Here's installment #2 of our run-up to the Rose Bowl in which I join with Ohio State fanatic Noah Litton to learn more about each other's teams while counting down the hours until the Jan. 1 game.
In our opening installment I asked
Noah about Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor and how Pryor has progressed since he chose to play at Ohio State instead of Oregon. Litton's question for today: "I think most Buckeyes are aware of Jeremiah Masoli's rushing ability. We've heard less about LaMichael James. What type of rusher is he, and how do you think he'll play in the Rose Bowl?"
Here's my answer:
Sometimes it's hard to believe James is listed
at 5-foot-9 and weighing only 180 pounds both because he has proven so durable and because he has a great knack for pushing the pile (he's so low to the ground that much larger tacklers often can't get leverage on him).
The preseason buzz on James before he played this year as a redshirt freshman from people I listen to (i.e., alums whose connections to the program run much deeper than mine) was sky-high. They said he was Oregon's version of Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers
. I nodded my head, and thought it would be enough if James could form the "speed" half of the tandem running back combination with the "power" half —LeGarrette Blount— like Blount did last season with then-senior Jeremiah Johnson.
Well, we all know what happened
with Blount after the opening-game debacle at Boise State. And the thought of James being the main back as a 180-pound freshman had me freaked out. Turns out I didn't need to worry
. James ended up averaging nearly 20 carries a game and amazingly seemed to get stronger as the season went on, capped off by a 25-carry, 166-yard, three-TD game against Oregon State.
Part of James' success, I believe, stems from the Ducks' no-huddle approach that wears down most defenses. If there were a record for causing the most missed tackles (especially behind the line of scrimmage), James would be right up there. Check out this video (though I must confess every time he pulls this spin move, I'm convinced he will get flattened.)
James also is a patient runner, cruising down the line in the Ducks' spread offense until a hole pops and then flying through it.
My one concern about him, perhaps surprisingly, was a minor quibble — that he lacked breakaway speed. That was prompted by a run in the UCLA game where the Ducks were backed up toward their end zone and James went on a long run but was caught about midfield. In retrospect, a bit of a silly concern given this dash against the Beavers:
The last thing I'd mention about James is that even an experienced football-watcher will have difficulties at times following the ball when Masoli begins his run read by putting the ball in James' belly. Masoli is a master, especially on the goal line, with the "now-you-see-it, now-you-don't" ball fake that often leaves he or James waltzing untouched into the end zone.
Bottom line: I expect at least two long runs out of James in Pasadena and 150 yards total.
(One final note to this installment: I should have mentioned before that I have two other friends from my long-ago days working at AP in New Jersey who follow Ohio State with a religious fervor. One of those buddies wants to share the fact that he was told at orientation when he began at Ohio State "that I went to the only school in the nation whose mascot is a killer nut.")