Byline: Adam Jude The Register-Guard
After meeting with his superstar running back on Friday, Oregon coach Chip Kelly said during a conference call Sunday evening that LaMichael James was still in good spirits and had been at the Casanova Center over the weekend for treatment on the right elbow he dislocated in the Ducks' 43-15 victory over California on Thursday night.
Per his usual injury policy, Kelly did not have a specific update on James' condition and did not say when the nation's leading rusher might be able to return.
James, wearing a sling on his right arm, was rather upbeat in his postgame press conference Thursday, when he vowed to return to the field this season. That response was not a surprise to Kelly.
"Typical LaMichael," Kelly said. "Nothing surprises me with him."
Kelly added that the Ducks aren't "down" because of the injury heading into Saturday's showdown between the No. 9 Ducks (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12) and No. 18 Arizona State (5-1), which comes to Autzen Stadium leading the Pac-12 South with a 3-0 record.
ESPN's popular " College GameDay" show will broadcast from Eugene on Saturday morning. Kickoff is set for 7:15 p.m. for an ESPN broadcast.
Based on the nature of the injury, it's seems likely that James will not be available to play for at least one week, and perhaps longer.
"Injuries happen in college football . ... Every program in the country deals with them," said Kelly, specifically pointing to a handfulof injuries on Arizona State's defense. "It's part of the game. I don't think any coach can be down. It's what we have to deal with. If aplayer's out, a player's out."
Kelly was asked if he had a formula for taking out "key players" in a game that the Ducks have in hand, or appear to have in hand. He said there is "some math" involved, such as "how many possession are left and is there an opportunity (for the opponent) to come back and the average time" of possession.
"I don't believe at 36-15 it was over," he said, noting the score early in the fourth quarter when James was hurt against Cal.
If James is unable to play this week, the Ducks will turn to backups Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and Tra Carson, the latter two being true freshmen. Kelly was asked if he's pleased with the depth developed at running back.
"By and large, yes," he said. "It was the same thing in (fall) camp, when people were asking, 'Oh, you got a million guys, how will they get enough touches?' At that position, especially in this league, guys that last an entire season are very, very rare because it's the one position guys get the ball the most.
"We've been fortunate because LaMichael's a warrior. But we lost Kenjon for points last year ... and there were other times last year when LaMichael was the only guy, and he was carrying more than you want him to.
"So you gotta have a few guys at that position. We'll see how thatdepth really carries itself out if we don't have LaMichael's services."
James was named Sunday the national offensive player of the week by the Walter Camp Foundation after rushing 30 times for 239 yards anda touchdown against Cal.
It was James' third straight game of more than 200 yards rushing, the first player to do that at the FBS level since Tulane's Matt Forte in 2007 and the first Pac-10/12 player to do so since USC's Marcus Allen in 1981.
James leads the nation this season with 170.4 yards rushing per game.
ESPN's visit is usually successful for Ducks
ESPN's " College GameDay" is making its sixth trip to Eugene and third since Kelly took over as head coach in 2009.
The Ducks are 4-1 in the five previous visits.
"I'm excited because we have such great fans and it's a great experience for them," Kelly said "... It says a lot about this town and the way they support college football that (the show wants) to come back here."
Kelly has enjoyed himself when the show has been in town, most notably in 2009 when he secretly donned the Duck mascot head before appearing on set. He also shot a commercial with two of the show's hosts,Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit, this past summer.
"It's a fun thing to be a part of," he said. "I actually have a personality, so maybe people can see it."
Punt-return role could be open for Harris
If James is out, junior cornerback Cliff Harris could move up in line as the team's primary punt returner after being used in that rolefor the first time this season against Cal, when he had two returns for 13 yards.
Harris, suspended for Oregon's season opener, also played most of the fourth quarter in the secondary, breaking up a team-high three passes.
Kelly said Harris' playing time "is all based on how you practice and how you prepare. I've said since Day 1, just because you're reinstated, every person in this program earns their way on the field. ...
"These other guys (in the secondary) are performing well, and Cliff needs to practice better."