LaMichael James ran for a school record 288 yards to lead the Oregon Ducks to a 56-31 victory over the Arizona Wildcats Saturday night in Tucson.
The Ducks rocketed to a 35-9 halftime lead, then watched Arizona score on their first two second half possessions to narrow the margin to 35-24 before Oregon put the game away with a touchdown late in the third quarter and another to open the fourth.
The Ducks rolled the Arizona defense for a total of 415 yards rushing. Quarterback Darron Thomas threw only 20 passes, completing 11, two for touchdowns.
By comparison, Arizona was able to muster only 82 yards on the ground. That and the fact Arizona was playing catch-up from the very beginning meant Wildcat quarterback Nick Foles would go to the air 57 times, gaining 398 yards on 34 completions.
“It was a good day, it really was,” head coach Chip Kelly told OSN afterward. “We knew, especially against Nick Foles this game was never in hand.”
At first it was the running of Darron Thomas, not LaMichael James – that shredded a suspect Wildcat defense. Seeing that Arizona was keying on James on the read option in the game’s first series, Thomas spurned the handoff and found yards running against the grain of the defense.
A horse collar tackle turned his four-yard gain into 19 and a first down to get the drive started. After a 6-yard completion to David Paulson, Thomas ripped the Arizona defense twice for 19 more and four plays into the first drive, Thomas had Arizona head coach Mike Stoops in convulsions on the sideline.
Thomas wasn’t finished quite yet. Out of the option, Thomas pulled up and found Rahsaan Vaughn with a six-yard pass for a first down, then called his own number for the fourth time to pick up nine yards putting the ball on the Arizona 21. Stage set, it was time for LaMichael. Two carries was all it took, 7-0 Ducks.
James caught an 8-yard pass from Thomas and ripped off a 16 yard gain the second time Oregon had the ball, but it was Kenjon Barner who finished off the drive, bolting 8 yards for the score.
The Duck defense stalled an Arizona drive on their own 11-yard line and although it was clear field goals weren’t going to be enough to keep up with Oregon on this night, Mike Stoops sent in Alex Zendejas to kick a 28-yard field goal that cut Oregon’s lead to 21-3.
After conceding the three, Oregon immediately grabbed another 14. TE David Paulson snagged the first of two Thomas touchdown passes after James tore through the Arizona defense for a 42 yard gain and then James carried three times for 27 yards to set up Oregon’s fourth score – a six-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to Kenjon Barner.
Sensing a pattern here? And perhaps those who wrote James out of the Heisman picture will should reconsider. By the time the night was over, the junior running back had gained a school record 288 yards rushing and his 42nd and 43rd career touchdowns moved James past Derek Loville into the top spot of the school record books. Add to that another 15 yards receiving and 60 yards worth of punt returns and as head coach Chip Kelly said – it was a good day.
Though it wasn’t quite yet over.
“I watched him (Foles) do it up at our place when we were up – I think it was 42-17 at the half or 45-17 at the half and they came back and made it 48-45, so we were aware we were going to get a great shot from them in the second half.,” said Kelly.
That they did. Arizona converted their first two possessions of the second half to pull within 11 at 35-24, but that would be as close as Foles would get them.
“I thought our offense responded,” said Kelly. “The first drive (of the second half) … two penalties set us back and that put us in a bad situation. But then after that I think we controlled the ball when we got the ball back. We knew with that group of receivers and that quarterback that this game … was going to be a real tough battle for us.”
As they had in the opening half, Oregon again relentlessly battered the Arizona defense on the ground. James, first for 31, then for 8. Next Barner for 10 then Thomas on a keeper for the score from the five and the Zona Zoo begins to empty.
“We’re starting to find our rhythm,” said Kelly. “We’ve still got some things up front we need to clean up but when our running back is running like that…it really makes us a tough team to defend from a running attack stand point when the quarterback can hit it, Kenjon can hit, LaMichael can hit it. Real proud of the effort we had from that group but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
After Dion Jordan and Terrell Turner combined to sack Foles on a fourth and goal on the Oregon six, it’s more of the same; James for 47 and 22 back to back with Barner getting the rest, giving Oregon a 49-24 lead.
The teams traded touchdowns as the clock wound down the fourth quarter, James getting five more carries to set up Thomas for Oregon’s last score.
Also speaking to OSN, James said “The road victory, that’s a big plus for us. We’re a young team and coming in here and playing in a hostile environment, that’s tough you know? You have to come out and you have to play hard and finish games … just getting the ‘W’ on the road – that’s big in the Pac-12.”
That’s all true, LaMichael.
And after Saturday’ performance what else is true that in the Pac-12 there aren’t any bigger or tougher than he.
Oregon now has a bye week before hosting California on Thursday night, October 6th. Kickoff is set for 6:00 pm.
Rick Morgan, EDN