An Oregon workhorse turns into thoroughbred


Don’t expect Kenjon Barner to brag about what happened at the Coliseum on Saturday evening.

This is a guy who rarely speaks above a whisper.

A guy who gives a wry smile when asked about his ample talents.

“My offensive line, the receivers, the quarterback … everyone just did their job,” he said.

A modest response, but there was nothing modest about what the Oregon running back did to USC on Saturday, gashing the Trojans for 321 yards and five touchdowns.

That is more damage than any opposing running back has ever inflicted on a USC defense. Ever. By a longshot.

The previous high rushing game against USC was 241 yards by Penn State’s Curtis Enis in 1996.

And it offers as good an explanation as any for why the second-ranked Ducks were able to defeat the No. 18 Trojans, 62-51 in this Pac-12 showdown.

“We had to get one or two stops but our defense couldn’t do it,” linebacker Dion Bailey said, adding that Barner is “a slick guy.”

A fifth-year senior, Barner chose to leave Riverside for the rainy environs of Eugene because, he says, he needed to get away from home to mature.

The program he joined has earned a national reputation for its high-speed, no-huddle offense. This season, the quick De’Anthony Thomas and redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota have grabbed many of the headlines.

But the Ducks know that the 5-11, 195-pound Barner is their workhorse, the glue that holds this team together.

In the early going against USC, he was the back who ran for seven yards here, four yards there, keeping the defense honest between Mariota’s passes and Thomas’ end runs.

Then, in the second quarter, he hit a logjam at the line, bounced outside and sprinted for 41 yards, setting up a short touchdown run six plays later to give Oregon a 27-10 lead.

The Trojans had witnessed another facet to his game. As cornerback Nickell Robey said: “He’s explosive.”

As afternoon became evening — and the USC defense began to wear down — Barner bullied his way inside on one play, then beat defenders to the corner on the next. But it wasn’t until the fourth quarter that he left his true imprint.

As Mariota put it, “Kenjon is one of those guys you can really lean on.”

With the clock running down, the Ducks turned to him again and again. He hit the edge for a five-yard touchdown to make the score 55-38, then burst 22 yards for the clinching points.

“He keeps his feet moving,” Bailey said. “You’ve got to wrap up his legs to bring him down.”

LaMichael James — whose shadow Barner played in the last few seasons — watched from the sideline. Barner had no idea he was eclipsing James’ school record for most yards in a game.

Nor did he know what to think of those gaudy numbers when it was over. He said: “I’ll find out tomorrow what it feels like.”

Not that he plans to brag or anything.