Barner roars into the Heisman conversation
November, 3, 2012
By Ted Miller | ESPN.com
LOS ANGELES -- Oregon turned in a singular, historic offensive performance against USC in the Ducks' 62-51 victory on Saturday in front of 93,607 fans in the Coliseum. No team has ever gained 730 yards or scored 62 points on the Trojans.
That's in 120 years of football. Heck, it's 107 yards more than Notre Dame piled up in 1946 in setting the mark that lasted 66 years.
The man at the center of this Ducks feeding frenzy is an unassuming guy who just earned his emphatic "hello world" moment: Running back Kenjon Barner. And by "hello world," we mean, "Here's your ticket to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony."
Said one observer, "I think that he's the best player -- that's singular, not plural. I think he deserves the Heisman. He should be right up there with everyone else. He's been doing it day in and day out. If they weren't beating people so bad, he'd probably have 2,000 yards right now. He's great."
That observer would be LaMichael James, a former Ducks running back and Heisman finalist himself, and he was reacting to Barner shattering James' team single-game rushing record of 288 yards, set last year against Arizona. Shattering? Barner rushed for 321 yards and five touchdowns against a Trojans' run defense that entered the game ranked 29th in the country, giving up 123 yards per game. That defense gave up just six rushing touchdowns in its previous eight games.
Barner and James, now with the San Francisco 49ers, just happen to be best buddies who talk frequently.
"I'm happy that he broke that record," James said. "Anytime your best friend can break your record, it means more. It's like, 'Man, my record got broken. But Kenjon broke it, so it's OK.'"
Barner entered the game ranked 10th in the nation in rushing. He now has 1,295 yards on the ground, and his 143.88 yards per game would have ranked second last week. He now averages 7.23 yards per carry and has scored 19 touchdowns, numbers that will rank among the very best in the nation this week.
With a potential injury to Collin Klein, Kansas State's multi-talented field general, it's possible Barner could even become a threat for the Heisman front-runner position.
Barner, who also caught two passes for 26 yards, including a 12-yard reception that converted a key third down in the fourth quarter, would hardly rate as euphoric after the game. He didn't seem too surprised with the way his and the Ducks offense's evening went.
"I've said it before and I'll keep saying it. People doubt, I don't," he said. "I know what I'm capable of. I know what this team is capable of."
Barner had 169 yards at halftime and 250 yards entering the fourth quarter. Of his 38 carries, he lost yardage on only one.
And, yes, he'd like to get Heisman consideration.
"It would absolutely be meaningful," he said. "Who doesn't want to get invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony?"
Barner's touchdown runs covered 27, 5, 9, 5 and 22 yards. He sliced the Trojans from the outside and diced them inside. The 5-foot-11, 192-pound senior simply couldn't be stopped.
"He's a warrior -- he's had an unbelievable impact on our team," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "He's the one leader of [the offense] and he's really embraced that role and our guys follow him. Not only does he talk about it, but he lives it. It's the same way in practice.'
And Barner is a true believer in the Tao of Chip Kelly. Ask him about big-picture questions, the kind of query that Kelly knocks away with a smirk, and he doesn't even sniff the bait.
Such as: Did he and the Ducks make a statement by running all over the Trojans?
"There is no statement to be made," he said. "We just come out and play football. If you come out playing with a mindset of your having to make a statement, you're not focused on the task at hand."
At 9-0, and on the cusp of moving up in the BCS standings, Oregon again looks like a national title contender. While Barner won't look past the next weekend, or attempt to sell his team to national pollsters and pundits, he will make clear what he thinks of the 2012 Ducks.
Said Barner, "I feel like we're the best team in the country on any night."
Maybe. It's becoming increasingly clear that the Ducks might be -- again -- the best offensive team in the country. And that Barner may be the best offensive player.