Bennett to the rescue
EUGENE - What if you knew that with 12:21 remaining in the third quarter Oregon would be trailing Arizona State 24-21 with running back LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas unable to play for the Ducks?
How much money would you have bet that the No. 18 Sun Devils would knock off the No. 9 Ducks?
If any bets were placed on Arizona State at that point, then Ducks backup quarterback Bryan Bennett broke the bank.
With lots of help from running backs Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, Bennett led the offense to four second-half scores - two touchdowns and two field goals - and Oregon rolled to a 41-27 victory Saturday night at Autzen Stadium.
'To have the game on my back, it's not always the easiest position to be in, but it's what we play for,' Bennett said. 'Games like that, close games, that's what we play football for. It was a good time being out there and playing football.'
With James having to sit out the game because of a dislocated elbow suffered in the last outing against Cal, the Ducks' high-efficiency offense had kinks through nearly all of the first 30 minutes.
Thomas was able to pass the ball in the first half versus ASU, completing 13 of 16 attempts for 187 yards and two touchdowns. But Oregon found little room to run, gaining only 58 yards on the ground. Thomas also threw an interception, and Barner lost a fumble on his first carry of the game - Oregon's first lost fumble since the opener against LSU.
Up 17-14, the Sun Devils looked poised to score another touchdown just before halftime when Oregon defensive back Cliff Harris picked off a Brock Osweiler pass in the end zone and ran it back to the 50-yard line.
The turnover led to a 12-yard touchdown toss from Darron Thomas to tight end David Paulson that sent the Ducks into halftime up 21-17.
On the second play of the third quarter, QB Thomas took off running. He was met six yards down the field by two Sun Devils defenders. As Thomas went down, ASU linebacker Colin Parker landed on Thomas' knees.
'It really just got landed on the wrong way,' Thomas said, of his knees. 'It didn't get twisted. He smashed on both sides of my knees. It wasn't intentional or anything like that. I just got hit ... the wrong way.'
Thomas remained on the field for a long time.
As he looked on, Bennett was worried about Thomas, but the 6-3, 205-pounder from Encino, Calif., began preparing to enter the game.
'I first hoped Darron was okay,' Bennett said. 'That's my teammate, my friend. I don't want to see him go down like that. But once I saw him go down I knew it was my time to step up and my time to go and lead this offense.'
When Thomas finally rose, he jogged off the field, to a huge cheer from the crowd of 60,055, a state of Oregon record.
Soon after, Thomas told Ducks coach Chip Kelly that he wanted to go back in the game.
Because of the Ibuprofen he had taken before the game, Thomas said that he was not in much pain.
'I really don't feel too much pain with the medicine I took,' Thomas said, adding, 'I'm not going to feel too good in the morning.'
Kelly did not want to risk putting Thomas back in the game.
'He wasn't playing,' Kelly said. 'Darron was out.'
The game was completely in Bennett's hands. The redshirt freshman tried to remain as calm as possible. He also remembered Kelly's advice of letting the game come to him and not trying to make things happen.
,'I tried to stay poised,' Bennett said. 'That's the only thing I could do. I've been put in that situation before in my career (while in high school). I know the main thing to do is just to stay poised, because you know it's on your shoulders now and you've got to keep going and keep moving the offense.'
Although Kelly and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said the playbook stayed open for Bennett, Oregon began grinding out yards on the ground. After rushing for 23 yards in the first half, Barner found his rhythm taking handoffs, and he finished with career highs of 31 carries and 171 yards, and scored a touchdown.
Bennett helped move the Ducks on the ground, as well. While he was only 2 of 5 passing for 22 yards, Bennett rushed for 65 yards, including a 36-yard scamper the first time he left the pocket.
'He's an athletic kid,' Kelly said. 'He was a track kid in high school. It's something we knew he could do when he got into games. He's given our defense fits (in practice) for a while when he's back there. He can legitimately run. It's a bonus in terms of what we can do.'
During his postgame press conference, Thomas nimbly ran up and down the steps leading to the podium, showing little effect from the double knee injury. He said that he expects to play next week at Colorado.
'I'm going to be all right, just to let everybody know,' Thomas said. 'But I've still got to look at it. Make sure I get treated this week and make sure I'm ready to go. But I'm looking forward to it.'
If Thomas is unable to play, Kelly said he is confident that Bennett could again help the Ducks win. But, as well as Bennett played, by no means did he beat out Thomas for the starting job.
'This isn't Drew Bledsoe and all of a sudden Tom Brady came off the bench,' Kelly said. 'He (Bennett) did a nice job going in there managing the game. I have a lot of confidence in Bryan, and I know our players do. So we're real confident in him if he has to continue to play for us.'
Helfrich said that Bennett - whose track bests in high school were 22 feet, 10 inches in the long jump and 46-6 in the triple jump - will benefit from the extended time he got Saturday in a pressure-packed Pac-12 game.
'To be in the national spotlight with the profile of tonight's game is a big deal,' Helfrich said. 'To have some success and get it going as a team will help everybody. Bryan is a young guy that has a huge upside.'