They said he was a step slow.
They said he had gained too much weight.
They said his Heisman chances were virtually nil.
Some said — more like whispered — let the freshman sensation get more carries.
That was until Saturday.
Flashing his burst of old, Oregon’s LaMichael James rambled for 204 yards and three touchdowns against Missouri State in the Ducks’s 56-7 romp at Autzen Stadium.
After averaging 4 yards a carry in his first two games (and just 121 total rushing yards), the reigning Doak Walker Award gobbled up 17 yards a chunk against the Bears in a little over two quarters of play.
He had touchdown runs of 1, 90 and 50 yards. His 90-yard scoot took all of 13 seconds off the clock. It nearly eclipsed the school record for longest run, set by Bob Smith (92 yards) against Idaho in 1938.
If you’re counting, that was 77 push-ups for the Duck after James’ scores.
Yes, his outpouring was against FCS Missouri State. Yes, it was against a defense that gave up 466 yards of total offense and 51 points to Arkansas two weeks ago. Yes, the Ducks passing attack was clicking, making the running game that much more effective.
But once the last soul had left Autzen on Saturday and the seagulls had flown off to wherever they fly off to, this much was clear: This is still LaMichael’s team. If the No. 12-ranked Ducks are to win a third-consecutive league crown, it will likely be James’ legs that do the talking. And behind an offensive line that is showing signs of coming together.
After the game, James brushed off talk he has been frustrated with his performance prior to Saturday.
“People are going to think what they want to think,” James told reporters. “If anybody wants to place some bets and race me, so be it.”
Coming into the season, James spoke about the 15 pounds he had put on, saying the gain was virtually all muscle. His coaches raved about his strength.
But then came the 18 carries for just 54 yards in Oregon’s 40-27 loss to LSU and the doubters began chirping.
LaMichael, they said, seemed a step slower, a bit hesitant.
What followed next — 67 rushing yards against Nevada — only fueled the talk. Some speculated freshman eye-full De’Anthony Thomas would begin taking snaps away from James.
But — sound the Duck lips, please — some perspective.
In the opener, James faced a defense that has all the hallmarks of being the nation’s best. On Thursday, No. 3 LSU surrendered just 52 yards (on 34 carries) to No. 25 Mississippi State.
In Oregon’s contest against Nevada in Week Two, James played sparingly after the Ducks jumped out to a 41-7 halftime lead in temperatures hovering around 100 degrees.
One of the raps a year ago was that James was worn down at season’s end by all the carries he had early on.
Signs exist, too, that No. 21 is a more-rounded back now. He has already been on the receiving end of nine passes this season, averaging 16 yards a catch. He hauled in 17 passes in all of both 2009 and 2010.
More will be known after this coming Saturday’s showdown in the desert against Arizona and the following week back home against California.
But the suspicion here is that James and Oregon will be just fine.
This is, after all, a guy who has now rushed for 3,723 yards and scored 42 touchdowns in his college career.
James, too, is confident that he’ll continue to churn out the big one.
“It’s going to happen, you know? Eventually it’s going to happen,” he said.
A look back at Oregon-Missouri State
How the game was won: After giving up a touchdown on the opening drive of the game and leading just 14-7 after one quarter, Oregon mixed up its passing and running attacks to steamroll Missouri State with a 21-point outburst in the second quarter. The Ducks piled up 257 total yards (160 passing and 97 rushing) in the quarter to the Bears’ 64 total yards.
Turning point: Missouri State turned the ball over on downs early in the second quarter after driving 75 yards in nine plays to the Oregon 7-yard-line. Just three plays later — or 37 ticks off the clock — the Ducks were in the end zone to go up 21-7. Darron Thomas completed a 46-yard pass to Rahsaan Vaughn, a 40-yard pass to Lavasier Tuinei and finally a 7-yard pass to Colt Lyeria for the TD.
Stat of the game: The Ducks led 35-7 at halftime, yet had the ball for only 6 minutes and 32 seconds in the first half (compared to 23 minutes and 28 seconds for Missouri State). Six minutes, 35 points. That’s not a misprint.
Feel-good moment: Hard-working Eric Dungy scored his first collegiate touchdown — a 22-yard catch-and-run — in the third quarter to put the Ducks up 55-7. His father, famed pro coach Tony Dungy, was watching from the stands in Autzen.
Freshmen deluxe: Remember all the raves over Oregon’s past two recruiting classes? The proof is in the pudding, as they say, or in this case offensive players by the names of Bryan Bennett, Tra Carson, Colt Lyeria, De’Anthony Thomas and Eric Dungy. Consider these stats: Bennett (5 for 6 passing, 59 yards and 2 TDs, plus 10 yards rushing), Carson (82 yards rushing and 6 yards receiving), Lyeria (33 receiving yards, 2 TDs), Thomas (67 yards rushing, 169 all-purpose yards) and Dungy (22 receiving yards, 1 TD).
What it means: The Ducks appear to be working the kinks out nicely as Pac-12 play looms. Oregon’s offense executed flawlessly in the first half. Sure, it was against a FCS school. But the team seems to have found a rhythm.
What’s next: At Arizona, 7:15 p.m., Saturday
Last time they played: No. 1 Oregon defeated No. 21 Arizona 48-29 in Eugene on Nov. 26, 2010.
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