LeGarrette Blount waited for his chance. It never came.
Blount suited up and was ready to play for the first time since his suspension for punching an opponent was lifted – but only watched as No. 14 Oregon defeated Arizona State 44-21 on Saturday night.
Instead LaMichael James, who took over at running back while Blount missed eight games, ran for 150 yards and three touchdowns.
“He wants to get out there so bad,” Oregon receiver Ed Dickson said about Blount. “Being one of my best friends, I felt for him.”
The Ducks (8-2, 6-1 Pacific-10) sit alone atop the conference standings as the only team with just one conference loss. Oregon fell 51-42 last weekend to Stanford.
Arizona State (4-6, 2-5) started true freshman quarterback Brock Osweiler, who left the game after being hit hard in the first half. Sophomore Samson Szakacsy replaced him and completed 13 of 22 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.
“Brock could have come back,” Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said. “It was a coach’s decision to keep him out partially because of how Samson was playing.”
The Sun Devils’ run defense, the best in the Pac-10 going into the game, allowed the Ducks to gain 268 yards on the ground.
Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli completed 10 of 20 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. He was intercepted once.
Blount, who ran for 1,002 yards last season, was listed at the bottom of the Ducks’ depth chart. Oregon coach Chip Kelly said there was no thought of bringing him in.
“No. We didn’t get to our fifth running back. Andre (Crenshaw) had one or two carries, Remene (Alston) got in for one or two carries. Couldn’t get the ball back,” he said.
A day after he punched Boise State defensive end Byron Hout in the opener, Blount was suspended for the season, although he was allowed to practice with the team and retain his scholarship.
Last month, Kelly announced that Blount could return if he met certain academic and behavior requirements. The coach reinstated him on Monday.
Blount watched as his replacement ran for touchdowns of 4 and 2 yards in the first quarter against the Sun Devils. After Morgan Flint’s 27-yard field goal in the second quarter, James added a 4-yard scoring run. Masoli found Ed Dickson with a 9-yard touchdown pass to give Oregon a 31-7 lead at halftime.
James, who was averaging 115.9 yards going into the game as the Pac-10’s third best rusher, ran for 119 yards in the first half alone.
“LaMichael had a great game and showed again why he’s one of the best in the nation. We’re going to ride him as long as we can,” Kelly said.
Arizona State’s James Brooks intercepted Masoli, which led to Dimitri Nance’s 2-yard scoring run for the Sun Devils’ lone touchdown of the first half.
The 6-foot-8 Osweiler replaced Danny Sullivan last weekend in the second half of Arizona State’s 14-9 loss to USC. He was the first true freshman to start for the Sun Devils since Jake Plummer in 1993.
But the Sun Devils got a scare in the second quarter when Osweiler was hit in the shoulder by Oregon linebacker Eddie Pleasant. While he was looked to by trainers on the Arizona State bench, he was replaced by Szakacsy.
Osweiler completed 5 of 10 passes for 14 yards before he left.
Szakacsy started the second half, although Osweiler stayed in uniform on the sideline, and he led the Sun Devils on a drive that ended with his own 1-yard scoring run to make it 31-14.
Szakacsy found Kyle Williams with a 15-yard scoring pass later in the third quarter to narrow it, but Oregon answered with Masoli’s 21-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Maehl.
“I thought we were making a comeback,” Szakacsy said. “We cut it to 10 and stalled on some drives. We could have played a lot better. We kept fighting and scrapping. We didn’t just put our heads down.”
Flint added 43 and 41-yard field goals in the fourth quarter. By that time, Oregon had pulled James. The crowd chanted “We want Blount!” several times.
Late in the game, the announcer at Autzen announced that Blount was entering the game, but it was actually fourth-string running back Alston. Blount’s No. 9 and Alston’s No. 5 look similar on Oregon’s uniforms.
Going into the game, the Sun Devils’ run defense was ranked sixth in the nation, allowing an average of 87.44 yards rushing.
But Oregon couldn’t be stopped, Erickson said.
“This offensive team is as good as any I’ve seen in college football,” he said.