LaMichael James’ gruesome dislocated elbow injury put a damper on Oregon’s 43-15 victory over Cal Thursday night, and on one freakish play, a lot of things changed.
First, there’s the personal blow to a terrific running back. You hope he’s back very quickly, as he vowed to be when he met with reporters after the game. In fact, he met his team as it entered the locker room.
James was just rounding into a form that seemed to be pointing him toward a serious Heisman Trophy candidacy. He rushed for 239 yards on 30 carries, a third straight game over 200 in a national landscape dotted prominently with passing numbers.
“I think he’s kind of down because he doesn’t feel like he’s going to be able to play for awhile,” Oregon running backs coach Gary Campbell told reporters. “He said to me that ‘it’s not the pain in my elbow that’s bothering me, it’s the pain in my heart, that I can’t be there for my teammates.’ ”
James said there was no break in the elbow, but it appears to be an injury that might require at least several weeks’ healing. If so, that would put in jeopardy his availability for both games against Washington Nov. 5, and the following week against Stanford Nov. 12, in what has been widely viewed as the game of the year in the new Pac-12.
James’ night thrust him past the 4,000-yard career rushing mark, and into fifth place on the all-time Pac-12 list. His latest victim there is Napoleon Kaufman, the former Washington standout. And, come to think of it, James might be the closest thing I’ve seen to Kaufman — a 5-9 back with exceptional strength and the ability to get outside but also make big yardage between the tackles.
Where does Oregon go now? Kenyon Barner is a capable backup; he broke a long touchdown run against the Bears. But at the same time, he’s not James. The Ducks, who next play Arizona State, Colorado and Washington State in October, no doubt will give more snaps to standout freshman De’Anthony Thomas, who caught six passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a 17-yard score.
It will also put more pressure on the Ducks to refine their passing game, which has struggled at times trying to replace lost talent like All-Pac-10 receiver Jeff Maehl.
James, a junior, joined Charles White of USC (1976-79) as the only backs in league history to top the 4,000-yard mark before their senior year. Here’s the new top five in career rushing:
1, Charles White, USC (1976-79), 6,245 yards.
2. Ken Simonton, Oregon State (1998-2001), 5,044.
3, Marcus Allen, USC (1978-81), 4,810.
4, Darrin Nelson, Stanford (1977-81), 4,169.
5, LaMichael James, Oregon (2009-11), 4,129.