Duck running back takes coach's challenge, runs harder and tougher in netting 288 yards
TUCSON, Ariz. - Just think, if Oregon running back LaMichael James hadn't lost a step in his speed, as many in the media and fans contend, maybe he would have run for 350 yards against Arizona.
But, the LaMichael James of 2011, with 15 more pounds on him as tries to be more physical and prepares to be an NFL player, performed pretty well in the Ducks' first Pac-12 game. He rushed for 288 yards, a new school record, on 23 carries and scored two touchdowns. He has 42 rushing touchdowns, a new school record, and 47 total as he continues to add to his resume as UO's all-time TD maker.
Of course, the 5-9, 195-pound James and his teammates had to face another round of questions about the running back's speed. Many media members (this Tribune reporter not included) question James' speed after his first two superb years with the Ducks.
"It's 100 percent motivation for me," James said. "People will say things all the time.
"I've been through some things in Eugene, seen some adversity, I'm always going to prevail." James was also referring to his trouble with the law last year, when he and his ex-girlfriend got into a tussle. Clearly, he put that incident behind him, and, by virtue of his performance against the Wildcats in the 56-31 Duck win, seemingly puts to rest any questioning of his speed.
The speed talk started after James' poor game against LSU, which came after his poor game in the BCS National Championship game against Auburn. Maybe more people need to just give credit to the big and fast Southeastern Conference defenses that shut him down?
"That's just talk," safety John Boyett said, of James' speed. "People need something to talk about. They couldn't catch him tonight."
Gary Campbell, UO running backs coach, challenged James to run tougher against Arizona. Really, it was getting the tough yards and breaking tackles that were the highlights of his game against Arizona.
"LaMichael was running hard," offensive guard Carson York said. "It was nice to make a block and turn and see LaMichael's breaking three tackles."
James broke Onterrio Smith's single-game record of 285 yards and "he wasn't doing it untouched, either," York added. "He was breaking a lot of tackles. ... There were times I thought LaMichael was down and he's fighting to get a few more yards. That's the LaMichael we know and love."
Added defensive end Dion Jordan: "He's like a human-highlight reel. He's a hard-nosed runner, that's his calling card. He'll avoid you, but putting on the weight helped him even more."
James also broke Smith's all-purpose yardage record, with 363. His 492 yards rushing in the past two games also set a two-game UO record.
He broke into the Pac-12's top 10 for career rushing, moving into sixth with 3,890 yards, passing former OSU back Jacquizz Rodgers (3,877) along the way.
He moved into second on Oregon's all-time scoring list with 284 points, trailing only kicker Jared Siegel (323).
James felt like he wasn't running physically against LSU, and it carried over to the Nevada game.
"You gotta run aggressive," he said. "Being in the Pac-12, I told myself I gotta be physical and take guys on. I really saved my body, and I was running as hard as I could (vs. Arizona). I feel good right now."
Kenjon Barner returned to the lineup and complemented James with 72 yards rushing and three total scores.
"This is LaMichael," he said, of James' performance. "Nothing more, nothing less. You know he's going to come out and perform. He put on a great show."
James had 260 yards when UO started its final drive, leading to its final touchdown. He ran five times for 28 yards, including for six yards on his 23rd carry of the game to beat Smith's mark. Coach Chip Kelly said he didn't have an idea that James was on the verge of breaking the record.
"I don't know any records, and I'm bad at math," Kelly said. "If somebody got on the headset and said, 'Hey, this kid is doing this' ... we don't play for records. We needed him on that last drive."
Added Kelly: "I thought he really did a nice job. The one thing I like about LaMichael is his physicalness. Tough to bring down. The one thing I think about him is he keeps getting better as the game gets going. As the game gets wearing on, you know he's going to break (a run)."
Having Barner back obviously helps James. While the Ducks also have De'Anthony Thomas and fellow true freshman Tra Carson, Barner has more experience.
"I haven't been that excited in a long time," said Barner, who suffered an ankle injury against LSU, forcing him to sit out the Nevada and Missouri State games.
Barner said he felt 100 percent and "I had a drive to get back. It ate at me. It made me change my attitude. I wanted to get an opportunity and definitely capitalize."
Said York: "We forgot how good (Barner) was until he got out there."
"Having Kenjon back, guys can't really key on me," James said. "And Darron (Thomas) pulling the ball, running the ball effectively, did great things for us. We weren't one-dimensional. I'm just really happy with the outcome."
Indeed, Thomas added 52 yards rushing. The Ducks ran for 415 yards.
"Just basic reads we always running through," said Thomas, of his runs, four coming on the opening scoring drive. "It was a read for me to keep the ball. Eventually it opened up for LaMike to run the ball."
Said Barner: "(Thomas) looked like a running back out there. He got it done. (Defenses) can no longer focus on myself, LaMichael, De'Anthony and Tra, they have to worry about Darron taking off and running, as well as him throwing. It gives the defense a lot of different looks they have to prepare for."