Hey guys, it’s me again! That’s right, the guy who just won’t stop reminiscing on the nine defining plays of the Oregon Ducks’ 2012 football season. After all, rankings don’t just end at number five. That would be silly.
Speaking of number 5, here’s a link to “The Recovery”, my previous piece in this 9-part series (and, why not – links to numbers 6 through 9 as well).
4. The Dagger (November 3, at USC, 4th quarter)
The Play: On 3rd down and 12, Kenjon Barner rushes 22 yards for a touchdown.
Disregard the fact that the USC Trojans finished regular season play with a record of 7-5, and that they will take on the (6-7) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve. Way back at the start of the 2012 college football season, the University of Southern California was ranked No. 1 in the country.
For Oregon Ducks fans, it was easy to pick one game to circle on the schedule: November 3, at USC. Quite possibly, it could have been a matchup between two undefeated, highly-ranked teams vying for a shot at the national championship. The fact that the Trojans waltzed into Autzen Stadium and tore out the Ducks’ hearts – as well as their national championship aspirations – in 2011, only helped to fuel the fire.
Well, the Ducks did their part, showing up to the Coliseum 8-0, and 5-0 in the Pac-12. The Trojans, meanwhile, suffered a pair of upsets at the hands of Stanford and Arizona. The problem wasn’t with USC’s offense – quarterback Matt Barkley and receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods combined for a fearsome aerial attack. However, USC’s defense had proven porous all season.
That said, the final score on November 3rd was astronomical to even the most optimistic of offense-lovers: Oregon 62, USC 51. Even more stunning was Kenjon Barner’s performance, collecting 321 yards on 38 carries, along with five rushing touchdowns. Not only did Barner break the Oregon single-game rushing record, but he did it with previous record-holder and former backfield mate LaMichael James watching from the sidelines.
It wasn’t easy to pick a single carry that stood out in Barner’s spectacular performance, but ultimately, there was really just one carry I could choose – his last of the night. In a game that Oregon’s offensive line dominated in the trenches, and Barner made 321 yards rushing look as easy as 321 yards possibly can, this final rush was oh-so-fitting.
First of all, this came on a 3rd down. Not just any 3rd down, but a 3rd down and 12. And not just any 3rd down and 12, but a 3rd down and 12 with roughly two minutes remaining in the game, the Ducks holding onto a 10-point lead with Barkley, Lee, Woods, and surprise star of the game Nelson Agholor waiting on the sidelines. Make no mistake: this game was not yet over. As easily as the Ducks had moved the ball on the Trojans, Barkley and company had been close to unstoppable as well.
Ever so trusting in their rushing attack, and rightfully so, head coach Chip Kelly and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich called a simple handoff to Barner up the middle. Despite the obvious passing down, Trojans’ defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin still put seven defensive players in the box – and that didn’t matter one bit.
Barner cut to the right behind a couple of blockers, and found open fields ahead to the right side, cruising into the end-zone absolutely untouched. Game over. USC’s BCS hopes? Over.
And for a guy like Barner who spent his first three years as a Duck playing in James’s shadow, national ignorance of his abilities had to be over as well.
There was no gaudy celebration following the touchdown. Barner simply turned around, accepted a few pats on the back from teammates, and jogged back to the end-zone. The nation may have been shocked. He sure wasn’t. And if you’d been paying attention to #24 throughout his Ducks’ career, you shouldn’t have been either.