LaMichael James is confident about Oregon’s chances this weekend – even if he can’t be on the field.
The Heisman Trophy candidate is hopeful a nasty elbow injury won’t sideline him Saturday night when the ninth-ranked Ducks look to defeat No. 18 Arizona State for the seventh straight time.
Most sports books monitored by the SportsOptions odds product have installed the Ducks as 14-point home favorites, with the total set at 66 1/2.
James injured his right elbow early in the fourth quarter of Oregon’s 43-15 victory over California last Thursday. X-rays showed no fracture, and the Ducks (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12) are being coy about his status.
The nation’s leading rusher at 170.4 yards per game, however, feels Oregon will be fine without him.
“Even if I don’t play, we have tremendous backs,” James said. “I don’t think we’ll miss a beat.”
James was limited to 94 yards rushing and one score in last year’s 42-31 win at Arizona State (5-1, 3-0). He gained 150 yards on the ground with three first-half touchdowns two years ago in a 44-21 home win.
“He’s a great player,” Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said. “He might be one of the best players in the country. There is no question about that.”
James ran for 239 yards and a touchdown against California, becoming the first Duck to run for at least 200 yards in three straight games. Running backs coach Gary Campbell said Monday that James is in “good spirits.”
If James can’t start, Kenjon Barner or De’Anthony Thomas could get the nod. Barner carried 10 times for 88 yards and a score against Cal, while Thomas, a freshman, is averaging 7.6 yards per carry.
Darron Thomas is also a running threat with 18 carries for 100 yards this season. The quarterback has 15 touchdown passes to just two interceptions.
Oregon is averaging 42.3 points during its six-game win streak in this series. The Ducks are fifth in the country with the Pac-12’s most prolific offense, gaining 539.6 yards per game.
“We have to learn how to go at warp speed,” Erickson said. “They are what they are. They do it week-in and week-out, year-in and year-out since Chip (coach Chip Kelly) has been there. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team as fast offensively.”
Oregon enters with a four-game win streak since its 40-27 loss to then-No. 4 LSU in the Sept. 3 opener. The Ducks have won 19 straight at home.
The Sun Devils are the only Pac-12 South team with an unbeaten conference mark. Brock Osweiler completed 25 of 41 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns in last Saturday’s 35-14 win at Utah.
“Brock Osweiler is a big, tall rangy target and he can throw it,” Kelly said. “He’s got a real, real strong arm, really athletic.”
Osweiler is facing Oregon for the first time since the Sun Devils’ last trip to Autzen Stadium two years ago, when he went 5 for 10 for 14 yards before he was knocked out with an injury. He became the first true freshman QB to start for Arizona State since Jake Plummer in 1993.
“My first trip up to Autzen didn’t go how anybody would hope for it to but, like I said, we’re a different football team now; I’m a different football player and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity,” Osweiler said.
It could be different since Jamal Miles is more of a factor now for Arizona State. Miles is tied for the team lead with four TD receptions, and he’s returned a punt and a kickoff for a score while also throwing for another.
The Ducks, meanwhile, have created only four turnovers – none in the last three games. Through five contests last season, they’d forced 21.
“I just hope we can start to create some turnovers,” Kelly said. “We had our hands on a lot of balls on Thursday night and for some reason, it just didn’t bounce our way. So hopefully we’re going to make some turnovers because we’re going to need it for this game.”
This contest could be a preview of the inaugural Pac-12 championship game, set for Dec. 2. The Ducks are one of three unbeaten teams in conference play from the North, along with No. 7 Stanford and Washington.
“It’s exciting for all of us,” Erickson said. “It’s a big game against a big program and a great football team.”