EUGENE, Ore. – Running back LaMichael James felt it, and so did the rest of the top-ranked Ducks.
There was something inexplicably amiss at the start of Oregon's 53-16 victory over northwest rival Washington on Saturday. Something completely out of character for the nation's most prolific offense.
"I don't know, it was something. We weren't really playing up to standards the first two quarters," said James. "Our tempo wasn't good, I was having some mishaps and other players were having some mishaps. Sometimes you're going to have those games."
The Ducks (9-0, 6-0 Pac-10) were held scoreless in the first quarter for the first time this season. Their first points came on a 29-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
Of course they went on to thoroughly recover, outscoring Washington 35-10 in the second half. James ran for 121 yards and three touchdowns, while Darron Thomas threw for a score and ran for two more.
Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich described the start as "weird."
"I don't know what to attribute that to," he said.
Redshirt freshman Keith Price made his first career start for Washington (3-6, 2-4) in place of Jake Locker, who watched from the sidelines with a broken rib. Price held his own, completing 14 of 28 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown.
He had only completed five of nine attempts going into the game. He threw a touchdown pass on his only play from scrimmage in a 32-31 victory on the road against USC on Oct. 2.
"I think I played OK," Price said. "There were a lot of balls I normally make that I didn't make. That was me being too anxious and excited. I needed to settle down a little bit."
There were questions about how Price would handle the noisy Autzen Stadium crowd, which on Saturday was announced at 60,017 — the largest in the stadium's history.
The yellow-clad throng was not treated to Oregon's usual offensive intensity at the start.
After Oregon opened the scoring with Rob Beard's field goal, Erik Folk's 52-yard attempt for Washington went wide left. But Folk made another 52-yarder later in the quarter to tie the game at 3.
James finally got a touchdown for the Ducks midway through the second quarter with a 1-yard run. Beard ran in the 2-point conversion.
"I know everyone was just expecting us to come out (fast)," Thomas said. "I was just trying to tell them 'Just calm down,' because even the team was 'What's going on, man, what's going on,' and I was like, 'It's going to be all right.'"
Before halftime Thomas ran 34 yards for a score to make it 18-3. Washington appeared to narrow it with less than a minute left with Price's 16-yard scoring pass to Devin Aguilar, but it was called back by a penalty, and the Huskies settled for a Folk's 27-yard field goal to make it 18-6 at the break.
"We are human," James said. "Everybody might not think we are because we score so many points, but you're going to have adversity when you're playing football. You just have to overcome that."
Oregon did overcome it in the second half.
After Price threw a 17-yard scoring pass to D'Andre Goodwin to make it 18-13 at the start of the second half, the Ducks answered with Thomas' 6-yard scoring pass to Jeff Maehl.
Oregon attempted a 26-field goal but Nate Costa bobbled the hold and tried to run it. Costa, Thomas' backup at quarterback, was knocked out of bounds near Washington's bench and appeared to injure his right knee. He left the field on a cart.
There was no immediate word on Costa's condition after the game.
James ran 13 yards for a touchdown before Thomas scored on a 7-yard dash to close out the third quarter. James added a 1-yard scoring run early in the fourth.
James, a sophomore and the nation's rushing leader, has run for 30 TDs at Oregon. He has 16 games with at least 100 yards.
Kenjon Barner, who had missed the past two games after sustaining a concussion against Washington State, ran 30 yards for a touchdown with 4:34 left.
Oregon, as usual, wore the Huskies out.
"We were exhausted," coach Steve Sarkisian said. "We didn't help (our guys) offensively. We didn't sustain drives on offense to give our defense a rest. The game got in their control where they like it so they can go fast and wear you out."
Thomas completed 24 of 33 passes for 243 yards. He ran for 89 yards.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly brushed off the first-half issues.
"You don't get a trophy after halftime. You don't get a trophy after the third quarter. ... We don't look at the scoreboard until the end of the game," Kelly said.
Washington has lost four of their last five games.
The Huskies lead the series against Oregon 58-40-5, but the Ducks have won the last seven games, all by 20 or more points. Last season Oregon won 43-19 at Husky Stadium.
Washington had not faced a top-ranked team since 2007, when it lost to USC 27-24.
Oregon visits California next Saturday, before wrapping up the season against Arizona and at Oregon State.
The Huskies host UCLA then finish on the road against Cal and Washington State.