Every win is a good win, but there a few in recent memory that stand head and shoulders above the rest. Some particular characteristic that made the victory extra special, extra satisfying. A few games that bring a smile to…
Lavasier Tuinei was a wide receiver for the Oregon Ducks from 2009-2012 where he logged 108 receptions for 1212 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was progressively more effective year-over-year at Oregon, and was instrumental in the Ducks’ 2012 Rose Bowl victory over the Wisconsin Badgers. The son of former University of Arizona defensive end Van […]
Former Oregon WR Lavasier Tuinei Finds New Home with CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers – Autzen Zoo – Autzen Zoo – An Oregon Ducks Fan Site – News, Blogs, Opinion and more.
Good morning, Ducks! Thursday we will play Florida State in the 2015 Rose Bowl. Let us take a ride in the way back machine and try to assimilate the karma from the last time we played in the Granddaddy! Through...
Though a hodgepodge of former Ducks worked out in front of a sizable group of NFL scouts at the Oregon Pro Timing Day, all eyes were on De’Anthony Thomas.
Despite showing uncanny straight-away speed throughout his three seasons for Ducks football, Thomas ran a pedestrian 4.5 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
“I ran a 4.5 in ninth grade, so I was like wow, this is crazy,” Thomas said.
His teammate Avery Patterson questions the validity of Thomas’s 40-time.
“It wasn’t a 4.5. A lot of that stuff is kind of messed up. That’s what they said so that’s what is going to be on paper. A lot of those scouts have their own time and that’s what they rely on.” Patterson said.
“I don’t even have to run to run a 4.5,” Thomas added.
So today, he was determined to perform, and even dress, the part of an elite NFL speed demon.
“I’m in my track and field outfit today,” he said.
His outfit was highlighted by a pair of white socks with red lettering that read “100.”
“The socks was my motivation today with the 4.5. Today I just had to come out here, keeping everything 100 and had to go hard,” he said.
When it was all said and done, Thomas dashed through two-fifths of the football field faster than he did at the incessantly hyped NFL Combine.
At the Moshofsky Center, Thomas’s official 40-time was 4.39.
He also ran the short shuttle in 4.23, finished the three cone drill in 6.95 and the long shuttle in 11.46. He didn’t perform any of these drills at the combine.
However, Thomas improved upon his bench press reps at 225 pounds. At the combine, Thomas amassed eight reps. This time around, he accumulated 10 reps.
“I feel like I’ve gotten bigger. I’ve put on a couple pounds, getting a lot stronger and just training,” Thomas said.
Despite his improved performance, he believes people place too much emphasis on the 40-yard dash time and don’t focus enough on game speed.
“I feel like a lot of people put chili on it(the 40-yard dash). Everybody has their own opinion,” Thomas said.
Though Thomas doesn’t know where he will land come April, he wouldn’t mind reuniting with former coach Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. With Philadelphia picking up exemplary 3rd down back and punt returner Darren Sproles, the window for a Kelly-Thomas reunion might be closed. However, considering Thomas might not play running back in the NFL, who knows what will happen.
“I want to just get anywhere on the field. wide receiver, punt returner, kick returner. I just want to get on the field and make plays,” he said.
But Thomas wasn’t the only former Duck who may have improved his draft stock on Thursday afternoon.
Josh Huff clocked in between 4.43 and 4.44 in his first 40-yard dash attempt. However, the time did not count.
Instead, his second attempt, which clocked in at 4.47, was his official time.
Daryle Hawkins, 2011 graduate Lavasier Tuinei and Thomas worked out in wide receiver drills with Huff. With his NFL position still in question, Thomas proved that he can catch the ball with no defenders in sight.
The former Oregon running back didn’t drop any passes while performing a bevy of routes in front of scouts. Huff, however, dropped a few passes and slipped a couple times as well.
Brian Jackson, Patterson and Terrance Mitchell represented last year’s Oregon secondary at the Pro Day.
Mitchell ran an official 4.52 40-yard dash, while Patterson finished in 4.54 second and Jackson finished in 4.59 seconds.
The trio made more noise throughout their defensive back drills than any other Ducks workout group. Unlike hecklers at away games who typically dish out negative reinforcement, the three constantly encouraged each other to perform at the highest level.
