Two 200-yard rushing performances. Two Pac-12 Championship victories. Two Pac-12 Championship MVPs. Two different Ducks in seperate eras, bonded as greats.
On December 2, 2011, Oregon running back great LaMichael James and the Ducks beat UCLA to win the inaugural Pac-12 Championship game, a game that was played in Autzen Stadium.
James won the Pac-12 Championship Game MVP while rushing for 220 yards on 25 carries and three touchdowns. It was the junior’s fourth game of the season with 200 or more yards on the ground.
James still holds the record for most yards in the Pac-12 title game, with CJ Verdell’s clutch 208-yard performance (that earned the 2019 Pac-12 crown and ended Utah’s College Football Playoff dreams) ranking second most.
Yet, James says Verdell’s three-touchdown feat outdoes his own.
To be honest, CJ’s performance against Utah tops mine… Utah’s defense is remarkable and always has been. This year, they at the top of conference and he went out there and hung 200 on them. –LaMichael James
Against the nation’s No. 1 rushing defense, Verdell made history. The Utes entered the game allowing an average of 56.3 yards per game, with only one team to rush for over 100 yards. Verdell doubled that amount alone with 208 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown, which was the longest run in Pac-12 title game history.
The offensive line opened up some nice holes and the receivers blocked extremely well but CJ ran hard and aggressive. He really wore that defense down, you could tell later in the game. I love the toughness he runs with. He’s a no-nonsense type of running back. He isn’t wasting anytime time hitting the hole. I love it. –LaMichael James
James and Verdell have a lot in common. The two have never met in person, just the occasional message about James’ tasty Killer Burgers over social media. However, they are linked in Oregon football record books.
Verdell also earned the Most Valuable Player trophy for his performance, which was second most all-time rushing in the Pac-12 championship game behind James in 2011. The clutch performance sent Verdell over the edge to surpass 1,000 rushing yards for the second-consecutive season, becoming the fifth Oregon running back to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back years and the third to do it as a freshman and sophomore (joining James and Royce Freeman).
What’s it like for Verdell to join that elite company?
It's great, man. LaMichael James, he was a legend here in Oregon. To be with the likes of him, it's just a blessing. –CJ Verdell
Comparisons have been made between Verdell and James, who both stand at 5-foot-9. It's ironic, considering Verdell models his game after James. What does Verdell try to emulate about James?
How fearless he was when he ran the ball. I try to keep the mentality that even though we are kind of smaller backs, we can still run hard. –CJ Verdell
James knew Verdell, a four-star prospect out of Mater Dei High School in Chula Vista, Calif., was going to be a weapon for Oregon when he watched his high school highlights. After reaching 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight season, Verdell has literally steamrolled over James’ expectations.
Individual success can only carry you so far, but I don’t think Oregon’s record would be like this without him. –LaMichael James
Now, the No. 6 Oregon Ducks face their biggest challenge yet of the season: No. 8 Wisconsin in the 106th Rose Bowl. It’s the biggest game of Verdell’s Duck career and the largest opportunity to etch his impact deeper into Oregon football history.
It won’t be Verdell’s last game. The running back intends to return for his redshirt-junior season, which gives the Ducks the leading returning rusher in the Pac-12 and among the leaders in the country. It also provides a major weapon for the 2020 Oregon team to build their ground and pound offense around.
In his 2019 season finale, Verdell faces the No. 8 run defense and No. 10 scoring defense in the Badgers. It’ll be a test but Verdell and Oregon aren’t afraid of lining up against physically imposing teams. Hearing that Utah was the most physical team in the Pac-12, leading up to the championship game, gave Verdell “a chip on his shoulder”.
Eight years ago it was James who ran with a chip on his shoulder. On January 2, 2012, James rushed for 159 yards on 25 carries with one touchdown to help Oregon beat Wisconsin 45–38 in the Rose Bowl. While Verdell may be emulating James on January 2, 2020, James will be cheering for Verdell. James says he will “make it happen” for the two to meet. If it were up to James, maybe even as the assistant running backs coach.
Talk about a legendary situation!