James and Thomas form lethal combination

October, 3, 2010
10/03/10
1:57
AM ET
EUGENE, Ore. -- He Who Shall Not Be Named can now be named. Jeremiah Masoli? Neh. The "oh, what might have been!" is gone. Oregon doesn't need him. Sure, the Ducks offense ran at ludicrous speed with him last year. But their 2010 spread-option offense is running at double-secret ludicrous speed.

Sophomore Darron Thomas, the quarterback replacement after Masoli got the boot, is doing just fine, thank you very much, see 626 yards of offense in the fourth-ranked Ducks 52-31 win over No. 9 Stanford. He's doing so well, in fact, that he might help running back LaMichael James win the Heisman Trophy.

[+] EnlargeLaMichael James
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesLaMichael James rushed for 257 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries against Stanford.
That Thomas completed 20 of 29 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns isn't the big news. He's always been a promising passer. It's that he rushed for a career-high 117 yards and score, too. He rushed for just 102 yards in the previous four games.

"We can put those rumors to bed that he can't run the football," Ducks coach Chip Kelly said. "He's everything you'd want in a quarterback."

Why is Thomas' success running important to James? Because when a defense can't entirely key on James in the spread-option, James is going to kill it. And by that we mean, say, rushing for 257 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries. Stanford's defense, by the way, was yielding just 256 yards per game. That number is headed north.

Know how many yards James lost with those 31 carries? Zero.

James entered the contest ranked fifth in the nation in rushing with 151.7 yards per game (the NCAA and Pac-10 got the numbers wrong this week, giving James 158.3 per game). A marquee performance on a big stage surely raised his Q-rating. Or H-rating.

"Tonight, I feel like I was running on all cylinders," he said. "I was running physically. I was really aggressive. I played with a lot more energy."

James said that he didn't feel like that was the case earlier in the season.

"I think he was trying to dance in some (early) games," Kelly said. "When he really trusts his speed -- that last touchdown run was a blur."

That last TD run went for 72 yards. It was his third run of 20 or more yards in the game. He has 30 of those over the past two years, more than any other back in the nation.

As for Thomas, he led the offensive onslaught -- the Ducks were down 21-3 before outscoring the Cardinal 49-10 the rest of the way -- after throwing two first-half interceptions. So far this season, he's displayed notable moxie, showing no ill-effects when he makes mistakes. This was the third time this season he's led the Ducks back from double-digit early deficits.

"He's definitely coming along," center Jordan Holmes said. "And I can't wait to see how far he can go because he gets better and better every week. He's just a kid. He's got a lot more football to play. I'm really looking forward to see what he becomes in the future."

Of course, the present looks pretty darn good. The Ducks, who visit Washington State next weekend, are 5-0 and figure to enter the national title discussion. It's possible, in fact, they'll get more than a few votes at No. 2 behind Alabama and ahead of Ohio State.

Such talk doesn't go very far with the Ducks, though, who seemed to have bought in to Kelly's whole "win the day" philosophy. And it's not surprising that James said he "didn't care" about Heisman Trophy buzz.

"I don't want to be sitting at the house with a Heisman Trophy and we're 5-5," he said. "I'd rather be 12-0, 13-0 with no Heisman Trophy."

It's then noted to James that those two events -- undefeated and stiff-arm trophy -- often are intertwined, see last year's winner, Alabama's Mark Ingram.

James relents: "If the Heisman Trophy comes with winning games, I'll take it."

If he keeps running like he did against Stanford, he might. And if Thomas continues his rapid evolution into ... wait for it... Dennis Dixon (ha!), the Ducks might be up to some big things, too.

Ted Miller | email

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