“If you talk each other up that confidence carries over to everybody,” Jackson said.
Patterson talked to reporters about butterflies going into the combine and his performance:
“It is definitely a little nerve-racking .This is pretty much your job interview for the next level,” he said.
“Today I don’t think I got into a good rhythm on the bench press. I only got 10 reps but I’ve been working out at 15 reps,” he added.
However Patterson said: “They(scouts) were most pleased with my quickness and my agility.”
He also commented on the increasing importance of safeties in the NFL game:
“If you can find a playmaker at that position, which I feel like I am, it’s a game changer. Safety can be a game changing position. Especially if you can ball hawk the ball like Earl Thomas and Jairus Byrd. ”
As for the big uglies up front, Taylor Hart, Ricky Havili-Heimuli, Everett Benyard and Wade KelIikipi attempted to impress NFL scouts.
Hart ran a 4.81 40-yard dash, Havil-Heimuli finished his 40 in 5.38 and Everett Benyard ran a 5.65 40-yard dash.
Patterson commented on what the future holds:
“I’m just going to keep working hard, getting ready.”
Jackson will miss being a Duck but is ready to move forward.
Memories will last forever, so you gotta keep rolling and make some new ones.”
Two of the signature days on the football calendar brought the season to a close last week. The first was last Sunday in the form of the Super Bowl, sport’s biggest spectacle, but also one of the truest meritocracies; the team that executes better on the field wins, and does so by presumably having the best combination of player talent and production possible from them.
The second overlapped the spoils of the first: On the same day the Seattle Seahawks held a parade celebrating their accomplishment on pro football’s biggest day, college football held its signature event: National Letter of Intent Signing Day.
It makes sense that the Super Bowl and Signing Day are the most noteworthy days on the calendar for their respective levels of the sport, because those are the days that are the most symbolic of how success is measured in each. Success in pro football is determined entirely on the field with all participants having an equal opportunity to win, while college football is still largely determined by a series of academic arguments, where reputation and speculation matter as much as production. It is only fitting that the most celebrated day in college football would be the one celebrating the most speculative portion of the sport: recruiting.
On that same day, perhaps mindful of the day’s significance in talent-evaluation circles and how he and many of his teammates had been “perceived” during their signing days, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson posted this on his Twitter:
— Russell Wilson (@DangeRussWilson) February 5, 2014
The “F” grade Wilson is referring to came from this article , a hilarious re-read that includes pointed criticisms of the selections of Ryan Tannehill and Alshon Jeffery. When you examine the players in Wilson’s picture, it’s no surprise why they their class wasn’t more highly regarded in NFL circles on draft day.
Of all the players featured in that picture, none were ranked higher than three stars coming out of high school, which may explain why only five of them (Wilson, Bruce Irvin, Derrick Coleman, Jermaine Kearse, and J.R. Sweezy) even played for schools in BCS AQ conferences. They were all players who got used to being overlooked, yet all of them became NFL players who contributed to a Super Bowl-winning team.
Not seen in the picture but a player who began his career with that Seahawks’ 2012 class is former Oregon receiver Lavasier Tuinei. Tuinei fits the mold of other players from that draft class, a two-star wide receiver who started at a junior college before finishing his career at Oregon. He is fondly remembered by Oregon fans as the team’s leading receiver in 2011, punctuating his career by winning Rose Bowl Offensive Player of the Game with an eight-catch, 155-yard performance that helped the Ducks win their first Rose Bowl in 95 years.
I mention Tuinei and the Seahawks because the majority of the discussion surrounding Oregon’s recruiting class last week focused on the players the other teams didn’t get, rather than focusing on who they did.
Maybe it was the early commitment of its most highly-regarded recruits in this class, or the lack of a marquee name changing their commitment to Oregon on Signing Day like the de-commitment of players such as Budda Baker, or how players such as Juju Smith or Trey Lealaimatafao chose to sign elsewhere, rather than focusing on the gains of the players who have committed; playing the what-if game before we even know what the productivity of those players, who will play elsewhere, will be.
