Oregon RB #24 Kenjon Barner
Oregon sophomore running back Kenjon Barner gave the Ducks a lift when they needed it the most. In his best game since the season opener vs. New Mexico, No. 24 turned in a clutch performance.
For all the deserved pomp and circumstance surrounding the tremendous efforts this season by running back LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas, there was one player who momentarily stood above all the rest Saturday afternoon at Reser Stadium.
The Ducks did what they have typically done this season in their historic 37-20 win over Oregon State. They played opportunistic defense, they pounded their opposition in to submission with a punishing ground attack, and they walked away with a convincing victory that will send Oregon to its first ever national championship for football in school history.
Yet, with all the build up and excitement leading up to this much anticipated moment, something had been missing.
Since suffering a frightening concussion against Washington State on October 9, Oregon head coach Chip Kelly has lacked the electric talents of the player who may be the Ducks’ greatest “x-factor” on offense this season.
Tonight, however, the Ducks’ head man can rest easy knowing that Kenjon Barner is without a doubt, back.
“To get a healthy Kenjon back is a change of pace,” said Kelly. “I think people may breathe a sigh of relief when you take LaMichael out. When you throw Kenjon in, it makes it very difficult (for a defense).”
Though he accounted for two touchdowns in Saturday’s game against the Beavers, Barner’s impact was felt far beyond the points that were illuminated on the scoreboard. On 15 carries, Barner bolted, churned, and juked his way to 133 yards rushing; spelling a noticeably less than 100 percent James on a number of occasions this afternoon.
“Kenjon’s a great player,” said James, who put in another tough rushing day going for 134 yards and 2 touchdowns on 28 carries. “He came in to the game and he got some long runs; it really helps to have us both because we can always have fresh legs.”
No other play better exemplified Barner’s daisy freshness than his 23-yard touchdown run that put the Ducks up 30-13; effectively breaking the will of the Beaver defense, while simultaneously putting the win on ice for Oregon.
“Kenjon is such a great player, and in a lot of minds, he takes a back seat to LaMichael.” said Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. “Kenjon has just been solid...he can line up anywhere skill position-wise, he’s very smart and obviously can run.”
Barner’s stellar outing was something that Kelly credited to the Riverside, Calif. native’s outstanding week of practice leading up to the 114th edition of the Civil War. Barner admitted as much, saying that the yeoman’s work he put in earlier in the week was testimony to his game on Saturday.
“I didn’t know exactly what kind of game I would have,” remarked Barner. “I had a good week of practice, I worked hard, I was blessed, and I had a good game.”
Getting to a point where hitting his stride was second nature had been a work in progress for Barner, who missed two games over a month’s time after suffering the head injury that rocked this team to the core. In returning to action, Barner says it didn’t take long for him to feel confident out on the football field again; mostly because he had no choice.
“My first play against Washington (I regained my confidence),” said Barner. “After I turned that corner and saw three gold helmets, I had no choice but to get comfortable...just to get back out on the field and play with these guys; it’s a blast.”
The stage is now appropriately set and the Ducks will take on Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers for the BCS National Championship; a fleeting dream finally realized for many an Oregon fan that has waited (sometimes in agony) and witnessed the program’s incremental rise to greatness over the decades. Sitting in the press room deep within the bowels of Gill Coliseum after Oregon’s victory, it was obvious to all in attendance that the gravity of the occasion was neither lost on the coaches and players that will represent the University of Oregon in Glendale, Ariz. on January 10.
After the game, Barner himself may have summed up the inexplicable nature of the moment best.
“This win, you can’t really put it into words right now, it really hasn’t set in what we’ve done as a team...it’s a feeling that’s unexplainable.”
Fortunately, for Barner and company, there are 35 days to put this indelible Saturday to words.
Follow Chris Courtney on Twitter at eDuckCCourtney