The USC Trojans brought it all tonight in a shoot out in the Coliseum. Marcus Mariota, Kenjon Barner and the Oregon Ducks were just better.
Kenjon Barner slipped one tackle, juked past another, then raced past all the others for a touchdown.
That didn't just happen once, twice, or three times. FIVE TIMES the Oregon Ducks running back scooted into the end zone, kept the flyers from Eugene just ahead of the USC Trojans, and eventually kept the Mighty Ducks on track for a date with destiny in Miami.
There were a lot of questions about whether Barner could be the one who would step up and replace LaMichael James as the feature back for Oregon. Not only was he more than able to produce this season, he's shattering mark after mark that James set. He rushed for the five TDs, tying a school mark, and the 321 yards passed LaMichael's single-game record. LaMichael has had plenty of great performances in a Duck uniform, but none of them were as complete as the one his partner-in-crime put together in the Coliseum.
Barner is proving to be just as strong and able as James was at running the football. He's able to shed arm tackles without much effort. He's able to stay consistent and has proven he can be plenty durable given a strong number of carries. And his ability to stretch the field from sideline to sideline makes him a total pain to deal with anywhere on the field. Add in the fact that he can pass catch and he's the type of three tool running back that makes him perhaps the most complete back to every pass through Chip Kelly's system.
Of course, Barner's job only got easier because of how well Marcus Mariota managed the offense. Mariota only had three incompletions (one of them nearly a pick-six, his only bad decision). He was efficient at spreading the football around--seven Ducks had the football in their hands. Mariota went down the field without much of a problem as teams committed to the run, and threw short when teams sat back. He knew where he had to go with the football and made good, accurate decisons all nice. If not for botching a handoff that killed a promising Oregon drive, it would've been just as flawless a performance for Mariota as it was for Barner.
De'Anthony Thomas didn't do much (five catches, 60 yards and a touchdown suddenly don't count for much), but his very presence on the field makes things easier for the rest of the offense. Someone has to always be watching out for the Black Mamba, taking one less defender out of the play and keeping the box unstacked for the Ducks to exploit with Mariota and Barner.
This triple threat offense was plenty. The threat of Thomas, the skills of Barner, the efficiency of Mariota all came into play to not just beat USC's defense, but totally overwhelm them at every critical juncture. When the USC offense made a play to come back, Oregon's defense was right there to overwhelm them. Add in some excellent wide receiver blocking and the occasional slippage of a Duck behind Trojan defenders aiming to stop the run, and Oregon had their way.
The Oregon offense turned loose for 35 points and over 400 yards of offense on their first five drives. After the Trojan defense finally managed some stops, the beginning of the second half was very much the same: Three drives, 230-plus yards, three touchdowns. The points kept coming, the yards soared over 700, and the Ducks buried the Trojans under an avalanche of speed and tempo.
It was thankful that the offense clicking, because the other units definitely needed some picking up. The special teams gave up huge returns to Marqise Lee. After the defense held their end of the bargain for much of the year, they finally found a tough matchup for them in the USC skill players. Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal managed to grind plenty at the line of scrimmage and pick up decent yardage, and Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor and Robert Woods all managed to find the football. Matt Barkley had a good performance (the two picks hurt), and against any other team it might have been enough.
But Oregon brought their best offensively. And no one, not even the Men of Troy, has a chance at stopping those Ducks when they play like that.