If you want an example of why it is premature to evaluate recruiting classes based on high school rankings, look no further than a class like the one Texas had in 2009. Coming off a 12-1 season where they won the Fiesta Bowl, and because they are Texas, the Longhorns were able to bring a class that featured three five-stars (including one at quarterback) and eleven four-stars, with not a single player lower than a three star.
I understand the fascination with Signing Day because it gives fans hope. There is the belief that landing a huge talent will be a game-changer for a program. However, that hope shouldn’t turn to despair just because players don’t sign with Oregon. Fans want to treat players as interchangeable commodities, that any of these players could (or should) play for the Ducks.
Yet any entry-level staffing manager could tell you that the greatest key to success isn’t if he has talent, it’s if he can fit. If a player doesn’t feel he belongs at a certain school, there’s no reason to have them go there. Concentrating energy on players who want to be in Eugene rather than leveraging those who are unsure about going there will have a far greater long-term payoff. This is where Oregon’s coaches have done a tremendous job in recent seasons, finding guys who fit their program rather than chasing star rankings.
Bill Parcells once said, in reference to his desire to be involved in personnel decisions, “If they want you to cook the dinner; at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.” Evaluating a recruiting class on Signing Day is a lot like evaluating a meal by looking at the ingredients. Sure, we can all see what quality cuts of meat and fresh produce looks like, but if it’s not prepared in a competent way, it doesn’t matter what ingredients you start with.
This is why Oregon’s recruiting classes need to be evaluated strictly on wins and losses, the finished product of recruiting. If the results don’t measure up, and evidence of such failings can be traced back to recruiting, by all means take up the necessary pitchforks and torches and storm the complex. But evaluating recruiting classes now is nothing more than determining who did the best job of shopping for groceries. There’s still a meal to be made, and the quality of that meal is the criteria by which fans should use to judge programs.
Top photo courtesy of Craig Strobeck
Tuinei, the 2012 Rose Bowl for the Ducks over Wisconsin, was signed by the Seattle Seahawks as a rookie free agent on April 29, 2012. Tuinei bounced around, spending time with the Seahawks, Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys.
Tuinei will be up against former Oregon Ducks head coach Chip Kelly next week when the Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles square off for both team’s first preseason exhibition. The game will be on August 9th and should be Tuinei’s first chance of showing why the team should retain him through the season.
As mentioned before, Tuinei came up big in the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin and had a strong performance against Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game. He seemed to always make a big play when one was needed.
While the losses of LaMichael James and Darron Thomas are important and should not go overlooked, it is well established that those holes will need to be filled. The Oregon Ducks football team brings back two great backs in Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas, as well as a lot of potential at quarterback with Bryan Bennett and rFR Marcus Mariota.
What people seem to sometimes overlook is the absences at other skill positions on offense.
“I think the two big losses from last year’s team that aren’t always talked about are the loss of David Paulson at tight end and LT Tuinei at receiver,” said Kelly during media day. “(Tuinei) ended up being the MVP of the Rose Bowl.”
Paulson has followed a long-line of outstanding TEs over the past decade for the Ducks. From Justin Peele to Dante Rosario and Ed Dickson, Oregon has been stacked at the position. That may not be the same case this season with Paulson’s graduation and the late arrival of assumed starter Colt Lyerla.
Lyerla, a five-star recruit from the 2011 class, and a native out of Hilsboro, OR, caught seven passes for 147 yards (21.0 YPC) and five touchdowns. Lylerla also stared in special teams with seven tackles, all solo. The Ducks also lost Curtis White, Sheldon High School graduate, to a career ending injury otherwise he’d be in the mix for the starting spot as well.
Oregon recruited well at the position, however, bringing in two highly touted recruits in Evan Baylis (Aurora, CO/Grandview High School) and Pharoah Brown (Lyndhurst, OH/Brush High School). Christrian French has made the move to defensive end, much like Dion Jordan did for the Ducks.
As for the wide receiver position, the Ducks have a little more flexibility. While they lose Tuinei (graduation), Tacoi Sumler (transfer) and Justin Hoffman (retirement), their stable of players is much deeper and talented than the TEs. Oregon returns Josh Huff and Thomas, both will contribute significantly.
