LOS ANGELES — Kenjon Barner returned to his old stomping grounds Saturday. And what a return it was. The senior running back for Oregon, and Southern California native, was seemingly unstoppable in a 62-51 Pac-12 Conference victory over USC at the Coliseum.
A high school graduate from nearby Riverside (Calif.) Notre Dame, who had family members and friends in attendance, Barner rushed for a Ducks' single-game record 321 yards on 38 carries. He broke the previous mark of 288 set by LaMichael James against Arizona last year.
Interestingly enough, the San Francisco 49ers running back was on the sidelines to watch Barner break his record Saturday and also score five touchdowns in the process.
"I'm a Los Angeles guy, I don't own the city, I don't have enough money. It was nice, though, to be back at home, where it all began for me,'' Barner said. "I saw a lot of familiar faces in the crowd. There's no better feeling than playing in front of my people, and doing it against USC.''
Barner got off to a particularly fast start for the second-ranked Ducks (9-0 overall, 6-0 Pac-12) against the Trojans (6-3, 4-3). He gained 63 yards on his first nine carries.
It was more of the same in the second quarter. More of Barner moving the chain. At the end of the second quarter, he had 169 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His 27-yard run at the 14:48 mark and 5-yarder with 11:27 remaining in the first half gave Oregon a 34-24 lead at the break.
"I think Kenjon was feeling it tonight,'' NFL rookie James said.
Barner went back to work in the second half. He found the end zone on a 9-yard run with 5:14 remaining in the third quarter to extend the advantage to 48-38. Entering the final 15 minutes of play, Barner had 250 yards. And he was not done. Not even close to being finished, in fact.
Barner scored on a 5-yard run with 9:15 left and found pay dirt for the final time from 22 yards out at the 1:58 mark to not only secure the win, but re-write the Oregon record books.
"Kenjon played about as well as I've seen him play. He cares. He wants to succeed and you can see that in the way he played,'' Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "I think him being so close to hometown was a factor. These kids get excited to do well in front of family and friends and Kenjon did that, and then some, out there tonight."
DAUNTING TASK: Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu had the unenviable task of attempting to contain the Trojans' talented receiver tandem of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. Surprisingly enough, the Ducks cornerbacks did an above average job.
Lee had six catches for 112 yards in the first half, not exactly the type of start Mitchell and Ekpre-Olomu had envisioned for themselves. He had another six receptions after the break, finishing with 157 yards total, and took in a 3-yard TD pass with one second to play to trim the final margin. Signs still point to that being a win for the Ducks' defense.
Woods struggled throughout. The one-time apparent Heisman Trophy hopeful had one reception for 5 yards in the first quarter and two catches for 12 yards at halftime. Woods had one reception in the third quarter and finished with six for 71 yards. He did not score.
"I can't say enough about the job Mitchell and Ekpre-Olomu did,'' Kelly said. "When you play against receivers the caliber of Lee and Woods, you have to pick your poison. USC has athletes all the over the field and I think we did a good job of eliminating the big plays.''
UNDERNEATH THE RADAR: With Barner stealing most of the spotlight on this night, redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota went about his business quietly. In the end, however, he directed an offense that amassed 426 yards rushing and 304 yards passing.
The 730 total yards, in fact, was the most USC has ever given up.
"It seemed like everything was working for us tonight and it's fun to play in games like this one,'' Mariota said. "We were moving the ball well the whole game.''
Mariota completed 20 of 23 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns. He connected with Josh Huff on a 21-yarder in the first quarter and 36-yarder in the third quarter.
De'Anthony Thomas caught a 16-yard touchdown from Mariota in the first quarter and Daryle Hawkins was on the receiving end of a 14-yarder in the second quarter.
"Marcus played well tonight, he did what we asked him to do, and as a coach, that's all you can hope for,'' Kelly said. "We played a well-rounded game tonight.''