The biggest issue with the Oregon Ducks going into this season appeared to be how they'd replace all their players, particularly a dynamo as game-changing as LaMichael James and a two-year veteran signalcaller in Darron Thomas. LaMichael powered that offense forward for much of his three years, and Thomas's accuracy made it near impossible for anyone to stop that offense once it going.
It's clear the potential is there with Marcus Mariota to replace Thomas, but Kenjon Barner is doing his best to show that he's just as capable of James as producing. Barner put up four touchdowns on the board (one short, one intermediate, one long rush), and added catching a pass route out of the end zone. That's the Barner we all expected, the Barner we thought could have the potential to team up with De'Anthony Thomas to become the most devastating one-two punch in the league.
Barner is so sharp at producing yards this way on sharp moves. His ability to move in open space makes him difficult to deal with the more he carries with, because his straightline speed and ability to curve through the blocks. And his knowledge of Chip Kelly's offense has attuned him to churning out the yards. He's not as dynamic as James, but in almost every other aspect his upside appears greater the further he develops.
Speaking of which, the Ducks are clearly still developing as a group after the key losses in the past few weeks. The offense is still spotty and not quite as sharp, and seemed to sputter for much of the game against Washington State. The offensive line looked totally overwhelmed against Washington State on multiple occasions. Mariota seemed uncomfortable in the road environment and threw some bad interceptions. The Oregon defense appeared to struggle with trying to handle the Airraid when they couldn't get to Connor Halliday (although only two of the long drives came in non-garbage time). Despite eventually wracking up 44 points offensively, most of that came due to the feet of Barner, who scored four of those touchdowns.
Oregon will have to improve in many aspects of the game if they plan on staying firm on the path to undefeated. Right now they're good enough to roll through the easy slate of games, but the quality of opponent will only get harder as the weeks go by.
The good news is they'll have Barner to carry them offensively, and he isn't that bad an option to rely on this year.