Oregon sets tempo early: Five plays, 75 yards, 1:05 seconds. That was the Ducks first drive against USC on Saturday. Facing their stiffest test of the season thus far on the road, redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota showed poise by leading the Ducks downfield and connecting with sophomore De’Anthony Thomas for a 16-yard touchdown. That set the tone and Oregon never trailed in the ballgame.
Barner enters Heisman debate: Throughout his tenure, Kenjon Barner has been one of the most productive backs in Oregon history. But, for the better part of that time he was sharing carries with former Ducks running back LaMichael James, who also received most of the Heisman Trophy attention as well. Despite taking a majority of the carries this season with James in the NFL, due to Oregon’s propensity to jump out to large leads, Barner has often been pulled early.
On Saturday, Barner showed his full potential by setting a school record with 321 rushing yards (passing the 288 mark that James held) and 5 touchdowns. Using some great blocking, the senior from nearby Riverside, CA, made it look simple on 38 carries, bringing him to 1,295 total rushing yards through nine games. And, remember, this is with limited playing time. Without question, Barner established himself as an elite running back on a national stage on Saturday night and should be in the running for a visit to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremonies if he keeps it up.
Record setting offense: Barner stole the spotlight – deservedly – but the rest of the Ducks offense weren’t too shabby either. In addition to Barner’s dominance, Mariota finished with 20-for-23 with 304 yards passing and four touchdowns in easily the best performance of his career thus far. He connected with seven different receivers on the night, most notably Josh Huff who had six catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
Every time it seemed the Trojans were ready to comeback, Mariota, Barner and Co. shifted momentum in the Ducks favor. It all accumulated to a record 730 yards of offense and 62 points against a team that makes recruiting five star athletes look like a cakewalk. That’s impressive.
The defense could use a tune-up: Last season when the Trojans upset the No. 3 ranked Ducks at Autzen Stadium, quarterback Matt Barkley torched the Ducks young secondary to the tune of 323 yards passing and three touchdowns. Saturday night, Barkley did more of the same, putting up 484 yards passing with five touchdowns. The secondary once again received a harsh lesson courtesy of the prolific passer, as he made throwing deep against the Ducks look downright simple at times.
Barkley picked apart the Oregon secondary with a couple of long touchdowns, and wide receiver Marqise Lee continued to show why he’s an NFL caliber player with 408 all-purpose yards, including 12 catches for 157 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman Nelson Agholor had 162 yards on six catches with a touchdown, and could have had another one if not for losing a catch in the end zone in the first quarter.
Overall the defense looked not so great. Yes, there were injuries to key players (see: Dion Jordan) and the Ducks hadn’t been tested by an offense like this, but it’s not often a team will win a game while giving up 51 points on the road to anybody.
Luckily for the defense, the offense picked up the slack with a big night. And while the defense forced some key turnovers (Ifo Ekpre-Olomu’s end zone interception, Jordan’s fumble recovery at the end of the first half) that prevented potential other scores, it’s hard to say it was a great effort overall. Against more physical teams, the Ducks may not be so lucky. Still, a win is a win.