Thomas and James will try to help keep sixth-ranked Oregon unbeaten in the Pac-12 by leading the Ducks to an eighth straight victory over the Huskies on Saturday night.
The Ducks (7-1, 5-0) have also won seven in a row overall since a season-opening 40-27 loss to then-No. 4 LSU, which has since risen to No. 1 in the nation.
Oregon's winning streak continued with a 43-28 victory over Washington State last Saturday, and the Ducks have had little trouble with the Huskies (6-2, 4-1) lately, outscoring them by an average of 26.4 points while winning seven straight in the rivalry.
Kelly, however, must make sure his players aren't looking ahead to next week's meeting with No. 4 Stanford, which will likely determine the North Division champion. That showdown is followed by a matchup with No. 21 USC and the Civil War game against Oregon State.
"We better look at every single game we play as the most important game," the coach said. "It's not like we're looking down the road against anybody. The rivalry game is great. I think the fans can get after it and do all those other things. If you have any coach in the country that looks at one game more important each week than another game then they're not gonna last very long.
"It's not to diminish the rivalry or to say anything about the fans, but when you start to set yourself up and you circle games on your calendar and say, 'This game is more important to that game,' all of a sudden you go out in that other game and don't play very well, then you have no one to blame but yourself."
Thomas and James may feel this week's game is important for other reasons, as both try to get closer to being fully healthy after being limited last week.
Thomas sat out a 45-2 thumping of Colorado on Oct. 22 due to an injured left leg, and he was 8 of 13 for 153 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions against the Cougars. The junior was replaced by freshman Bryan Bennett, who tossed two scoring passes for a second straight game.
While Kelly didn't commit to Thomas as the unquestioned starter, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich stood behind his quarterback.
"I believe 100 percent in Darron Thomas in all ways, shapes and forms," Helfrich said. "There's nothing else to read into this."
A dislocated right elbow sidelined James for two games, and he wasn't at his best last week while gaining 53 yards on 13 carries. He had topped 200 yards rushing in each of his previous three games, totaling six TDs in that span.
"It's not like riding a bike. It's a little difficult," said James, who's shredded Washington for 275 yards and five scores on 41 carries in the last two meetings.
Thomas did major damage of his own in a 53-16 win over the Huskies last year. He completed 24 of 33 passes for 243 yards with one touchdown while rushing for two more scores and finishing with 89 yards on 12 carries.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian hopes his team won't get caught up in the pregame hype, which will include the Huskies honoring their co-national champion 1991 team.
"We have to make sure that we're focused on the team of the Oregon Ducks and not get caught up in all the things that are surrounding the ball game," he told the school's official athletics website.
Sarkisian is likely to continue relying on Chris Polk, who had a career-high five touchdowns to carry Washington to a 42-31 win over Arizona last weekend. The running back finished with 144 yards on 34 carries and 100 yards on four receptions, becoming the first Husky to eclipse the century mark in both categories.
Polk leads the Pac-12 with 1,016 rushing yards and has 12 total TDs. However, he's scored just once in three meetings with Oregon and was limited by the Ducks to 77 yards on 17 rushes last season.
Huskies quarterback Keith Price is trying to bounce back from perhaps his worst performance of the season. He had his lowest completion percentage of the year - going 16 of 30 - while throwing a season-high three interceptions against the Wildcats.
The sophomore completed half of his 28 attempts for 127 yards with one score against the Ducks last season and was sacked five times.