LaMike keeps No. 7 Ducks grounded

Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has shortened LaMichael James’ name to “LaMike.”

A nickname seems a necessity for the redshirt freshman who has become a key component of the No. 7 Ducks’ potent offense. He’s called on a lot, and LaMichael is a mouthful.

Oregon’s fans are even catching on, suggesting maybe LaMike should be called LaBarry – after NFL Hall of Famer Barry Sanders.

James was named the Pac-10’s offensive player of the week after he had 24 carries for 183 yards and a touchdown in Oregon’s 47-20 victory over USC on Halloween.

James’ rushing yards were the most ever by a freshman at Oregon. He broke his own record set earlier in the season.

“You can’t say enough about how that man plays. His long runs give us a spark, but besides that, just him grinding out and getting those tough five yards is one thing we really need on this team,” Masoli said.

The performance was the latest in what has been a quick learning curve for James, who came to the Ducks from Texarkana Liberty-Eylau High School in Texas.

James is averaging 114.8 yards rushing a game, ranking him third in the Pac-10 behind Stanford’s Toby Gerhart and Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers, and 15th in the nation.

He has five games with 100 or more rushing yards. And in the six games he’s been a starter, he’s averaged 140 yards.

James’ 918 total yards so far this season put him at second among freshman running backs at Oregon. Sean Burwell rushed for 969 yards as a freshman in 1990.

Asked to explain his success, James is modest.

“It’s determination. I just want to play hard,” he said.

At 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, James is small like Rodgers, who made a splash last season as a freshman. Rodgers, who is 5-foot-7, ran for 186 yards against USC and went on to be the first freshman to be named the league’s offensive player of the year.

James was given extra responsibility in Oregon’s offense after the Ducks dropped their opener at Boise State.

In the aftermath of the nationally televised loss on the Broncos’ trademark blue turf, Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount punched Boise State defensive end Byron Hout.

Blount, who rushed for 1,002 yards last season, was suspended for the season the very next day. James, redshirt freshman Kenjon Barner and senior Andre Crenshaw were charged with pulling together Oregon’s splintered running game.

The Ducks didn’t miss a beat, re-establishing themselves as one of the country’s top rushing offenses. Oregon is ranked eighth nationally with an average of 233.25 yards on the ground.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly has said he could bring Blount back if the senior meets certain behavioral and academic requirements. While Kelly earlier suggested that he could be reinstated for this weekend’s game against Stanford, the school has made no formal move. The final decision must be made by the Pacific-10 Conference.

“When we have an announcement, we’ll make it,” Kelly said.

Blount has been allowed to practice, and this week he’s been wearing Gerhart’s jersey as Oregon (7-1, 5-0) prepares to visit the Cardinal (5-3, 4-2).

And it is not known how Kelly will integrate Blount into the offense when, or if, he returns.

In the meantime, it’s up to LaMike.

“Each week he keeps getting better and better,” Kelly said.

Extra Points: Kelly caused quite a stir this weekend when ESPN’s Game Day visited Eugene in advance of Oregon’s game against USC. He donned the Duck mascot head and walked anonymously among the fans who turned out for the early morning broadcast. When he got to the stage/set, he pulled off the costume to the surprise of many on the Game Day crew. The move was a bit out of character for the buisness-like coach. “I don’t know if there’s a better mascot in all of sports,” Kelly said later.