The Decline of LaMichael James

What happened to that guy?  I asked myself Saturday night, after seeing Oregon running back LaMichael James being held to just 54 yards on 18 carries against LSU.

Yes, I realize the LSU defense has special athletes.  Yes, I realize James had a sore ankle at one point.

That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about how he has become a shadow of the darting, nimble, explosive player he once was.

I hearken back to his redshirt freshman season opener against Boise State.  The one where LeGarrette Blount hit Byron Hout afterward.  Even in his limited action against the Broncos, I thought James looked like he was going to be really good.

Check out this video of his freshman year and you’ll see why:

The James of 2009 was quick as a whip and he trusted his vision.

One reason for that quickness: He was a lot smaller back then.  I don’t mean short, I mean that he carried less weight, checking in at about 175 pounds.

But, apparently, James has fallen prey to the great strength coach lie of ‘bigger, faster, stronger’, which claims that added weight/muscle mass comes in conjunction with improved speed.

And so, he gained 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason, according to this story by Ken Goe of the Oregonian.  He is now 195 pounds.

The problem is, no one gains 20 pounds of actual muscle in an offseason without using artificial means.  In reality, that 20 pounds he gained probably contained a decent amount of body fat or non-muscle mass.

Whatever the case, all muscle or not, you don’t get faster when you have to carry around 20 more pounds on a 5-7 frame. That’s just common sense and you could see it in how he played on Saturday.

Not only was he not exploding through holes like he used to, he also missed a lot of cutback lanes that he normally would’ve turned into big gains.  It’s as if he doesn’t trust his vision any longer because he knows his speed isn’t there.

You could actually see the beginning of this decline last season.  Granted, I’m aware that James was not 100 percent for much of the time, but in the six games since rushing for 239 yards against USC (in his seventh game of 2010), he has averaged just 95 yards and 4.0 yards per carry.

This is not to say that James won’t have a good 2011.  I fully expect him to gain well over 1,000 yards and have plenty of excellent outings.  But he’ll probably have to do it less efficiently, with more help from his linemen and by carrying the ball more.  That means fewer highlights and less of the spectacular LaMichael we’ve come to know.

To me, he’s just not the back he once was and, as a result, I can’t see him getting back to New York.

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Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.

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29 Responses to The Decline of LaMichael James

  1. jtlight September 6, 2011 at 6:36 am #

    LaMichael James actually dropped body fat over the offseason, from 14 to 7%. He seems to be pretty confident that he’s as fast or faster this season.

    I’ll give him a couple games to get used to his new offensive line before claiming he’s lost a step.

  2. Cotton Bob September 6, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    Found this via I’d like to point out that he’s still a young player…and he’s still maturing and adjusting to his newer physique. I think one game into the season may be a bit premature to write him off. Everyone has off games, even if there aren’t extenuating circumstances to consider.

  3. Adrian September 6, 2011 at 11:36 am #

    This is a bit hasty. His hesitance at the line could logically be attributed to lack of trust in the re-tooled O-Line. It’s possible that LaMike was trying to do too much and was just over-thinking all of his plays. We all know this was an important game and seeing how he has become the best player on the team, he felt (and succumbed) to the added pressure. It’s too early to write him off and the wear he showed at the end of last season isn’t something to just gloss over.

  4. James September 6, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    So you’re a Doctor as well as a football pundit. Not very good at either I’m afraid.

    LMJ was pretty well shut down against Auburn when he weighed less.

    LSU had a great scheme and the personnel to execute it. They spied Darron Thomas, forcing him to pitch the ball to LMJ where they had committed a lot of players to stop him. They could do this because Oregon lost their two senior WR’s and LSU has the DB’s to manage them one on one.

    LSU shut down the running game and it wasn’t because LMJ put on more muscle.

  5. RJ September 6, 2011 at 11:44 am #

    Remember in his FR year he was an unknown and most teams had zero film on him. Now they have a ton of film and is usually their primary defensive target.

