(PHOTO) Kenjon Barner (24) heads to the endzone after catching a pass in Oregon's 72-0 win over New Mexico on Saturday. (Photo by Chris Wilson)
For redshirt sophomore running back Kenjon Barner, it came as an opportunity. For the New Mexico Lobos, it was a nightmare realized.
Saturday afternoon's record-tying performance by the Riverside, Calif. native – who made his first career start at running back – was everything you were looking for if you were at all skeptical of the Ducks' ability to move the ball sans suspended preseason All-American, LaMichael James. In only one half of play, Barner accounted for 225 all-purpose yards (147 rushing, 60 receiving, 18 return) and five touchdowns; PlayStation-like numbers for a player who played as if he was being controlled from a college freshman's dormitory.
"I've said it all along," said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. "I think he's the most underrated player in the country and he got a chance to shine today. He's just such a dangerous weapon – whether it's catching the ball out of the backfield, running the ball, returning kicks – and he's just a sophomore and he's just getting better."
Difficult to imagine Barner coming through with an overall athletic performance that could even come close to rivaling the tremendous effort that was on display in front of a 69th consecutive sellout at Autzen Stadium. In fact, since World War II only twice have Oregon players accounted for 30 points or more in a game, with Saladin McCullough racking up 30 vs. Nevada in 1999, and Barner's 30-point output on Saturday.
"That makes me feel special, I guess," said Barner with a wide grin. "It's a good feeling."
The good feelings started early in the first quarter, as Barner plowed in from one yard out to give the Ducks a 7-0 lead. His second and third touchdowns came about seven minutes later, with touchdowns two and three being separated by only 51 seconds. Barner added to his scoring total in the second quarter, with an electrifying 41 yard scamper and a 60 yard reception on a screen pass from sophomore quarterback Darron Thomas, which Kelly claimed was the most impressive of Barner's five scores.
"He looked like he was bottled up in there pretty good," said Kelly, "but he just kept fighting. He was pressing a little bit early and wasn't patient enough, but he really started to hit his stride late there in the second quarter."
"That was probably the toughest (touchdown)," admitted Barner when asked about his fifth and final touchdown of the day, "I don't know who it was, but I felt somebody on my back. To get away from that and score was pretty special for me."
If not for being pulled off punt return duty late in the second quarter, Barner may have had even more touchdowns, as sophomore cornerback Cliff Harris tied a Pac-10 record by returning two punts for scores in Barner's stead.
"I always want to be out on the field," said Barner. "Whether it's returning punts, running the ball, or tackling somebody; I want to be on the field. To see him do that though, that was special as well. I'm extremely happy for him and proud."
As for any worries about Harris taking Barner's spot…
"Don't slow down at all," laughed Barner. "Make me work. Like I say to him, ‘Go out there and make your money', and that means just go out there and perform and he did that."
Despite the epic 72-0 victory and the record-breaking 720 yards of total offense the Ducks posted, Barner admitted the day was somewhat bittersweet, with James – one of his closest friends on the team – forced to adopt a spectator's vantage point on the sidelines as he served his one-game suspension for domestic abuse charges that were brought against him in February.
"We talked about it (the game) all last week," said Barner. "He wanted to be out there and it's unfortunate that he couldn't. I know it was a tough day for him."
Barner, however, said he was looking forward to next week, as he and James will get their first opportunity to show the nation what they can do when they travel to Knoxville, Tenn. next Saturday to face the Tennessee Volunteers.
"I am excited for that," stated Barner. "LaMichael is a special back. He makes things happen where it doesn't seem like anything should happen and so to get that opportunity to run beside him again is going to be something special."
With the much anticipated matchup with the Volunteers looming right around the corner, Saturday's dominant victory doesn't count as two, as Barner maintained that the win over New Mexico carries little weight if he and his teammates don't focus on next week's task.
"(The win) means absolutely nothing," said Barner. "This (win) is this week and we've got to look at next week now and put this game behind us and continue to keep it rolling."
All the way through Rocky Top, the Ducks hope.
Barner Burns Lobos In Record Style
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