8:00 PM ET, December 2, 2011
EUGENE, Ore. -- As LaMichael James danced to celebrate Oregon's third straight conference championship, fans surrounding him shouted "One More Year!"
The junior running back ran for 219 yards and three touchdowns in the Ducks' 49-31 victory over UCLA in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game Friday night. With the win, the Ducks (No. 8 BCS, No. 9 AP) earn a trip to the Rose Bowl presented by Vizio.
There has been speculation that James, who set a league record with three straight 1,500-yard seasons, will bolt to the NFL next season.
But for right now, James was savoring the moment.
Miller: Weathering heights
Picking up a conference crown is old hat for Oregon. It's expected. The real test is whether the Ducks can soar in a BCS bowl, writes Ted Miller. Blog
"Just being with my teammates, I cherish that," he said. "I don't think about 'one more year.' I just think about today."
While James partied, UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel paused before Bruins fans at Autzen Stadium and tipped his hat. The former UCLA quarterback was fired this week after four seasons at his alma mater.
The Bruins (6-7) played with passion for their outgoing coach and kept it closer than many thought they would, but it was not enough to overcome the Ducks (11-2), who head to a BCS bowl for the third straight season.
"They can take my job," Neuheisel said, gesturing to the locker room as he left the field, "but they can't take those boys away from me."
Neuheisel was fired following last weekend's 50-0 loss to Southern California (No. 9 AP). It was one in a wave of coaching moves in the conference. Around the time he was fired, Arizona State let go of Dennis Erickson. Washington State parted ways with Paul Wulff, then quickly hired former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach a day later.
The Bruins were granted permission this week from the NCAA to accept a bowl invitation despite their losing record.
"We made it a game, at least for a time. I was thrilled that we got that kind of effort, given the events of the last week," Neuheisel said. "I just am excited for these guys. They get one more game. They'll find out where here soon."
Duck On The Rise
LaMichael James had three rushing touchdowns vs. UCLA, bringing his career total to 52, which ties him with former USC running back LenDale White for the second-most in Pac-12 history.
Most Career Rushing TDs, Pac-12-History
|Ken Simonton, Oregon St.||1998-01||59|
|LaMichael James, Oregon||2009-||52*|
|LenDale White, USC||2003-05||52|
|Charles White, USC||1976-79||49|
|Skip Hicks, UCLA||1993-97||48|
|*3 rushing TDs vs. UCLA on Friday|
Oregon will play the winner of the first Big Ten championship game Saturday between Michigan State (No. 13 BCS, No. 11 AP) and No. 15 Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2. The bowl pairings will be formally announced on Sunday.
The Ducks clenched roses in their teeth Friday night as fireworks exploded above and confetti rained down. James danced with fellow running back Kenjon Barner.
With his three TDs, James moved into a tie with USC's LenDale White (2003-05) for second on the league's career rushing TD list with 52.
James ran 30 yards for a touchdown on Oregon's first drive of the game. He went into the game as the nation's top running back with an average of 142.7 yards per game.
UCLA tied it when linebacker Patrick Larimore intercepted Thomas and ran 35 yards for a touchdown. Neuheisel pumped his fist in celebration.
Thomas scored on a 10-yard keeper and then found true freshman tight end Colt Lyerla alone in the end zone with a 7-yard scoring pass to make it 21-7.
Oregon was stung early in the game when dynamic true freshman De'Anthony Thomas fumbled after a hit by Tevin McDonald. Shaken up on the play, the versatile running back who earlier this week was named the Pac-12's co-freshman of the year on offense did not return.
UCLA's Tyler Gonzalez kicked a 44-yard field goal to make it 37-17 at halftime.
Prince scored on a 1-yard run early in the third quarter to pull UCLA closer to the Ducks, but James answered with a 5-yard TD dash to make it 42-24.
A Heisman Trophy finalist last season as a sophomore, James fell out of the running for the most part this season because he missed two games with a dislocated right elbow.
Offensive lineman Carson York said he certainly hoped this wasn't James' final season with the Ducks.
"It's been an absolute honor to block for that guy for the last three years," York said. "I am firmly against this being his last game at Autzen Stadium."
David Paulson caught a 22-yard touchdown pass midway through the third, which put Darron Thomas in front of Danny O'Neil (1991-94) for most passing TDs at Oregon.
Rosario pulled down a one-handed, 19-yard touchdown pass from Prince with less than two minutes to play. Rosario finished with six catches for 98 yards.
Prince completed 13 of 26 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns.
The addition of Colorado and Utah to the Pac-12 paved the way for a league championship game this season. In previous years, the team with the best conference record claimed the title.
While USC (10-2, 7-2) finished atop the Pac-12 South, the Trojans are ineligible to play in the postseason because of NCAA sanctions, which put UCLA in the title game.
Because of Neuheisel's dismissal, offensive coordinator Mike Johnson will take over if UCLA is selected to play in a bowl game.
The Bruins have reached just one bowl in the past three seasons. Athletic director Dan Guerrero said he wants to reward the Bruins' 18 seniors by going to a bowl even while the program is in upheaval.
Oregon went to the 2010 Rose Bowl in its first season under Kelly, losing to Ohio State. Last season the Ducks went to the BCS championship, where they fell to Auburn.
Oregon had appeared to be in the running for another shot at the national championship game before losing 38-35 to USC at Autzen Stadium on Nov. 19.
Top 25 Overview
It was over when... Early. A quick Ducks score and Bruins turnover sealed the win as Oregon took a 21-7 first-quarter lead.
Gameball goes to... LaMichael James, who ran for 219 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Ducks' powerful running game.
Stat of the game... 352. The Ducks gained 352 yards on the ground. UCLA had no answers as Oregon scored 3 first-half rushing TDs.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||7-15||6-17|
|4th Down Conversions||1-3||4-7|
|TD||13:13||LaMichael James 30 Yd Run (Alejandro Maldonado Kick)||0||7|
|TD||07:55||Patrick Larimore 35 Yd Interception Return (Tyler Gonzalez Kick)||7||7|
|TD||06:29||Darron Thomas 10 Yd Run (Alejandro Maldonado Kick)||7||14|
|TD||00:59||Colt Lyerla 7 Yd Pass From Darron Thomas (Alejandro Maldonado Kick)||7||21|
|TD||12:22||Nelson Rosario 37 Yd Pass From Kevin Prince (Tyler Gonzalez Kick)||14||21|
|TD||08:27||LaMichael James 3 Yd Run (Alejandro Maldonado Kick)||14||28|
|TD||04:25||Daryle Hawkins 25 Yd Pass From Darron Thomas (Alejandro Maldonado Kick)||14||35|
|FG||00:00||Tyler Gonzalez 44 Yd||17||35|
|TD||12:10||Kevin Prince 1 Yd Run (Tyler Gonzalez Kick)||24||35|
|TD||09:57||LaMichael James 5 Yd Run (Alejandro Maldonado Kick)||24||42|
|TD||04:45||David Paulson 22 Yd Pass From Darron Thomas (Alejandro Maldonado Kick)||24||49|
|TD||01:51||Nelson Rosario 19 Yd Pass From Kevin Prince (Tyler Gonzalez Kick)||31||49|
LaMichael James had three rushing touchdowns vs. UCLA, bringing his career total to 52, which ties him with former USC running back LenDale White for the second-most in Pac-12 history.[+]
Most Career Rushing TDs, Pac-12-History
With 115 rush yards in the 1st half, LaMichael James moved past Marcus Allen into 3rd place all-time in Pac-12 career rushing yards.[+]
Most Career Rushing Yards - Pac-12 History
ESPN Stats & Information