By Ryan Thorburn

The (Eugene) Register-Guard

Next up

Oregon at UCLA

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

TV: Pac-12 Line: Bruins by 6½

EUGENE — Not many players have been able to catch LaMichael James from behind.

It is taking longer than originally planned for Royce Freeman, but Oregon’s star running back has a chance to run down James’ school career rushing record at UCLA on Saturday.

Freeman needs 140 yards to eclipse the 5,082 rushing yards James accumulated with the Ducks in Chip Kelly’s offense during three electrifying seasons (2009-11).

The Bruins’ defense ranks 128th in rushing defense (313 yards per game) out of 129 FBS teams.

“It’s definitely an after-the-season sort of thing, just congratulate everyone that’s helped me get to that point,” Freeman said when asked if he would celebrate becoming Oregon’s all-time leading rusher. “It’s something, if I do reach that benchmark, that I’ll be grateful for.”

Freeman finished with 945 yards and nine touchdowns — subpar statistics by his lofty standards — during an injury-plagued 2016 campaign.

After weighing the pros and cons of entering the NFL draft, Freeman decided to return for his senior season to play for new coach Willie Taggart and new running backs coach Donte Pimpleton.

Taggart coached Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart as an assistant at Stanford.

Marlon Mack, a star running back under Taggart at South Florida last season, was a fourth-round pick who is being groomed by the Indianapolis Colts to replace Frank Gore.

Under Taggart, Freeman has rushed for 797 yards and 10 touchdowns in six games this season.

During last week’s 49-7 loss at Stanford, Freeman was a bright spot on a sputtering offense with 143 yards rushing.

“Just the way the season is going we’re just focused on getting back on track,” Freeman said. “We’ve got to get focused on doing the little things and just improving, putting a better performance out there on Saturdays.”

Freeman is currently tied with James for the Oregon record for most 100-yard games (26) and needs 133 yards to break James’ record for all-purpose yards (5,869).

As a sophomore in 2015, Freeman broke James’ single-season rushing record with 1,836 yards and earned all-America honors.

Freeman was the featured back in 2014 as a true freshman, helping the Ducks get to the inaugural College Football Playoff title game with 1,365 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.

“I just count my blessings,” said Freeman, whose next touchdown will give him the school record for total touchdowns (59). “Durability plays a huge part in that, and the fact that I’ve been able to be durable for that amount of time will be a great thing.

“Just the trainers keeping me healthy and putting me back together during this time has been amazing.”

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