It happens every so often, usually when something tragic occurs. The traumatized individual commonly will develop a phobia or an aversion to whatever caused the initial trauma. If that phobia or fear is to be overcome, sometimes the best medicine is to face the same situation again, head on. They say you’re supposed to jump right back on the horse and give it another try.
Kenjon Barner has no fear, but most in his position would. In 2010, in a game at Martin Stadium in Pullman, WA, Kenjon Barner was returning a kickoff when he was hit head on by a cougar defender that blocked into him. The angle and speed at which it happened looked frightening, the hit knocking then sophomore Barner unconscious, a shot that all too often it has been seen to be career-ending. As coaches and trainers, and eventually his family ran out on the field, the initial prognosis did not look good.
With the Ducks primary kick returner and all-purpose offensive spark plug out of the game, the team took the lead from LaMichael James, who played with passion and heart that day his best friend went down in Pullman.
Barner had to be taken off the field in an ambulance, and nobody would have been surprised if he took the rest of the season off to recover and consider his future. For the next several weeks while Barner recovered from a serious concussion, the Ducks would tear through the rest of their schedule, playing almost in tribute to their sidelined teammate. Eventually Barner did come back, and helped the team to the BCS national championship game.
Fast forward two years, and instead of the Oregon team rallying for a win without Barner in the lineup, it was now senior Barner rallying his young Duck teammates, steadying the team during the first road test of the season. On this night when the Ducks offense and QB Marcus Mariota struggled at times, it was Barner who would lead the charge from start to finish, pushing the team to succeed.
Washington State won the toss, and elected to receive. Many of those in the sellout crowd at Century Link Field had a feeling that might be the only thing the Cougs would win all night. But WSU came out ready to play, and on the first snap, QB Connor Halliday aired it out along the sideline for receiver Marquess Wilson looking for a big play. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was in position to break it up, but it signaled that the Cougars were unafraid to attack the #2 team in the land, even though their drive ended with a quick three-and-out.
On Oregon’s opening drive, Kenjon Barner took the hand-off and weaved his way 22 yards around the entire right side of the WSU defense, sprinting for the endzone in a scoring drive that barely took a minute. On the next drive, Mariota would follow Barner’s example, and show off his own running ability with a 13 yard touchdown run on an impressive run, first spinning out of a tackle to escape pressure, then beat a player to the sideline before diving into the endzone.
Barner would score two touchdowns in the first quarter, one rushing on the opening drive, and another on a wheel route where Barner was wide open running unguarded down the sideline in almost identical fashion to a play LaMichael James scored a long touchdown on vs. WSU after seeing Barner taken off the field in an ambulance. Mariota delivered a perfect touch pass, hitting Barner in stride as he strolled in for the touchdown, the Ducks making it look easy in what appeared to be another rout.
The Oregon defense played extremely well all game long, facing the potent Air Raid offense for the first time, the Cougars throwing the ball 64 times on the night. WSU’s offense held up well against the pass rush when they were able to get rid of the ball quickly, but when receivers struggled to separate from the Oregon defenders, the Duck pass rush showed up big time. By night’s end the defense would have eight sacks to its credit, that accumulated yardage contributing to the Cougars netting -8 yards on the ground all night.
When WSU entered the redzone for the first time, Taylor Hart came up with a sack on 1st down–his first of two in the first half, setting the precedent for an Oregon defense. After WSU benefited from being bailed out by two pass interference penalties on the drive, and needing 15 plays and 5:54 minutes of game clock, the Cougars had to settle for a field goal.
In the second quarter Oregon struggled at times and the Cougs were able to hold the Ducks to one field goal, capitalizing on several UO miscues to pull the score within 23-19 on a Connor Halliday TD pass. Washington State played hard and with passion, and they seized the momentum at halftime despite trailing, the crowd thinking upset, and many Oregon fans concerned of the same possibility.
But Oregon would once again own the 2nd half. Typically, games are not won or lost on drives early in the 3rd quarter, but in this game it was the Ducks opening drive, methodic and grinding as it was, that changed the feel of this game. The Ducks covered 76 yards in 18 plays, Barner leading the way with six carries. On 3rd and goal, De’Anthony Thomas punched it in with an inside run right through the Cougar defense to put UO ahead 30-19, the longest scoring drive of the season for the usually quick-strike Ducks.
