PULLMAN, Wash. – Every time LaMichael James took the ball, he wasn't thinking of the end zone he so often visits.
He was thinking of his Oregon teammate Kenjon Barner and the sight of Barner being taken off the field in an ambulance.
"Every play I did, Kenjon was in my mind," James said.
James scored three touchdowns, including an 84-yard scoring reception, and No. 3 Oregon shook Washington State in the second half for a 43-23 win on Saturday.
But this wasn't the blowout most expected. And whether it was the lingering image of Barner being taken to the hospital following a scary collision or the improvement of Washington State, the Ducks made just enough plays to hold off the pesky Cougars.
Even for the big boys, style points count. Not that Chip Kelly's crew is going to apologize for a 20-point victory that could elevate the Ducks to No. 2 come Sunday.
"Why would I be No. 2?" Kelly wondered when asked about moving up following top-ranked Alabama's loss. "I don't care. I could care less about that."
Oregon's offense failed to run with the crisp perfection that blitzed Stanford ad week ago and flew the Ducks past Boise State in the AP Top 25.
Whether it was enough for the Ducks to hold their spot in the polls remains to be seen. Oregon (6-0, 3-0) was a 36-point favorite, yet led just 36-23 late in the third quarter.
Part of that could have been the scary sight of Barner laying motionless on the field in the first quarter.
Barner was flattened on a kickoff return by Washington State's Anthony Carpenter. As Carpenter ran full speed through a block, he collided with Barner, first glancing off Barner shoulder and then colliding with his helmet.
Barner fumbled and crumpled to the turf. Trainers quickly rushed out and tended to Barner for more than 10 minutes, at one point bringing out a neck brace and backboard. But Barner eventually sat up, walked with assistance to a stretcher and was transported by ambulance to Pullman Regional Hospital where he was listed in stable condition.
He is expected to stay the night in Pullman before returning to Eugene.
"I thought our guys were pretty focused after that. Injuries are part of the games and you have to deal with 'em," Kelly said. "It's just tough when you have injuries like that and there is an ambulance that comes on the field, but I thought our kids did a pretty good job handling it after that."
Barner wasn't the only injury for the Ducks to deal with. Quarterback Darron Thomas left in the second quarter with a right shoulder injury that he said afterward he could have come back from, but was held out for precautionary reasons. Thomas tried warming up on the sideline, but Kelly decided to rest his starter.
And why not with the way Nate Costa played.
Costa led a trio of scoring drives including his own 18-yard TD run early in the second half to give Oregon a 36-17 lead. Costa ran for 84 yards and threw for another 151 on 13 of 15 passing. Jeff Maehl caught 10 passes for 119 yards, including a screen pass he took 34 yards for a touchdown with 11:45 left that sealed the victory.
Cliff Harris added a 67-yard punt return touchdown in the first half, his third punt return score of the season.
James finished for 136 yards on 25 carries, more than half those yards coming on two runs against a Washington State defense giving up more than 43 per game.
"We did a lot of the same things throwing the ball, running the ball, just trying to get the ball to our playmakers," Costa said. "For me it was just kind of like practice. I saw all these looks in practice this week and I just carried it over. I'm proud I played this way."
Jeff Tuel threw for 245 yards and a touchdown and James Montgomery added a 26-yard TD run in the first half for Washington State (1-5, 0-3). Jared Karstetter had 10 catches for 106 yards, and a year after getting held to just 151 yards in a 52-6 loss to Oregon, the Cougars rolled up 336 on Saturday.
And they had a chance in the second half to make the Ducks very uncomfortable.
Down 36-17, Washington State scored on Daniel Blackledge's leaping 11-yard grab, getting flipped on his head as he came down. It was just the second second-half touchdown allowed by Oregon this season.
Then the Cougars got the break they needed when James fumbled after a 55-yard run.
Tuel quickly drove the Cougars down the Oregon 12, thanks largely to a 35-yard fade pass to Karstetter. On first-and-10, Tuel threw into triple coverage and was intercepted by Oregon's Casey Matthews at the 2.
"I got a little greedy, a little excited and wanted to get in the end zone," Tuel said. "I took a shot I probably shouldn't have. ... That hurt, that hurt big time."
Logwone Mitz also had a 1-yard TD run for Washington State that followed Barner's fumble and gave the Cougars an early 14-8 lead.
"They are the defending champions, are leading the league right now, may be the best team in the country," Washington State coach Paul Wulff said. "We went out and fought and played hard and grew up in some areas."