EUGENE, Ore. — LaMichael James is grateful he got the chance to get back on the field, given what's ahead for No. 6 Oregon.
Out two games after dislocating his right elbow, James played in the Ducks' 43-28 victory over Washington State this past Saturday. He was admittedly rusty, with just 53 yards rushing — well off his average of 170.4.
James said afterward he wasn't really expecting to have a monster game. The idea was to get out there and test the injury, take some hits, get used to playing with an elbow brace and get prepared for the next weekend's game at Washington.
After that, the Ducks visit Stanford before returning home against USC — making this by far Oregon's toughest stretch of the season.
"It's not like riding a bike. It's a little difficult," he said.
James, a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, was leading the nation in rushing before he was injured in a game against California on Oct. 6. Because he missed two games, he dropped off the list.
While James insisted he probably could have played the previous week on Oregon's 45-2 victory at Colorado, the Ducks were extra cautious with their star running back, not only with an eye toward the rest of the season, but also toward James' future, either at Oregon or in the NFL.
However, James asserted he needed to make his return against the Cougars.
"I didn't want to go into the game against Washington having not played in three weeks," he said. "That would've been a disaster."
Against the Cougars, Oregon also got back quarterback Darron Thomas, who sat out the game against the Buffaloes after injuring his left leg in the Ducks' 41-27 win over Arizona State the week before.
Thomas had a bumpy start and only played the first half. Wearing a brace, he completed eight of 13 passes for 153 yards and a score, but he threw two interceptions. Oregon led by just 15-10 at the break before backup Bryan Bennett took over.
There was no one reason for the switch at QB, Oregon coach Chip Kelly said afterward.
"I felt like he (Thomas) wasn't setting his feet," he said. "Sometimes I worry about that. Can he get out of the way? There are a lot of reasons."
Not surprisingly, the move brought a flurry of premature speculation about a possible quarterback controversy.
It was fueled a bit when Kelly — probably in a tactical move — never came right out and tacitly proclaimed that Thomas was still the Ducks' starter.
"I'll play 17 quarterbacks if it's gonna help us win," he said.
Kelly's unwillingness essentially left the job to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mark Helfrich.
"I believe 100 percent in Darron Thomas in all ways, shapes and forms," Helfrich said. "There's nothing else to read into this."Comment on this story
Overall, Thomas' absence has allowed Bennett to get some much needed experience under center. The redshirt freshman hadn't taken a snap before this season, but has shown himself capably of leading the Ducks if needed. He's also provided fans with a glimpse into the future.
So until further notice, there doesn't seem to be a question about who will start this Saturday against the Huskies (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12). Washington defeated Arizona 42-31 this past weekend.
"I don't think I'm in competition for my position," Thomas said. "I think Bryan did a great job, came out and finished the game."
Oregon (7-1, 5-0) moved up a spot in the AP Top 25 released Sunday from No. 7.