LaMichael James kept zipping and zagging through the desert night, playing the Road Runner to Arizona’s Wile E. Coyote.
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By the time he had finished slashing his way through and around the Wildcats on Saturday night, he had a school record 288 yards. He also broke the Oregon mark for career rushing touchdowns with two scores to lead the No. 10 Ducks to a 56-31 victory over Arizona in their Pac-12 opener.
”We just couldn’t find a way to stop him,” Wildcats coach Mike Stoops said.
Oregon (3-1), the two-time defending Pac-10 champion, won its 13th consecutive conference game, blowing open a 35-3 lead and then holding off a Wildcats rally before pulling away again with its lightning-quick offense.
All but the last of the Ducks’ seven touchdown drives lasted less than three minutes. Darron Thomas passed for two scores and ran for two more
Nick Foles completed 33 of 55 passes for 391 yards and three touchdowns for the Wildcats (1-3).
Arizona, playing its third consecutive top-10 team, has lost eight of nine dating to last year. The lone victory was this season’s opener against Northern Arizona.
”We just need to develop some leadership,” Stoops said, ”and we were overwhelmed over the three games.”
Oregon has the top-ranked offense in the Pac-12. Arizona’s defense statistically is the worst. So the results from the opening kickoff were predictable.
James, who also had a 51-yard punt return, averaged 12.2 yards per carry in his second consecutive and fifth career 200-yard rushing game. He broke Oregon’s single-game rushing record of 257 yards by Ontario Smith against Washington State in 2001.
He said he didn’t know about the record until someone on the sideline told him he needed 15 yards to break it.
”I was like, ‘Oh, hopefully I can stay in the game,”’ he said.
James deflected the praise, though, like any good running back should, and he was beyond good on this night.
”I was just really thinking about the win,” he said. ”Individual records don’t mean anything. It takes a team to get those records, and the offensive line did a great job, so I feel like those guys should share the record with me, too.”
With his touchdown runs of 12 and 19 yards, the speedy back has 43 scoring runs, breaking Derek Loville’s school record of 42.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly said defenses have a tough time with the Ducks’ triple running threat of James, Thomas and Kenjon Barner.
”We’re starting to find our rhythm,” he said. ”We’ve still got some issues up front that we’ve got to clean up at times, but when our running back’s running like that – it makes us a real tough team to defend from a running standpoint when the quarterback can hit it, Kenjon can hit it, and LaMichael can hit it.”
The Ducks amassed 516 yards, 415 on the ground.
”We knew, especially against Nick Foles, that this game never is in hand,” Kelly said. ”We were aware that we were going to get a great shot from them in the second half, and I thought our offense responded well.”
With his team down 35-3, Foles led the Wildcats to three consecutive touchdowns. His 7-yard pass to David Roberts, and 2-point conversion toss to David Douglas, cut Oregon’s lead to 35-24 with 3:14 to go in the third quarter. Kelly had seen Foles do this in previous encounters.
But the Ducks simply zipped to another score. James had a 31-yard run, and Thomas went the final 5 yards for the touchdown.
Foles got Arizona to the Oregon 6 on the subsequent kickoff, but the drive stalled. On fourth down he was sacked.
The Ducks reeled off five of their trademark lightning-fast touchdown drives, in six possessions, to open a 35-9 lead at the half.
James led the way, rushing for 133 yards in 11 carries in the first two quarters.