Friday, December 30, 2011

Oregon’s James Faster, Scarier Than Life

LOS ANGELES — There’s a portrait of a notably horrified tailback LaMichael James trying the Space Mountain ride at Disneyland on Tuesday, an eternally lifelong image that went viral when teammate Kenjon Bamer hastily posted it on Twitter for the world to see.

Funny he revealed another side of himself, an all-encompassing athlete recently known as the fastest runner on the planet, well, at least in Oregon at Nike University. For one afternoon, a day he spent at the happiest place on earth with his teammates, touring the popular surroundings of Southern California, a star running back suddenly looked frightened.


He was seen having fun with his entourage, and when he steps on to the Rose Bowl turf Monday, James will overcome his fears. Because – trust me on this – he’s a fearless star player at his position anchoring what is a high-flying offense, maybe even the best in the nation as long as he is carrying the ball and gaining chunks of yards. Losing to Auburn in the BCS title game was painful a year ago. That alone left a bitter, fiery taste in his mouth, ready to finally stand the test of time and prevail in a BCS bowl game.

Never to celebrate a victory in a BCS bowl game, and until he finally hoists a trophy – which might be real soon, no later than Monday night — James can sleep well in his bed at nights. If he plays efficiently, as the most valuable asset in such a paramount event, the Oregon Ducks likely can demoralize Wisconsin. Then, when the time comes, he can dazzle in his signature game and reduce the painful memories of last year’s national championship game, a gut-wrenching 22-19 loss once Auburn kicked a field goal on the final play of the game.

Situations like these, of course, he’s partly a cornerstone – except when, as it is from other perspectives, he’s the necessary component to set the tone early and lead the Ducks to new heights. He is a terror on the field in each game against any opponent, leaving the impression that he’s truly the best running back in the nation, when it’s almost certain he’ll be projected the highest among running backs for the 2012 NFL Draft.

It’s reasonable to think so, especially when he has filed paperwork with the NFL for a draft evaluation and announced that he will declare for the NFL Draft. It’s really about James’ competitive drive that separates him from average stars on the collegiate level, ready to take on new challenges and contend as the Oregon star strikes our curiosity much. It’s not unusual that he’s the more watchable player, in other words.

The thinking behind it, mind you, is quite simple as James is an electric playmaker and has defied the art of explosion and quickness. The irony is particularly gratifying, and not once is there a dull moment when James puts on his racing shoes and finishes the night with a stylish performance, capping the nicest moment as Oregon’s offensive specialist.

The beauty of speed is Oregon’s nature, so mostly James is far more superior in this well-anticipated meeting – loudly creating plenty of buzz as Oregon’s speed versus Wisconsin’s strength. And he’s far more infallible to judge on the field. With that in mind, it’s not surprising he’s a political discussion, starting a national craze, where even chatter still swirled around James when he was injured and missed two games with a dislocated elbow early in the season.

As in a multitude of well-equipped running backs, James is an instrumental piece in Oregon’s explosive rush attack, a 5-foot-9, 195-pound junior tailback from Texarkana, Texas. The result is here — he essentially owns every rushing record in school history, including career rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. It would take clearly a poor performance by James to imperil his draft stock, a completely 180 degree turnaround but it seems logic to believe that won’t happen, as good as he is advertised with Oregon a win away from ecstasy.

This week alone, the yapping has been everlasting and annoying. For what it is, in three full seasons at the helm, Oregon coach Chip Kelly has taken a program into national spotlight. The downside of this is he hasn’t won a bowl game, although he’s a two-time Pac 12 coach of the year, although he’s groomed James and the rest of his powerful offense and although he’s led the Ducks to the Rose Bowl twice since 1995.

There’s nothing like, aside from the misfortunes in previous bowl appearances, having James run the fastest in a high-flying offense – the blistering, sizzling quickness within the West Coast’s dominant program, scarier than James riding a roller coaster.

Ah yes, it’s that scary.

Kelly prefers to make adjustments if his tactics are unsuccessful, but opponents usually have ample time to prepare a game-plan to neutralize Oregon’s high-flying offense, so he hasn’t employed a forceful offensive attack during bowl season. Known as a mastermind, the schemes have backfired in his face in games of huge ramifications, with the Ducks now 0-2 in bowl games since he became head coach.

If the Ducks are worried about the sturdy Wisconsin offense, they have every reason to panic a bit, realizing the Badgers are built with offensive toughness. And, believe it or not, Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, a counterpart in the marquee tailback duel, can finally earn respect. If the Badgers upset the Ducks, he and the school as Rose Bowl champs can merit prestige, national regards and more recruits in the future.

He’s not alone, and it’s not like he’s playing all by himself as it takes a total team effort. But he’s accompanied by quarterback Russell Wilson, a senior and transfer from NC State who finished ninth in Heisman voting, which forms a dangerous tandem and the toughest assignment for the Ducks.

It is, however, about chasing down James more than anything, even though Wilson and Ball assembles a bottomless nucleus. For at least this game, as logic tells us, even if he lacks size and the body mass, that James is extremely dangerous on the field and has the speed to blast into the open, finding all the holes and short cuts to run by the tacklers and sprint to the end zone.

So let’s see what happens. It will be interesting. The battle is for roses, and for what it’s worth, James doesn’t want to leave Pasadena empty handed.

Those cleats and bizarre uniforms are hanging at his visitor’s locker. The honeymoon he relished when he arrived to Southern California wasn’t nearly as scary.

But his speed?

That’s enough to frighten you.