Oregon's James didn't take long to become special

November, 4, 2009
11/04/09
11:54
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Media guides aren't typically known for understatement. More often than not, the descriptive blurb fancies up a player, telling a reader that some guy you've never heard of is among the best at his position. Or that he was ranked in this super-fantastic way by some recruiting analyst.

Under LaMichael James' pleasantly grinning photo, however, is this: "Should figure in the mix at running back at some point in 2009."

 
 Steve Dykes/Getty Images
 LaMichael James put up 183 rushing yards against USC.
Ha! You think?

The Oregon redshirt freshman running back started figuring in the offensive mix fairly quickly, in no small part because starting running back LeGarrette Blount went all Mike Tyson at Boise State.

Playing Robin to Blount's Batman at Boise, he rushed for 22 yards on just two carries. After Blount was suspended, he got 56 against Purdue. What a nice little, 5-foot-9, 180-pound back he was.

Then, boom! 152, 118, 81, 152, 154 and 183.

That 183, of course, came at the expense of the previously impenetrable USC run defense in the Ducks 47-20 throttling of the mighty Trojans. It was his "Hello, world" moment, his stentorian Halloween "Boo!" to the rest of the Pac-10.

Suffice it to say that James, who ranks 15th in the country with 114.75 yards rushing per game while averaging 7.0 yards per carry, is fitting into the mix.

Naturally, Oregon coach Chip Kelly alights on the scary part.

"Each week he keeps getting better and better and he hasn't stopped," Kelly said. "He's a freshman. I don't think you've seen his best yet."

Which means Stanford, which plays host to the Ducks on Saturday, might see a back who's even better than the one who sliced and diced the Trojans like a teppan-yaki chef at a Japanese steakhouse.

Of course, the Ducks' spread-option, which piled up 613 yards against USC and ranks ninth in the nation in scoring (35.6 points per game), isn't all about James.

"He's very, very, very talented," Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh said. "This team is red-hot. The execution was at the highest level that I've seen anybody run the spread-option -- the speed in which they do it."

James hails from Texarkana, Texas. The Pac-10 blog has never been there, but it's reasonable to imagine that Eugene is probably a bit different than James' hometown. There's the weather, of course. Belt buckles are probably a bit larger in Texarkana, and the hair a bit longer in Eugene. And then there are the Texarkana football fans who gave James a quizzical look when he announced he was going to play for the Ducks.

James picked Oregon over TCU, Minnesota and Oklahoma State in large part for the pure adventure of going someplace exotic.

"I just wanted to be different," he said. "I like the challenge. If someone tells me I can't do something, I feel like I need to prove it. I want to be the person who went to Oregon and made it."

He's certainly doing that.

James generated a good deal of positive buzz during his redshirt year, but the Ducks felt no need to play him with Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount leading the nation's No. 2 rushing attack.

Entering 2009, James was projected as the "lightning" backup to the thunderous, 240-pound Blount in the "Oh Le-La!" backfield, but things -- you may have heard -- changed fairly quickly when Blount melted down at Boise State.

Now Blount is, apparently, about to return from his suspension. That could mean Blount will take carries away from James.

"I don't care about the carries," James said. "As long as we win the game, I'm very happy."

That might sound like potentially empty talk, but James said Blount is "like a brother" to him. He pointed out that they ran post-practice gassers together this week in anticipation of Blount's return. He said Blount has received a bum rap nationally based on one horrible incident.

"LeGarrette is not that type of person. He's a great person," James said.

James almost certainly will remain the No. 1 option whenever Blount returns. He's gone from "in the mix" to being the main course.

Kelly said he thought James had a chance to be special. Just not this special, this quickly.

"I thought he was going to be a really good player," Kelly said. "Did I think he was going to run for 180-something against USC? No."

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