After those two, the Ducks have a wide-range of players to pick from. Senior Rahsaan Vaughn (184 yards, one TD) will likely take one of the other starting spots, with a plethora of young talent behind him. There is Eric Dungy, B.J. Kelly, Devon Blackmon, Daryle Hawkins, Bralon Addison and more.
It’s hard to tell which direction the team will go in. Summer practices are likely going to have each player fill into their roles accordingly. The three starters will likely be Thomas, Huff and either Hawkins or Vaughn.
Chip is right. While everyone goes on and on about the losses at the QB and RB positions, long-timers in Paulson and Tuinei might be missed more. With questions, injuries, and MIAs at both TE and WR, it’s no wonder Chip misses those guys.
The next 20 practices will be make it or break it for the aforementioned players. Are you ready for some football?
Alex Shoemaker, EDN Sports Editor
With the conclusion of the 2012 NFL Draft, what might be more shocking to Ducks fans are the players who were not taken as opposed to those who were.
While the University of Oregon is the only football program to play in three consecutive BCS Bowl games, only four players were drafted with three coming off the boards in the 5th, 6th and 7th rounds.
But with each round a Duck went undrafted, it reemphasized just how great of a coach Chip Kelly really is.
What truly makes a coach special, is getting the most out of his players and being able to win with what he’s got.
Oregon has not been one of the top teams in the draft year-in and year-out, but they find a way to win with the good players they have.
How else would they be the reigning three-time conference champions, and the ones to dethrone the Trojans of USC?
Four players from the Ducks were drafted, and two more signed in free agency.
Here’s a look at who from the Ducks was drafted, signed in free agency, and still waiting to get that phone call.
Those Taken in the Draft
LaMichael James: Round 2 Pick 29 (61) to 49ers
James was the first to go off the boards for the Oregon Ducks, patiently waiting for his name to be called. Nearing the end of the second round, Ducks fans were beginning to worry about James’ chances of dropping down the board as team after team passed on him.
Finally, he found his home – the San Francisco 49ers.
“I’m so thankful to be in the position I’m in thank you god for blessing me lets go 49ers words can’t express how I feel!” James tweeted on Friday, just after his name was announced.
James’ lone concern will be finding his role on a stacked 49ers depth chart at running back. Lucky for James, he’s one of a kind.
“There seems to be no reason why James cannot find success in the NFL on the same level as someone like Darren Sproles,” said Joe Penkala, a featured writer for Bleacher Report. “Like Sproles, LaMichael James can make up for a lack of size with agility, speed and elusiveness.”
The 49ers, led by power back Frank Gore, have all big backs on their roster, with James now being the compliment “speed back”. I have no doubts James will be on the active roster for the start of the season.
James joins former Ducks defensive tackle Will Tukuafu.
Josh Kaddu: Round 5 Pick 20 (155) to Dolphins
Kaddu, an underrated and often overlooked linebacker over the past three years, was the next Duck to be drafted. Kaddu will join a rebuilding Miami Dolphins team, a team still looking for an identity.
“So excited to be a part of the @MiamiDolphins #blessed” Kaddu said via his Twitter account.
Kaddu received numerous shoot-outs from numerous Ducks, including former Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews who now plays for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Being taken with a late draft pick, Kaddu will have to compete to earn a spot on team. Spring and summer practices will go a long way in determining his role on the team.
Kaddu may be asked to play special teams, or scout team, if a role on the defense isn’t available.
Mark Asper: Round 6 Pick 8 (178) to Bills
When the Buffalo Bills took Asper with eighth pick in the sixth round, he became the first Ducks offensive lineman to be drafted since Fenuki Tupou in 2009 to the Philadelphia Eagles. Asper will be a strong addition to the Bills, and could see playing time after a few years of adjusting to the league.
He joins former Ducks’ safety Jairus Byrd with the Bills.
David Paulson: Round 7 Pick 33 (240) to Steelers
Fans were beginning to worry that the loveable tight end from Renton, WA would go undrafted after three standout years in college.’’ During his three seasons with the Ducks, Paulson recorded 67 receptions for 1,041 yards (15.5 YPC) with 10 TDs.
Paulson would have joined former Oregon great Dennis Dixon, but the one time Ducks quarterback was cut from the team.