  6. James September 6, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    I also might add that Oregon’s strength and conditioning coach, Jim Radcliffe, is widely regarded as one of the best in college football. His slogan is “we want bullets, not bowling balls”.

    There is no way Coach Rad would allow LMJ to bulk up if it affected is ability to perform his duty. LMJ was noticeably more muscular last year, than he was as a freshman and that didn’t slow him down. He’s been adding muscle steadily since he came to Oregon.

    Barner also put on 15 pounds….did he look slower to you?

    Lastly, muscle weighs more than fat, so I’m sure why you’re insinuating that added weight must surely include some fat, especially (as the other reader noted) he cut his body fat from 14% to 7%.

  7. GUSHandGO September 6, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    This is a ridiculous analysis. Try again next week when he has a chance to bust out in the open field against Nevada.

  8. Ferg The Mighty September 6, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    I have noticed these things too. I saw it towards the end of last season when Kenjon actually started making longer bursts than LMJ after he came back from injury.

  9. ydarb22 September 6, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    We must have been watching completely different games. I saw one of the best defenses keying on a rb with no open holes to run through. There were no cutback lanes, as that freak Mingo was crashing toward him from the backside. When there were holes, he hit them.

    He looked plenty fast out of the backfield. My biggest gripe with him is when he gets into the open field with multiple dbs to beat. He tends to hesitate or change direction too much. I prefer him to lower his shoulder and run over the dbs.

  10. James September 6, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

    Running backs Coach Gary Campbell just verified that LaMichael James improved his 40 time in the offseason.

    So, there’s that.

  11. GoDux2012 September 6, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

    Holy phuck ballz you’re an idiot.

    A) This was ONE game against the #2 team in the nation and the best defense that Oregon has EVER faced and that includes Ohio State and Auburn

    B) This comment is completely ignorant: “James has fallen prey to the great strength coach lie of ‘bigger, faster, stronger’, which claims that added weight/muscle mass comes in conjunction with improved speed.” This is the ANTI-THESIS of what Oregon’s strength coach preaches to Oregon players. Many of Oregon players LOSE WEIGHT after arriving at Oregon. Just because they gain weight does not mean that they will lose speed.

    C) LMJ ran a 10.76 100M outdoors just a few months ago. This is similar to times he ran INDOORS last year. Watcht this:

    D) LMJ says is he is faster. I will believe him over you.

    You blew your wad a little early with this one and will look foolish after his performance against Nevada this weekend.

  12. Lily September 6, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    YES! to all the Replies! Hope you aren’t as quick to make a final diagnosis of your patients.

    Funning aside: Your judgement based on one game represents what has become a major problem with our world society. Guilty before proven innocent. No room for honest development as a human. It’s rush to school/work, rush at school/work, rush, rush, rush. I should say “pushed”, pushed. Normal reactions called not enough, too much, inappropriate, what will be forever after. The printed and spoken word sent out to millions with little or no real verification if they are correct or true. As a voting member for the Heisman, you might consider letting the game come to you instead of you rushing into the game. You’ll make a wiser call in the end.

  13. AUman76 September 6, 2011 at 11:22 pm #

    Well hell HP….why can’t you just admit the SEC is better than your west coast boys? Your top
    team is now 0 fer 2 against top teir SEC teams. It’s easy to run up the stats against terrible
    defenses and you know that. That’s why USC always ended up winning the pac1. They had
    the offense to beat all the pitiful defenses out there. As soon as USC get’s out from under
    probation…the Quack Attack will be muted. USC is and always will be the only team out west
    that has enough talent to win on a national level. By the way Boise still sucks but just not as
    bad as the Jawja power rangers they played.
    To make matters even worse…now Maryland has dethroned the ducks as the ugliest dressed
    team in history!

