Going into Saturday night’s showdown with Arizona State, the Oregon Ducks knew they would be without LaMichael James, their All-American running back.
Halfway into a locked battle with the Sun Devils at Autzen Stadium, they found they would have to carry on without star quarterback Darron Thomas, too.
Missing their two top playmakers, facing a 24-21 deficit, could things have been any more dire for the Ducks?
Enter Bryan Bennett.
Exit (some 29 minutes later) Arizona State.
Racking up his first minutes with a game on the line, the backup quarterback rallied No. 9 Oregon to a 41-27 win over the No. 18 Sun Devils at Autzen Stadium, leading the Ducks on four scoring drives after Thomas went down with injuries to both knees two plays into the second half.
“I just tried to stay calm, cool and collected and go out there and have fun,” Bennett said.
If you didn’t know much about Bennett before Saturday, you do now.
Or at least this: The kid as a pair of legs and a really calm ticker.
He rushed for 71 yards on just six carries, showing off a quick burst and downfield speed. More importantly, he carried himself on the field like a redshirt senior — and not the redshirt freshman that he is. There was no panic.
“He’ll remember this game,” said Oregon coach Chip Kelly.
The victory before a record crowd of 60,055 at Autzen allowed Oregon (3-0 league) to keep pace with Stanford (4-0) and Washington (3-0) in the Pac-12 Conference’s North Division. If the Ducks win the North, they likely will face these same Sun Devils, who have a strong hold on the South Division race, in the Pac-12 championship game.
Thomas said afterwards he expects to play next week against Colorado. He said he doesn’t consider the injuries to be serious.
Against ASU, Thomas threw well in the first half — absent a poor throw that was picked off. He hit Lavasier Tuinei with a 28-yard touchdown rope to knot the score at 14-14. Following a Cliff Harris interception of a Brock Osweiler pass, Thomas led the Ducks on an electrifying 3-play, 50-yard drive in just 24 seconds, culminating with a 12-yard strike to David Paulson, to give Oregon a 21-17 edge just before halftime.
While Thomas was effective throwing the ball, Oregon’s running attack, minus James, struggled in the first half, accumulating just 58 yards on the ground.
That all changed in the second half. Oregon’s tweaked By game’s end, the Ducks had 326 yards rushing.
Kenjon Barner rambled for a career-high 164 yards on 30 carries, as the main replacement for James, out with a dislocated elbow. Just 23 yards came in the first half for Barner.
De’Anthony Thomas added 73 yards and gave Oregon lead for good, 28-24, on a 3-yard run in the third.
Bennett’s first run was a 36-yard scamper down the sidelines in front of the Ducks bench. He followed that up with an 18-yard run two plays later. Barner scored two plays after that to give Oregon a 35-24 lead — and finally some breathing room.