Those Not Taken in the Draft
After a shocking decision to enter the NFL Draft, for Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas went undrafted. This prompts more questions of why Thomas chose to leave school early and forgo another chance at a national championship.
Thomas has yet to be signed, but his agent Drew Rosenhaus has yet to express concern on the situation.
During his time at Oregon, Thomas passed for 5,910 yards and a school record 66 career TDs. Thomas also rushed for 719 yards and nine TDs.
The Houston, TX native will look for a team to acquire his talents this offseason.
Harris also went undrafted, after a rocky career at Oregon, but didn’t have to wait long to hear from NFL teams. Harris has signed a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles and could see immediate playing time if he impresses in practices.
Philadelphia’s acquisition of Harris is similar to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ signing of LaGarrette Blount a few years ago, with character issues playing a large part of him going undrafted.
The Eagles have decided to take a chance on Harris, arguably the most talented player who went undrafted, and it could pay great dividends in the long run. Philadelphia will have to replace starting cornerback Asante Samuel (Atlanta Falcons) this offseason, and while Harris will likely not be the frontrunner for the job, he’ll be in the hunt for significant playing time.
Haris joins former Ducks linebacker Casey Matthews in Philadelphia.
Pleasant has been such a vital part of Nick Alliotti’s defense for the past four seasons, it will difficult to replace his leadership and experience.
After playing as a linebacker for his first two seasons, Pleasant switched to rover/strong safety for his final two seasons to fix a glaring hole in the defensive backfield. While Pleasant might have been more suited as a linebacker, he transitioned relatively smoothly a found a nice role on defense.
Questions have been asked about his ability to cover in the secondary, but he silenced most of his critics with a two-interception performance against Washington last season.
Pleasant was picked up by the Houston Texans. He joins Ra’Shon Harris and Jeff Maehl.
Tuinei went undrafted but was quickly picked up by the Seattle Seahawks. He joins a depleted offense that was one of the worst in the entire NFL. His presence could be felt immediately.
Tuinei joins Walter Thurmond III and Max Unger in Seattle.
Turner will wait to see if a team will sign him. If not, he plans on returning to school and possibly pursuing a master’s degree.
The Vikings drafted OT Matt Kilil (USC) with the No. 4 pick in the draft, so Weems is not expected to compete for the starting job. But as is the risk of injury in the NFL, you can never have too many linemen.
Weems addresses a big area of concern for the Vikings: depth on the offensive line. There is a great chance Weems will be on the roster for the start of the NFL season.
Weems joins former Duck Geoff Schwartz on the offensive line.
— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor
A lot has happened in 95 years. No, I’m not going to give you a big dissertation on what’s occurred since Woodrow Wilson was president. (You can go to the History Channel for that one). But 1917 was the last time Oregon won the Rose Bowl. That is, until Monday.
For once, the Ducks did more than show up for a big game, defeating Wisconsin 45-38 in Pasadena. As a result, Oregon can discard some critiques about their football team.
They can’t win a BCS Bowl? Just did it. Same goes for beating a ranked non-conference opponent away from Autzen Stadium.
All that talk about how Chip Kelly was just an offensive gimmick coach? By winning this Rose Bowl, that perception will change things dramatically. You can also officially say Oregon is an elite college football program without a scoff here and there. There is more to this squad than a multiple choice of fancy uniforms.
However, this victory was not only crucial for validating the present. It was important for assuring an even brighter future. With USC primed to wrestle back the Pac-12 next season, it would’ve been a lot tougher to sell Oregon to potential five-star recruits without winning a game the Trojans used to take regularly.
Now you can expect that for the next few years, the Ducks and SC will battle for conference supremacy. Those games will be worth the price of admission.
But that’s a conversation for another day. Right now, let’s look at some of the great stories that came out of a milestone moment. Before we get to any of the great plays, I think you have to tip your hat to some of the fine assistant coaches like Nick Aliotti, Gary Campbell, Steve Greatwood, and Don Pellum.
These guys have been involved with the program since Rich Brooks was head coach and can remember the days when Oregon fans would be happy to get to any bowl. With their hard work, they set the foundation that made the program what it is today. Without what these guys put together, you never would’ve seen someone like De’Anthony Thomas set foot in Eugene.