  14. Eric L September 7, 2011 at 8:40 am #

    I watched both highlight reels objectively. He looks just as fast this year, maybe faster. He did hesitate more in the open field though. LSU played some zone in there, shutting down the long ball. Oregon didn’t run much misdirection or their typical side to side movement. He appeared to mostly hit the holes where they were designed and took what the defense gave. LSU obviously strategized to take away the long gainer, they were disciplined at the line of scrimmage and didn’t overcommit. I saw a lot of 4-8 yard gainers in there. Where LSU really flew to the ball was on Oregon’s recievers. Tunei can’t run less than a 4.7. James was doing a good job of following his blockers, but they were rarely getting to the second level.

  15. James Stephenson September 7, 2011 at 9:18 am #

    You can not blame HP, he has to find an escape goat for his beloved spread getting beat by a running team. The old plodding 4 yards and a cloud of Dust offense.

  16. Jon Wright September 7, 2011 at 10:37 am #

    Idiot!!!…….One game does not a carreer make. That is especially true when it is the first game of the season. Defenses are ALWAYS more advanced than the offense early on, and that is only heightened when one team has a truely great defense. I really hate to see two top teams face off in the first game of the season, because you get no true reading on what either team has to offer. The most team improvement occurs between the first and second game of the season, and that is basically why the major teams all try to schedule cupcake opponents to open the season. No matter how good a team is on paper, playing at full speed is something that simply can´t be duplicated in only a practice scenario.

    The Ducks fell victim to freshman errors, turnovers, and penalties, and basically gave away 20 points. I don´t think that is a trend yet, and would not be willing to bet the farm against the Ducks, but those events changed entirely what Oregon had in mind for a game plan…….. Hard to play catchup, in the 4th quarter with the running game.

    It really pisses me off when idiot writers rush to knock a proven, awesome player off the same pedestal that they put that player on in the first place, especially when it is all based on nothing more than speculation. If you want to dis James, wait until the season is actually over so you have some real facts, and information to deal with!! Idiot!

  17. Anthony September 7, 2011 at 11:18 am #

    Did anyone else notice that he was cramping half the game as well…… or was that just me…….? Kinda hard to run without your legs no matter how explosive, agile, and fast you are.

  18. D Kinzer September 7, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    The author of this piece either does not follow Oregon Football or even football for that matter, LeMichael has not lost anything, his numbers our down from the USC game because Nate Costa (backup QB) was hurt and Darron Tomas has not ran the ball, one reason the spread is successful is because the QB runs when he reads the DE and it keeps the defense from keying on the RB, well guess what, when you don`t run the QB they target the RB, thats why his numbers are down, because of Darron Thomas! So use your head, what he lost it in one year? C`mon idiots!

  19. AUman76 September 7, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

    Jon and Anthony, James seems to have no problem with craps or anything else when going up against pitiful excuses of a defense. But when facing a solid SEC run defense he is just another back. As bad as the Auburn defense has been at times even former Heisman winner from bammer, Ingram failed to crack 100 yards. Matter of fact don’t think he totaled the century mark the last two seasons combined. That’s what big, strong, fast defensive linemen do to you. Someday things may even out across the football world but right now the SEC’s best is THE BEST PERIOD! Okie better enjoy that #1 ranking cause it’s a gift from the media to one of it’s Darlings and not earned. The SEC is about to deep six that crystal ball in 2011. The SEC Championship Game is the Real NC GAME! Win it and get sized for the next ring. Arrogant? If it weren’t true I would be but facts are facts. 5 in a row says it all for now. If the rest of the nation don’t like it…..beat us. The media is all over Boisie again after beating UGA. LOL The Dawgs are pitiful and the rest of the SEC knows it. But the talkin heads have BSU in the BSC BOWL if they run the table. Sorta hope they do and have to face bammer or LSU. That game will put an end to all the underdog BCS buster crap once and for all.

  20. Matthew September 10, 2011 at 11:53 am #

    AUman, might I suggest you get off your high horse before you eat your own words?

    Granted yes, the SEC is a great conference and I do believe they will continue to hold strong, but to hold down the PAC12 or any other conference just because of a conincidental streak doesn’t mean your going to continue. As said in history, nothing is forever, and the SEC will fall. I do believe this season the SEC wont touch a Crystal Ball. I think Bama might be in the NC game, but my money is on Stanford from PAC12 or maybe even Texas A&M waltzing on in there and taking it by surprise.