“We talked about how that first drive was going to set the tone. I thought everyone contributed and made plays,” Oregon head coach Chip Kelly said after the game.
On the ensuing WSU drive, the Cougars faced a 3rd and 7 from their own 25. Oregon safety Avery Patterson jumped a route and intercepted the pass in stride taking it 34 yards for a touchdown. In a matter of a couple seconds, the game had swung decidedly in Oregon’s favor, with a commanding 37-19 lead, but the Cougars would not go down without a fight.
Yet throughout WSU remained stingy, stopping Oregon on a two-point conversion, and shutting down Bryan Bennett on a 4th and 1 keeper. They intercepted Mariota–twice. For the first time all season, a team was unafraid to finally kickoff to De’Anthony Thomas, four times, for a pedestrian 19 yard average.
Barner put the game out of reach when he rumbled 10 yards to score his second rushing touchdown, pushing the score to 44-19. As the clock began to tick down under 1:00 in the 3rd quarter, a distinct “Lets go Ducks” rang out through the stadium, as droves of crimson and gray clad fans filed out of the exits, recognizing the inevitability; WSU had their moment where it seemed like things might go their way, but it was not to be.
In the fourth quarter, Barner punctuated his big day with an 80 yard touchdown run, his fourth touchdown of the game. Kenjon averaged 9.8 yards on 20 carries, netting 195 rushing yards, and added three receptions for 37 more. He bulled over defenders and finished runs with authority and pop, running with determination and focus.
After suffering an injury that many would not have come back from, Barner has evolved into the primary ball carrier for the Ducks, playing with toughness and senior leadership in his final appearance against the Cougars that nearly ended his career two years prior.
Ever since Mike Leach was hired at WSU, Pac-12 fans have been clamoring for the entertaining games, and quotes, that would inevitably ensue. Tops on that list in many eyes was the Chip Kelly / Mike Leach match-up. Part of the appeal was due to the staggering offensive output of each respective team, and in no small part the allure was simply to bring these two extremely quotable personalities together–two coaches that could make just about anything more interesting. The games in this series will get better every year these two coaches are around, especially once Mike Leach is able to get a couple recruiting classes into Pullman to make the matchups more competitive.
Chip Kelly said that the only reason WSU throws the ball 70 times, is because they won’t let Leach throw it 100. The aggressive all-or-nothing nature of both coaches will make this a sure-fire must watch game, and must-listen interviews afterwards.
The win puts the Ducks at 5-0 on the season, with the hated Huskies coming into Autzen next Saturday. Oregon so far this season has shown both streaks of brilliance, and spurts of inconsistent play. With 53 freshman and sophomores on the team, it will fall on the upperclassmen to lead the way when adversity hits, especially on the road. Kenjon Barner today showed his value to the success of this team as much as he ever has.
If this Oregon team is going to be special this year, it will be because of the leaders who have been through the adversity, faced their phobias, and emerged better for it. Players come and go each season in college football, but only a few stand out to fans and are remembered throughout the years long after they hang the jersey up for good.
Tonight, Kenjon Barner had one of his most memorable games, and in doing so cemented himself as one of the Ducks all-time greats.
- Attendance: 60,929, 2nd highest total for a Seattle game in WSU history. (2002 Nevada)
- Oregon held Washington State to -8 rushing yards.
- Kenjon Barner was five yards shy of his second 200-yard game of the season.
- Barner also passed Terrence Whitehead for sixth all-time on Oregon’s all-purpose yards list. (4,541)
- De’Anthony Thomas was held under 100 yards from scrimmage for 2nd consecutive game.
- True freshman De’Forest Buckner notched the first sack of his career.
- Avery Patterson’s INT-TD in the third quarter was the first TD of his career.
- Marcus Mariota had the first multi-interception game of his career, with both interceptions being thrown to WSU DB Deone Bucannon.
- Washington State junior WR Marquess Wilson became the Cougars’ all-time career receiving yards leader with 2,893 yards. The old record was held by Brandon Gibson. (2,756)
- Jeff Tuel tied Mark Rypien for seventh all-time in career passing touchdowns. (28)
- Connor Halliday’s 60 pass attempts were the second-most in a single game in WSU history.
- Saturday was the only game outside of Eugene in the first 47 days of the season.
1st Half Photos
2nd Half Photos