Speaking of De’Anthony, he did a lot on only two carries, didn’t he? A 91-yard run for a touchdown in the first half (which set a new Rose Bowl record) followed up with a 64-yard dash early in the third quarter. I thought he might be the X-factor due to his athleticism, and the Badgers simply couldn’t match his speed when tested.
In fact, his spectacular day made LaMichael James’ 159-yard performance seem bland in comparison. If this was the last time he put on a Duck uniform, then he’s going out in style.
Ditto for Lavasier Tuinei. The senior wideout has been criticized for not playing up to his full potential. Yet he earned the offensive MVP honors with clutch catch after clutch catch, including two touchdowns. Having talked to him a couple of times, I’ve found him to be a decent fellow and I always like good things to happen to good people.
Of course, Tuinei can’t do that if quarterback Darron Thomas hadn’t played with great poise during the contest. True, he threw a pick and fumbled a ball that resulted in six points for the Badgers. But Thomas shrugged off his miscues and managed the game well enough to win. You remember how people were calling for Bryan Bennett earlier this year? They won’t be doing that going into 2012.
By the same token, kudos have to go to the Oregon defense. Yes, they gave up a lot of yards, particularly to Montee Ball. However, if you watched closely, it was clear that the Ducks weren’t afraid of the big running back or their super-sized offensive line. Look at the numerous times they’d answer one of Ball’s 10-yard bursts by knocking him on his keister on the next down. In the end, they made enough plays to contain a high-powered offense.
Honestly, I wasn’t surprised by how they performed, based on how they grew as the season progressed. Look at the freshman cornerback Terrance Mitchell. At the start of the year, he had to endure a trial-by-fire against LSU when he started in place of (no-longer-on-the-team) Cliff Harris. Could you have envisioned then that he’d be the one who forced Jared Abbrederis to fumble late in the game?
Or how about linebacker Kiko Alonso? He’s been a troubled young man the past couple of years, and he started the year suspended. Without rehashing any incidents, it appears Alonso has put his transgressions behind him and he played out of his mind against Wisconsin. Where would they have been without his interception? That play was just one of many reasons why he was named the defensive MVP.
There are so many things you can talk about why the Ducks were able to pull out this amazing win. But you don’t have all day to read them, and I don’t have all day to write them. I will simply offer a couple more items before moving on.
First, enjoy this victory, Duck fans. It took a long time to get to this point and you’ve endured many years of heartache in similar situations.
Second, this win is not the end of a journey. It is the beginning of another quest of even greater achievements. Does this mean Oregon will win the Pac-12 every year from here on out? No. As stated earlier, USC is going to win a couple here and there, and schools like Washington will be formidable if they can get a defense.
But you won’t see the drop off that followed Joey Harrington’s departure in 2001. These guys will be in the hunt for BCS Bowls for a long time to come. Right now, I can’t wait for spring football to arrive.
Since it will take awhile before football rolls around again, let’s talk a little Oregon men’s basketball before I wrap this one up. As I’ve said many times, it’s hard to get a read on how good these guys can be this season.
The Ducks started off the Pac-12 slate in fine fashion by spanking Washington State 92-75 in Spokane last Thursday. Unfortunately, they ran into a buzz saw in Seattle, losing 76-60 to Washington on Saturday.
There have been reasons for optimism with solid play from Devoe Joseph, E.J. Singler, Olu Ashalou, and Brett Kingma. What the Ducks have to do now is get a little more consistent and toughen up on defense. If they can do that, they might have as good a chance to win the conference as Cal, Oregon State, or UW. There is no front-runner in the Pac-12 at the moment, and one who cleans up their mistakes the quickest will likely take the title. Should be fun to watch, and we’ll know a lot more about Oregon after they play Stanford and Cal this week.
With that in mind, I’m tired after keeping up with all the stuff that has happened recently. You’ll hear from me in a couple of days, as I begin to ramp up the college and prep basketball coverage. I should also note that you will hear me talk about the Oregon women’s basketball team in the next column, and why they’ll need Amanda Johnson and Nia Jackson healthy to have any chance of finishing with a winning record this year.
