst they have all season in that first half. I don't have any real answers; we were just unprepared to play."
But, it might not have mattered anyway, as Oregon started fast, scoring on its first two possessions and never looking back on the way to leading 35-9 at halftime. "I told the team this game isn't close to over," Kelly said. "We knew that with Nick Foles and that group of receivers, Arizona is never out of reach."
The Ducks (3-1) get a week and a half off to prepare for California, 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6.
Things did get interesting in the second half, as Foles and his receivers started to connect and put points on the board. Foles finished 34 or 57 for 398 yards and three scores.
Arizona marched downfield to score on Keola Antolin's 7-yard run, making the score 35-16 in the second half.
Oregon then went nowhere on its drive, and Foles hit Criner for 31 yards to the UO 35. On fourth-and-10, Foles hit David Douglas for 13, and then for 12 yards to the UO 8.
Foles' 7-yard TD pass to David Roberts and conversion pass to Douglas made it 35-24 with 5:43 left in the third quarter.
But the Ducks bounced back to give themselves cushion again. Thomas hit Lavasier Tuinei for 15 yards, and James made a nice cut on a 31-yard run as UO moved into scoring position.
Barner ran 10 yards on third-and-11 to the UA 5. On fourth down, Thomas scored on a 5-yard TD run, putting the Ducks up 42-24.
The Wildcats moved into UO territory again, as Foles completes a pass left-handed to Antolin with UO's Kiko Alonso and Taylor Hart bearing down on him.
Foles hit Gino Crump for 20 yards on fourth down to the UO 10. But, on fourth-and-goal at the UO 6, and Arizona opting to not kick the field goal, Foles was sacked by Dion Jordan, Terrell Turner and Josh Kaddu, ending the UA scoring threat with 12:24 left.
James ran for two long gains to get to 260 yards on 18 carries, and Barner scored his third touchdown on a 1-yard run to put the Ducks up 49-24 with 10 minutes left.
"We just couldn't stop him," Stoops said, of James. "His speed and footwork really worked against our defensive line, which is very young. Our middle linebacker sometimes gets overwhelmed, which is understandable because of his youth."
After an Arizona touchdown drive, Oregon and James answered, with Thomas completing the march with a 2-yard run at the 1:45 mark.
Oregon had 516 yards offense to UA's 480. The Ducks held the woeful UA rushing attack to 82 yards on 35 carries, and sacked Foles five times. Along with the drops and missed passes, Arizona had nine penalties for 91 yards.
Oregon had won 14 of the previous 16 games against Arizona (1-3), and the Wildcats had dropped consecutive games to Oklahoma State and Stanford this season. In the Ducks, the Wildcats were facing their third top-10 opponent in a row.
Arizona's mistakes prevented the 'Cats from not keeping up with the Ducks.
Thomas had a modest game passing, 11 of 20 for 101 yards, but his early running set the tone for the game. He had 10 carries for 52 yards, including some key runs on the first drive.
Bouncing back from a horse-collar tackle on the game's first play, Thomas, obviously seeing something in the defense, ran four times and passed twice, and James ran 12 yards for the touchdown on UO's opening drive.
The Ducks survived a Terrance Mitchell pass-interference penalty and stopped Arizona and then went ahead 14-0. James bobbled and then caught a Thomas pass on third down. Later, James ran for 16 yards, Thomas passed for 19 to De'Anthony Thomas and Barner ran for 16. Barner's 8-yard TD run finished the drive, and the UO offense was off and running.
Foles then overthrew a receiver and sailed a pass over the head of Roberts, who had an open field to the end zone. Complete that pass, and it's a different game.
The Wildcats got a defensive stop and then knocked on the door to the end zone. Foles hit Criner for 19 yards, and Ka'Deem Carey rushed for 15. On fourth-and-1 at the UO 16, Carey pounded ahead for the first down.
But the UO defense stiffened, with Foles and Dan Buckner hooking up on a pass reception that would have been a touchdown, if the receiver's feet weren't out of bounds. Alex Zendejas' 28-yard field goal put Arizona on the board.
The Ducks bounced back, with James scampering 42 yards - and being caught by a UA defender before he got to the end zone. Thomas hit David Paulson for a 10-yard TD, and it was 21-3.
Foles threw 40 yards to Roberts, but Criner dropped a pass at the UO goal line. Again, complete that pass and it's a different game.
The Ducks went ahead 28-3. James ran for 21 yards and later Arizona got whistled for a personal foul. Josh Huff, returning from the game after an injury, caught an 18-yard pass. And, Barner finished the drive with a 6-yard TD reception from Thomas.
The UO defense got another stop, and the Ducks went up 35-3. James returned a punt 51 yards and later scored on a 19-yard TD run on fourth-and-1.
Foles threw a deep ball that was finally caught, by Richard Morrison for a 34-yard TD play. But UO's Hart blocked the extra-point attempt. The Wildcats sucessfully executed an onsides kick as the first half clock wound down, but Foles got nailed for two coverage sacks, ending the threat.
OREGON 14 21 7 14 -- 56
ARIZONA 3 6 15 7 -- 31
OREGON -- 1st, 12:18: LaMichael James 12 run (Alejandro Maldonado kick)
OREGON -- 1st, 7:58: Kenjon Barner 8 run (Maldonado kick)
ARIZONA -- 1st, 0:30: Alex Zendejas 28 FG
OREGON -- 2nd, 13:24: David Paulson 10 pass from Darron Thomas
OREGON -- 2nd, 5:18: Barner 6 pass from Thomas (Maldonado kick)
OREGON -- 2nd, 2:45: James 19 run (Maldonado kick)
ARIZONA -- 2nd, 1:04: Richard Morrison 34 pass from Nick Foles (kick blocked)
ARIZONA -- 3rd, 10:30: Keola Antolin 7 run (Zendejas kick)
ARIZONA -- 3rd, 5:43: David Roberts 8 pass from Foles (David Douglas pass from Foles)
OREGON -- 3rd, 3:19: Thomas 5 run (Maldonado kick)
OREGON -- 4th, 9:55: Barner 1 run (Maldonado kick)
ARIZONA -- 4th, 6:29: Roberts 4 pass from Foles (Zendejas kick)
OREGON -- 4th, 1:45: Thomas 2 run (Maldonado kick)