After playing in LaMichael James' shadow for three seasons, Kenjon Barner has been Oregon's prime-time running back this fall.
In recent years, the little guys in Oregon’s offensive backfield have gotten all the attention.
First it was LaMichael James, the 5-foot-9, 195-pounder who jitterbugged his way to the top of the Ducks’ all-time rushing list.
Then came De’Anthony Thomas, the 5-9, 176-pounder who accumulated 2,235 all-purpose yards — the second-highest season mark in school history — and scored 18 touchdowns last year. After his incredible freshman debut, Thomas was projected to be an early Heisman Trophy candidate this season.
“Best college football athlete I have ever in my life seen!” James tweeted about Thomas.
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With so much focus on Oregon’s speedsters, Kenjon Barner has gone relatively unnoticed even though he has compiled 2,461 yards and 35 touchdowns the past four seasons.
If No. 23 Washington is going to snap its eight-game losing streak against No. 2 Oregon (5-0) on Saturday at Autzen Stadium, the Huskies will need to slow down Barner.
“I’m probably underrated,” Barner said. “That’s for (the media) to decide. I’m just here to do my job. I’m not worried about whether people know about me or whether there’s hype about me or things like that. I’m here to get my job done, and my job is to run that ball.”
At 5-11 and 195 pounds, Barner is the workhorse in Oregon’s prolific attack that ranks fourth in the country, averaging 303 rushing yards and 52.4 points.
Unlike James and Thomas, he’s built in the mold of Jonathan Stewart and LaGarrette Blount, former Oregon running backs who combined power and speed.
“There’s a great history of running backs that have been here,” Barner said. “All that means to me is I’ve got to get the job done. I’m not worried about guys that were here prior to me. My focus is to be with this team in the present and do what I need to do to help us win.”
Barner has been sensational in relief the past three years, but after five games this season he’s proven he can carry the load as a feature back. He ranks sixth in the nation with 605 yards and is tied for third with 10 touchdowns, nine rushing.
“Along with LaMichael, he’s been our two main horses, running-wise,” coach Chip Kelly said. “He’s had some great games, Kenjon. LaMicheal didn’t play against Arizona State and Kenjon had a great game, ran for 171 that game.
“I’ve had a ton of confidence in Kenjon. I think he’s one of the better backs in this country.”
Barner has had big games before, but his virtuoso performance in Saturday’s 51-26 victory against Washington State might have been this breakthrough moment.
He carried 20 times for a career-high 195 yards. He finished with three rushing touchdowns, including an 80-yard score in the fourth quarter. He also caught three passes for 37 yards and a 30-yard touchdown reception.
While Thomas has been held in check the past two games, Barner has stepped to the forefront.
“De’Anthony is more of their fly-sweep guy and Barner is like their everydown back,” UW junior safety Sean Parker said. “They’re both great players, and they both have great speed. We’ve got to do a good job of containing them both.”
Washington boasts a defense that’s ranked second in the Pac-12 in yards allowed. In last week’s 17-13 win over No. 8 Stanford, Washington held the run-oriented Cardinal to 235 yards and 65 on the ground.
After UW’s win over Stanford, James tweeted: “Be happy UW when you head to Eugene reality will kick in and you will go home with that tail curled like a good puppy.”
When asked about James’ prediction, Barner sidestepped the question as if it were a would-be tackler.
“I have no comment on that,” he said laughing. “We talked about it, but I have no comment. He can say what he wants to say.”
Still, Barner refers to James as a mentor and credits his relationship with Thomas for making him a better running back.
“He makes a big play, then I want to make a big play,” Barner said.
“I know De’Anthony is going to get out there and make electrifying plays. But more than just being a football player, it’s his character and who he is as a person. This kid has that much talent and he’s so humble. There’s no type of arrogance about him.”
|Stepping out of the shadows|
|Oregon senior running back Kenjon Barner shared the backfield the previous three years with LaMichael James and was overshadowed at the start of the season by sophomore De’Anthony Thomas, who drew early Heisman Trophy consideration. Barner, who ranks sixth in the nation with 605 rushing yards, is poised for a breakout season.|