So until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.
PASADENA, Calif. — For the first time in his career, LaMichael James had every reason to celebrate the season’s end.
In perhaps the final outing of the most illustrious career in Oregon football history, James rushed for 159 yards and one touchdown in helping the fifth-ranked Ducks to a 45-38 victory over No. 10 Wisconsin in the 98th Rose Bowl Monday evening.
The redshirt junior broke his own school single-season rushing clip with 1,805 yards, besting his own mark of 1,731 set in 2010. But on a day filled with broken records and highlight reel footage, the end result was the only thing that mattered between two programs desperate for a postseason victory.
“It just makes you feel unbelievable,” said James, who passed the 5,000-yard rushing mark for his career (5,082), which ranks 13th all-time in NCAA history.
Oregon (12-2) shook any reservations about not being able to perform in the postseason against a talented Wisconsin squad (11-3) that lost in the Rose Bowl for the second straight year.
As third-year head coach Chip Kelly said repeatedly during the month-long build up to the game, the Ducks are “a forward-thinking operation” and don’t put unnecessary emphasis on past losses — particularly against Ohio State and Auburn.
“We believe it’s on the line every day we step on the practice field,” Kelly said. “We believe it’s on the line every game we play in, and that formula works for us. We’re 34-6 in the last three years because we take every game like it’s the Super Bowl.”
With Oregon trailing 38-35 late in the third quarter, junior offensive lineman Carson York went down with what appeared to be a serious knee injury on a play that saw Darron Thomas intercepted by safety Aaron Henry in the Wisconsin redzone.
It took several minutes for the medical staff to get the 6-foot-5, 292-pound guard onto a stretcher and off the field. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin fan base, which largely outnumbered Oregon supporters, began to do the wave around its portion of the stadium.
Neither the Duck fans nor the players took lightly to act, and once play resumed it was all Oregon. After three straight runs by junior Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball, junior linebacker Kiko Alonso made a diving interception near midfield to swing the momentum back in Oregon favor as the final period began.
A few moments later, Thomas connected with senior Lavasier Tuinei for his second touchdown of the game from 11 yards out to take a five-point lead. Oregon’s defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, then proceeded to exhaust nearly six minutes off the play clock before Alejandro Maldonado made a 30-yard field goal for the game’s final points.
James carried the ball nine times for 28 yards in the fourth quarter. He said the injury to York and the way the Wisconsin fans responded simply added fuel to an already red-hot fire.
“Especially when the other team was being very disrespectful, and I really felt that way,” James said. “Why would you do the wave when you know there’s a player down? I didn’t really like that too well. I just wanted to go out there and win that game for our fans and for Carson, he went down with the injury and that was a disrespectful moment.”
Alonso’s key interception was one of several impressive plays from the junior linebacker on the day, who also had 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss to go along with multiple special teams tackles. For his effort, Alonso was named the Defensive Player of the Game.
“It feels great to get the win for (the seniors) because I came in with most of them,” Alonso said. “It just feels great to get it for all of them.”
One of those seniors, Tuinei, had arguably the best game of his career. The 6-foot-5 wide receiver finished with a career-high eight receptions for 158 yards and a pair of timely touchdowns, and was selected the Offensive Player of the Game.
“LT been working hard all year, it’s destined to happen for him,” said Thomas, who finished 17-of-23 for 268 yards and three scores with one interception. “That guy’s been working hard ever since the jump. He’s one of the guys that’s been working through injury all year.”
Kelly reiterated that Monday’s victory was a complete team effort, and true freshman De’Anthony Thomas made sure to put a his own stamp on the victory.
The co-Pac-12 Freshman of the Year set the Rose Bowl record for the longest run and scoring play with his 91-yard rushing touchdown to end the first quarter. He also set the new Rose Bowl standard for all-purpose yards with 314 (155 rushing, 34 receiving and 125 on kickoff returns).
After the game, Thomas was asked how he’d approach his sophomore season.
“I feel like I’ve got to work on everything,” Thomas said. “Just when the season comes, we’ll just start all over and work harder just like I did this summer. Just be a leader again for my team.
“Just excel with the freshman class that’s coming up next year, and it’s going to be great to watch.”