Oregon running back LaMichael James was having a career night against Cal with 30 rushes for 239 yards and a touchdown.
But a painful-looking elbow injury early in the fourth quarter as a result of an awkward tackle could have nearly ended James’ career in Eugene. James laid on the ground for several minutes, wincing in obvious pain before he was carted off the field with a cast on his right arm.
Watching the injury on replay was tough, and perhaps a little nauseating for those with a weak stomach.
We won’t know the diagnosis right away, or how long James will be out – James says the elbow isn’t broken and ‘not a season-ending injury and I’ll be fine’ – but the injury could be a huge blow to this Oregon team which depended on him for leadership and experience. From an individual perspective, James was having a Heisman-like performance tonight during a game that occupied the college football spotlight. After a slow start in Oregon’s season-opening loss against LSU, James was launching himself back into serious Heisman contention.
Prior to tonight’s game, James led the country in rushing yards per game with 153. He had 166 in the first half of an eventual 43-15 win by the No. 9 Ducks.
Going forward, and depending on James’ timeline for return (if there is a return), the Ducks need to be able to rebound quickly with a game against Arizona State next week. Beyond that, Oregon has enough offensive firepower to get through conference play until the big Nov. 12 showdown at Stanford.
The question will be whether running backs Kenjon Barner and freshman DeAnthony Thomas can take on bigger roles and keep the Ducks’ ground game from missing a beat. Barner did a nice job filling in for James in Oregon’s season opener last year, and Thomas has shown his versatility this season.
Going on the road to play Stanford was already projected to be the toughest game of the year for Oregon. If they have to play without James, it’ll be even more difficult, but Chip Kelly‘s team has the talent to get it done.