Plan B: Ducks have three ways to go at RB
James confident in what UO backups can do with opportunity
EUGENE -University of Oregon running back LaMichael James' 30th carry against California last Thursday was nearly a disaster for the Ducks. James was knocked back at the line of scrimmage. Helmet flying off, James landed on his right arm. His elbow was dislocated as it bent the opposite way that God intended. It was gruesome enough that James refuses to watch a replay.
'I don't want to see it again … ever,' he says.
After the play, James lay on the ground for several moments, crying out in agony before he was carted off the field as the Oregon marching band played the theme from 'Gladiator.'
No one knows how long James will be out. As for what will happen to the Ducks, who have relied so heavily on James' 852 yards and eight touchdowns, the show will go on. If James is unable to play in Saturday's 7:15 p.m. home game against Arizona State, the Ducks will use Kenjon Barner and true freshmen De'Anthony Thomas and Tra Carson to help fill the void.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly says nothing about the Ducks offense would change if James isn't on the field. Think 'Two and a Half Men' with Ashton Kutcher instead of Charlie Sheen -same director, same supporting cast, new star.
'Our offense doesn't change a lick with those guys,' Kelly says, of Barner, Carson and Thomas. 'They've all been recruited to play in this system.'
One advantage for Oregon is that much of the success James has had was the result of the 10 other men on the field.
'It's everyone's job to spring those guys,' offensive tackle Darrion Weems says.
James says that because of his confidence in the three other backs, he will not need to return before he is ready.
'If I wasn't confident in Kenjon and De'Anthony and Tra, then I would come back (sooner),' James says. 'But I'm very confident in those guys.'
Barner has battled his own injuries this season. But he is a proven commodity at tailback. In three games of 2011, he has carried the ball 27 times for 167 yards and three touchdowns and caught a fourth TD.
'Kenjon came in last year against Cal and won the game for us,' offensive guard Carson York says. 'He's the one who put his head down and got that nine- minute drive going. When he had his time (last year against New Mexico), he scored five touchdowns in a half.'
With Carson and Thomas as primary backs, the Ducks would be forcing two freshmen to shoulder a big load.
Carson, a 6-0, 225-pounder, has seen most of his action late in games. On 24 carries, he has gained 135 yards.
'Coach Kelly always says there's no rule that you can't play freshmen, so if you're ready to play, he's going to play you,' Carson says. 'I know what I'm doing pretty well on my playbook. The coaches prepare us all to be ready. So I'm ready.'
Thomas is a star in the making. But he has played as much at slot receiver as he has at running back. On 25 carries, he has gained 191 yards and scored two TDs. He leads the Ducks in receiving with 17 catches for 286 yards and four TDs.
At just 5-9 and 170 pounds, Thomas would not seem capable of running through the line on play after play against a Pac-12 team the likes of Arizona State, which has the inside track on the South Division title. Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich says looks can be deceiving, though.
'There have been some skinny, little guys who are taking a thousand shots, and there have been big, strong, tough-looking guys who can't take many shots,' Helfrich says. 'Just depends on the individual.'
Still, Helfrich admits that he doesn't know whether the three backup running backs can give the Ducks everything they have been blessed with from James.
'It's a great question,' Helfrich says. 'I don't know. The guy with the ball in his hands might make it a 12-yard gain rather than a 3-yard gain, but who knows?'
Until James makes his way back onto the field, he will hope that his three replacements can pick up the slack. James says he is confident that the Ducks won't miss a beat without him.
'Football goes on,' he says. 'They're going to go out there and win that game regardless of whether I'm there or I'm not there.'