    I am a Ducks fan and as much as I want to go back to the NC game, I don’t think we can really get back there with our slight lack in skill this season. Yes last season we were golden and beautiful. Polished and we have the ability to get back to that calibur, but we need our veterans of last season to show our new guys how it’s done and continue to be the role models. Lets not forget this is Chip Kelly’s 3rd season as Head Coach and he’s been to 2 big Bowl Games in a row. Rose Bowl (We lost to Ohio State) and NC (Loss to Aubrun). Granted they were losses, but we’ve managed to stay top of PAC 10 and keep up our run. We will fight hard against Stanford and USC, but we will need to have our A Game, and that game against LSU wasn’t it. We got Harris, and I’m sure LMJ has gotten his kinks figured out, so against Nevada we can begin to climb back to the top (I know a win wont get us higher in the rankings, but it’ll grant that nostalgia of how we really play).

    Either way, LMJ isn’t out just yet. He didn’t even PLAY against New Mexico last season and he still managed to become a Finalist. Yeah he did okay against LSU, but the way I see it, this is just a head start from Last Season…


  21. AUman76 September 12, 2011 at 11:14 pm #

    You gonna lose dat money! Stanford ain’t a gonna win jack shit. Texas A&M? You’re high right? Gotta be smoking some really good stuff if you believe they will win anything. But if they are to see a BCS Crystal Ball they better do it before entering the SEC. They will become the new Arkansas, Mississippi State and Ole Piss. In other words just a pretender never a real contender. SEC doesn’t care about A&M all they want is more access to Texas HS kids.
    By the way it’s spelled A U B U R N!
    Golden and beautiful? Were y’all in a beauty contest or a football game? Seems y’all have found a way to tarnish gold. Once, “Fill” up the recruits pockets Knight gets caught up with y’all goin to the toliet bowl like you use to do. Nike uses Oregon as a live ad and has made having no tradition and ugly uni’s their new tradition.
    By the way once USC get’s off the the hook your ducks are screwed. Utah and Colorado have really improved the SOS for the pac1 huh? lmao Keep dreaming while I get to talk facts. FIVE (5)…in a row and counting!!!!!!

  22. AUman76 September 14, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

    as you noticed the answer to question #1 is a big ol’ NAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY, gitty up Horsey!

  23. Tidey September 25, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

    sigh..same ole silly media always jumping the gun to make the story…

  24. Autzensane September 27, 2011 at 8:36 am #

    Did you see big, fat, slow, LaMichael slowly walk his way to 288 yards on Saturday. Granted it was against a beat up Arizona D, but suck on that.

    • Heismanpundit September 27, 2011 at 10:57 am #

      Yup, sure did. Never said he wouldn’t be productive again. But what I did say was that he is no longer the speed back he once was. And if you watched the game, you saw him getting caught quite a bit. Getting big yards against bad defenses like Arizona and SWMO State does not prove me wrong.

      • Holden September 29, 2011 at 9:06 pm #

        I am just a kid but he is my idle and he is fast he is just Nevis with the new kid it’s just that much more he has to deal with so just wait and see!!!!!!!!!

      • ds October 3, 2011 at 5:10 am #

        What actually proves you right? one game? to say that you could see his decline coming on at the end of last season is funny based on the reason you gave.

        Then claiming you never said he wouldn’t be productive again gives you such an out, doesn’t it?

        Leading the nation in rushing, all-purpose yds and punt returns after four games.

        Where is the decline?

        Just admit that this “story” is just filler for your website, based on nothing concrete to back up your silly idea.

      • Tucker October 6, 2011 at 8:51 pm #

        Mr. Huston, you really should just admit that you were wrong and not try to defend your now indefensible article. Seriously, give it up.

        • Heismanpundit October 9, 2011 at 9:05 pm #

          James was run down by Kendricks of Cal in the open field. Point proved. I never said he sucked, just said he wasn’t as fast as he used to be. Open your eyes.