Once again, No. 4 Oregon boasts a high-powered offensive attack. The Ducks’ offense ranks third nationally in scoring, averaging 46.7 points per game, and ninth in total offense at 498.3 yards per contest heading into Saturday’s nationally-televised, primetime matchup against No. 18 USC. Here’s a look at three players and a coach who make the Ducks’ offense fly.
Running back LaMichael James
Though he began the year as a Heisman Trophy candidate, James rushed for just 54 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries in Oregon’s season opener against No. 1 LSU at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tex., a 40-27 loss that dropped the Ducks to No. 14 in the USA Today coaches poll.
But since then, James has been electric.
Through eight games — including wins over then-No. 18 Arizona State and then-No. 4 Stanford — the Texas native has rushed for 1,207 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 7.9 yards per carry and vaulting himself back into consideration for the Heisman Trophy. A recent Sports Illustrated projection ranked James No. 6 in the Heisman race.
The 5-foot-9 running back has proven problematic for USC before. In a 53-22 win over the Trojans last season at the Coliseum, he amassed 239 yards and three touchdowns on the ground on 36 carries. Similarly, in a 47-20 win over USC at Autzen Stadium in 2009, James, then a freshman, ran for 183 yards and a touchdown.
Running back De’Anthony Thomas
De’Anthony Thomas, a one-time USC commit who spurned the Trojans last February to sign a letter of intent to play for Oregon, has made an immediate impact in just his first year with the program.
Appearing in 10 games, the former Crenshaw High standout has rushed for 366 yards and five touchdowns in addition to leading the Ducks in receiving with 27 catches for 423 yards and seven touchdowns, though standing at just 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds.
“The only guy that I’ve probably seen like that was Reggie [Bush],” USC coach Lane Kiffin said following Tuesday’s practice when asked about Thomas’ explosiveness. “The way that he can start and stop and then how fast he can cut is really special. That’s why he may be the best player in the country.”
Quarterback Darron Thomas
Though many of the Ducks’ SportsCenter highlights tend to center around either James or De’Anthony Thomas, junior quarterback Darron Thomas, is the trigger man for the Ducks’ offensive attack.
Taking over under center in 2010 after Jeremiah Masoli was dismissed from the team after being cited for misdemeanor traffic and drug offenses, including possession of marijuana, Darron Thomas completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 30 touchdowns, playing an instrumental role in the Ducks’ undefeated regular season and appearance in the BCS national title game.
This season, Darron Thomas has been just as impressive, with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 22:5 in addition to two rushing touchdowns.
Coach Chip Kelly
Since taking over in 2009 for Mike Bellotti, who served as coach for 14 years, Kelly has only built upon the success of his predecessor, winning 31 of his first 36 games, including two Pac-12 championships.
Kelly’s potent spread offense has made the Ducks near-impossible to stop at times. Last season, they ranked first nationally in scoring offense and eighth in the season prior.
Perhaps most important to USC, Kelly is 2-0 against the Trojans, with wins against both Kiffin and former USC coach Pete Carroll.
“You hope anytime that you play somebody that you learn from it and get better,” Kiffin said about last season’s loss to the Ducks. “And we’ll continue to do what we’ve done in general this year, which is play more guys and rotate guys in and make sure that we’re getting lined up.”