51F Autzen Stadium, Eugene, OR
Oregon and California both had last weekend off.
Not playing seems to be the only way for LaMichael James not to be putting up big numbers again.
The nation's leading rusher will be back in action Thursday night when the ninth-ranked Ducks look for their 19th straight home victory in a Pac-12 matchup with the Golden Bears.
James was considered a Heisman Trophy candidate after leading the nation with 144.3 rushing yards per game in 2010. This campaign got off to a poor start with a 54-yard effort in a season-opening 40-27 loss to then-No. 4 LSU on Sept. 3.
The gifted running back followed that up with 67 yards in a 69-20 rout of Nevada before going over 200 yards in back-to-back efforts.
James rushed for a school-record 288 yards and scored twice to become the Ducks' all-time leader in rushing touchdowns in a 56-31 win at Arizona on Sept. 24. His 43 scoring runs broke Derek Loville's school record of 42.
"I'm just really happy with the way the line blocked, without those guys I wouldn't be anything," James said. "I'm really happy with those guys. I feel like that record should be called the University of Oregon offensive line and LaMichael James record."
James is back on top among FBS rushers with 153.3 yards per game and has begun to quiet critics who felt the 20 pounds he gained in the offseason were slowing him down.
"I love it. I wish more people would write things about me," he said. "Because everybody's on the outside looking in, but who really knows? It's great motivation but that stuff really doesn't matter too much because I have the team, and they have my back."
James could face a stiff challenge Thursday. California (3-1, 0-1) owns the ninth-best rushing defense in the FBS, allowing 78.3 yards per game.
His averages of 104.5 yards and 4.2 per carry in two games against the Golden Bears represent his lowest versus any conference opponent.
"He truly doesn't care if he runs for 280 or 28. It's about the team," coach Chip Kelly said, "and he'll be the first to tell you the only awards he's concerned with are team awards."
The offense has been bolstered by the steady play of Darron Thomas, who has thrown 11 touchdowns and no interceptions during this three-game win streak since the disappointing opener.
The Ducks (3-1, 1-0) have not lost at home since falling 37-32 to Boise State on Sept. 20, 2008.
Oregon has won two straight in this series after losing the previous three meetings. The then-No. 1 Ducks scored their fewest points during their 12-0 regular season in last year's 15-13 road win.
James had a difficult game with a season-worst 3.1 per-carry rushing average, and he failed to reach the end zone for the only time in his last 16 games. It was his first matchup against a defense guided by former NFL coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
Cal, however, allowed All-American Cliff Harris to return a punt 64 yards for the Ducks' only first-half touchdown, and also saw Giorgio Tavecchio miss a 29-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.
Tavecchio has made all five field-goal attempts this year, although he has had three of 20 extra points blocked.
Oregon will get its first look at Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard, who threw for a career-high 349 yards with one touchdown in Cal's 31-23 loss at Washington on Sept. 24 to start Pac-12 play.
The Golden Bears were forced to settle for three short field goals from Tavecchio.
"In tight games against good opponents in conference, you have to come up with more touchdowns than field goals," said coach Jeff Tedford, who was Oregon's offensive coordinator from 1998-2001 before joining Cal.
Tedford's team has dropped eight straight against top-10 opponents.
"We've got to get after it," defensive lineman Trevor Guyton said. "We can't afford to rest up or do anything like that. We've got to go hard."