UO NOTES: Kenjon Barner will weigh his options
- Jason Vondersmith
- Portland Tribune - Sports
LOS ANGELES - It remains to be seen who returns to the Oregon backfield for the 2012 season.
LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner have submitted their names and resumes to be evaluated for the NFL draft. James, the Ducks' all-time leading rusher and touchdown maker, insists that he hasn't decided to turn pro. Same with Barner, who has been a three-year backup and a good one.
"That'll be something I talk to my family about, and Coach (Gary) Campbell and Coach (Chip) Kelly," the 5-11, 195-pound Barner says. "My focus is on the Rose Bowl, and that's where it needs to be."
Without James, Barner might have been a star. He has 1,826 yards rushing in three seasons, and 26 total touchdowns - 20 on rushes, four on catches, and one each on punt and kickoff returns. He's averaged 6.1 yards per carry.
He needs 91 yards to reach 1,000. He has 13 TDs this season.
Doesn't Barner want to stay for his senior year, if James bolts, to be the featured player?
"If I said 'no' I'd be lying," says Barner, 22. "Any man in college football wants to be that guy. It's definitely something I'd love to have."
How does he need to improve?
"Become more physical and get stronger, become more patient, become a better blocker," he says.
• Quarterback Darron Thomas was asked whether he had been lobbying for James to stay.
"Not at all," he says. "He did a lot of things for Oregon, and he'll continue to do a lot of things for Oregon. ... It's in his mind what he's going to do, but he hasn't told the team. It's in nobody's mind that he's leaving.
"If he leaves, we'll be happy-hands farewell."
• The Ducks have scored only 36 total points in the past two BCS games. The Ducks might need 36 points alone in Monday's Rose Bowl against Wisconsin to win.
Barner says the Ducks need to find their offensive rhythm, which has helped produce Oregon's two most prolific offensive seasons, this year and last.
"We haven't been able to establish a rhythm like we're accustomed to during the regular season," Barner says, of bowl losses to Ohio State and Auburn. "It comes, eventually, but not until late in the game. I think we'll be aggressive, try to do exactly what we've done this season."
• Defensive lines have had their way with the Ducks in most of their six losses under coach Chip Kelly.
"I think we're challenged every game," offensive guard Carson York says. "If we don't succeed at that, or a little bit to let (James and Barner) sneak by, it gets ugly.
"I'd like to go back into sort of not being noticed. You guys (in media) are wonderful, but you only talk about us when things go wrong."
And, when things go wrong, "(James and Barner) are really good at hiding it. There are no easier people n the country to block for."
The Badgers list seniors Louis Nzegwu (6-4, 255) and Patrick Butrym (6-4, 285), sophomore Ethan Hemer (6-6, 300) and either junior Brendan Kelly (6-6, 255) or sophomore Pat Muldoon (6-3, 260) as starting defensive linemen. Nobody is expecting the Wisconsin D-line to be the second coming of LSU, but York says the opposing big fellas work hard.
"I sort of think it's like us on the offensive line," he says. "We have five guys who are pretty good, good enough to get the job done. We play hard. Max effort. Their D-line's the same way. No big stars. No one guy who stands out and shines. They just make plays. They're max-effort guys."
• Will the Badgers' defense get tired?
Butrym and other Wisconsin players talked about adjusting to UO's faster offensive pace.
"We're getting off the ball as quickly as possible, averaged eight to nine seconds (between plays)," he says, of practice. "That's pretty ridiculous (pace). The first time it happens your mind is a bunch of white noise around you. Then, it starts slowing down and things progress, you're putting your hand down in the dirt and playing the way you should."
Butrym says the Badgers won't fake injuries to slow down the Ducks, like other teams have done in the past (see: Cal, 2010).
"We'll have ways of substitutions to prevent (fatigue), rather than faking injuries," he says.
"We're in a pretty good place," adds Charlie Partridge, Wisconsin's co-defensive coordinator. "We're taking conditioning, cardiovascular to another level. I feel good about the shape we'll be in. ... If our offense can give us time, early, to get adjustments to our players before they get back on the field, it can help us throughout the course of the game."
• With two great offenses, the Rose Bowl could be a shootout. Then again, a lot of people thought the same thing about the BCS championship game, when Auburn ended up beating Oregon on a last-second field goal 22-19.
Talk of a shootout doesn't bother UO defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.
"We play as best we can, and if we end up with one point more than they do at the end of the game, we'll all be happy," he says.
• The Badgers are converting 54 percent of their third downs, and Oregon is 38 percent on defense.
Aliotti reiterates that limiting Wisconsin and running back Montee Ball on first down remains key.
"Unless we are stopping the run and winning first down, if they are in second-and-5 or less a lot of the game, it will be hard to get them out of a rhythm," he says.
Adds Oregon defensive back Anthony Gildon: "We have to make them get into second-and-longs, third-and-longs and try to have (quarterback) Russell Wilson make a lot more passes than they want to get into."
The Badgers also have only eight turnovers all year - four interceptions (three by Wilson) and four fumbles. Wilson completes passes at a 72.5-percent clip.
"They are not going to get themselves out of rhythm," Aliotti adds. "Eight turnovers in 13 games, that's pretty incredible."
With Oregon's time of possession among the country's worst, it has meant many plays for the defense under Kelly. Could the Rose Bowl be different?
• Aliotti will be making his third Rose Bowl appearance with the Ducks, and fourth overall. Coaching the defense at UCLA, he remembers Ron Dayne running wild (246 yards, four TDs) as Wisconsin defeated the Bruins 38-31 in the 1999 Rose Bowl.
"We weren't a very good defense at UCLA that year, and I hate to even go back to that, because we had a tremendous offense (led by QB Cade McNown)," he says. "Without making excuses, (it was) just a young defense that kind of just tried to hang in there."
Then, Michael Bennett rushed for 290 yards in Wisconsin's 27-23 win over Aliotti and Oregon in 2000. The Ducks got revenge the next year, 31-28 at Autzen Stadium, but UW's Anthony Davis rushed for 130 yards.
Ball has 1,759 rushing yards and 38 total TDs.