In a hyped matchup of superstars that featured Matt Barkley, Marquise Lee, De’Anthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota, it was another, less glamorous player who was the difference in Oregon’s 62-51 shootout win over USC on Saturday night.
His name is Kenjon Barner, and he not only had a night to remember, but one that set the Los Angeles Coliseum record books on fire. In the process, he pushed Oregon one step closer to their second BCS title game appearance in three years.
On Saturday Barner was the answer to all of Oregon’s questions and a nightmare from which Lane Kiffin and Co. might never wake up from. In a game filled with staggering stat lines, Barner had the most shocking one of all, finishing the game with five touchdowns and 321 yards on 36 carries. Included were a crucial third quarter score and two more touchdowns in the fourth to put the final nail in USC’s coffin.
It also launched Oregon’s best case for being one of two teams to play in the BCS National Championship in January.
Entering Saturday, there were plenty who questioned the Ducks resume as true title contenders, and to be fair, those questions were legitimate. Oregon was 8-0 yes, was the No. 1 scoring team in college football and had beaten their opponents by an average of 34 points per game entering the weekend. That was all well and good, until you actually looked at that schedule. It featured six of eight games at home in Autzen Stadium, a seventh against Washington State on a neutral field, and a grand total of zero wins over ranked opponents.
As much as we knew about the Ducks entering Saturday, question still remained.
And well, to be blunt, most all of them were answered Saturday night.
From the start Oregon jumped out and blitzed USC, taking a 7-0 lead just 65 seconds into the game, and had a commanding 34-17 lead in the middle of the second quarter. They took a 10 point lead into halftime.
But as many times as Oregon put points on the scoreboard, they couldn’t shake USC, a club which lost any shot of winning a BCS title after last week’s defeat at Arizona, but one which still had plenty to play for, including more than anything, pride.
And once the Trojans got past a slow first quarter, USC seemed to have a counter to everything Oregon did. Matt Barkley hit Marquise Lee for a big 75-yard pass early in the second, and followed it right before the half with another deep ball to freshman Nelson Agholor. For most of the night, USC proved why they were in everyone’s preseason Top 5.
Of course when it counted, Oregon showed why now in November, they are in everyone’s BCS National Championship conversation. And it was because of this: Like every great team, when Oregon needed a big play, they always seemed to get one.
And it always seemed to come from Barner.
Seeing the Ducks in person (which I had the opportunity to do on Saturday night) proved to me that this is a team with more than just “fast” players, but guys who are well-rounded, complete football players. As fast as they are, Oregon’s backs also have great footwork, agility and strength to go along with their speed.
No one epitomized that more than Barner, who seemed to pick up an extra yard or two after contact every time he touched the ball, whether he was toeing the sidelines, cutting a run between the tackles to the outside, or pushing the pile for an additional gain. He also seemed to have no problem breaking off a long run when the opportunity allowed him.
The drive which best showed that was late in the third quarter, with Oregon clinging to a 40-31 lead. USC had just driven to open the second half, and one stop could’ve completely swung the game in the Trojans’ favor.
Only Barner and Co. wouldn’t let that happen.
They went on an epic, nine-play, 75-yard drive down the field, featuring a staggering seven runs by Barner himself, including a two-yard gain on fourth down which completely took the sails out of USC. Chip Kelly knew he couldn’t settle for a field goal in the position, and put it on his senior back to pick up the big yards when the team needed them. Barner did that, and three plays after converting the fourth down, scored a touchdown to put the Ducks up 41-31. USC would never come closer than the three points that they trailed at that exact moment.
It was that kind of night for Oregon, and that kind of night for Barner.
The Oregon Ducks proved to the college football world they are true BCS title contenders.
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