It turns out that Oregon's LaMichael James wasn't really off to a slow start after all. He was just getting revved up.
Four games into the season, he's ranked second in the nation with an average of 153.25 yards rushing per game, behind only Michigan's Denard Robinson (168.67). James is third nationally with an average of 226.75 all-purpose yards.
James boosted his stats last weekend in No. 9 Oregon's 56-31 victory at Arizona. A Heisman Trophy finalist last season, James ran for 288 yards against the Wildcats, setting a single-game school record. He scored two touchdowns.
After the game, he wouldn't take full credit.
"I'm just really happy with the way the line blocked, without those guys I wouldn't be anything," he told reporters. "I'm really happy with those guys. I feel like that record should be called the University of Oregon offensive line and LaMichael James record."
Oregon coach Chip Kelly said this week that the unselfish response was typical of James.
"He truly doesn't care if he runs for 280 or 28. It's about the team," Kelly said, "and he'll be the first to tell you the only awards he's concerned with are team awards."
James' numbers at Arizona — he finished with 363 all-purpose yards — contrasted with his performance in the Ducks' season-opening loss to LSU, when he managed only 54 yards. Some suggested that the 20 pounds he put on in the offseason were slowing him down.
Granted, the Tigers' defense held him back, but what wasn't apparent on the surface was that James was also doing other things for the Ducks. He caught six passes for 61 yards, and he was helping out on returns while Cliff Harris was suspended. He finished with 132 all-purpose yards.
The next game, a 69-20 rout of Nevada, James showed dimension again, running for a touchdown, catching a TD pass and returning a punt for another score. He finished with 181 all-purpose yards, but his efforts were somewhat overlooked because of a breakout performance by true freshman De'Anthony Thomas, who caught a pair of touchdowns.
James' name began to get reinserted into this season's Heisman conversation when he ran for 204 yards and three touchdowns in Oregon's 56-7 victory over Missouri State. One of his scores was a 90-yard dash for the second-longest run in school history.
James said the questions about him early this season — like his weight dragging him down — have only served to inspire him. He has rushed for 492 yards in his last two games.
"I love it. I wish more people would write things about me," he said. "Because everybody's on the outside looking in, but who really knows? It's great motivation but that stuff really doesn't matter too much because I have the team, and they have my back."
A junior, James has 3,890 career rushing yards, ranking him sixth on the Pac-12 career list behind Washington's Napoleon Kaufman, who had 4,106 (1991-94).
James has am Oregon-record 43 touchdown runs.
There was speculation last season that James might bolt for the NFL. He quieted all that talk when he announced before the BCS championship game against Auburn that he was staying.
Chatter about an early departure from Oregon will no doubt be renewed as the season goes on. But for right now, James is all about the Ducks.
"I just want to keep winning. That's the most important thing to me. At the end of the season I'll look back at those records and I'll be like, 'Wow. I really did that,'" he said. "But the most important thing to me is to keep winning."
The Ducks (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) have this weekend off before hosting California (3-1, 0-1) on Oct. 6.
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