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Ducks savor their offensive explosion

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Kenjon Barner is greeted on the sidelines by Oregon Ducks running backs coach Gary Campbell during UO's 62-51 win Saturday at USC.LOS ANGELES — The Oregon Ducks have enjoyed some prolific offensive days under coach Chip Kelly, both when he served as offensive coordinator and the past 49 games as head coach — 43 of them wins.

But Saturday's game at USC, a one-for-the-ages 62-51 UO win on the big stage of Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as the No. 2-ranked team in the country, tops them all.

Granted, USC may have talent defensively, but the Trojans give up their share of yards and points. But the Ducks put up a school-record 730 yards on offense, the most points and yards ever by an opponent against the Trojans, Kenjon Barner rushed for a school-record 321 yards and five touchdowns on 38 carries, and redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota accounted for 400 yards offense — going 20 of 23 passing for 304 yards and four touchdowns, and rushing for 96 yards on 15 carries.

The most impressive statistic, however: The Ducks' first eight touchdown drives went 75, 75, 80, 88, 81, 75, 74 and 85 yards. That's an AVERAGE of 79.2 yards on eight scoring drives. The ninth touchdown came after a USC failed fourth-down conversion, a measly 20-yard drive.

The Ducks (9-0, 6-0 Pac-12) had seen such spectacular offense in short stretches this season — the first half of games — but they finally had to play four quarters. USC quarterback Matt Barkley (35 of 54 for 484 yards and five scores) and Marqise Lee (12 catches, 157 yards, two scores) and others made sure of that, continually refusing to go away. And, 730 yards, 62 points and Barner's record day with the former record-holder — LaMichael James — watching from the sideline turned out to be the result.

Oregon had only two blemishes, a first-half missed field goal — after a Barner running play on third-and-14 — and a lost fumble during an exchange between Mariota and Barner.

"It was a lot of fun," said Mariota, the humble Hawaiian who has pretty much silenced any critics who might have thought he couldn't handle big moments. "That's the kind of game you want to play in. It was awesome. I'm just proud of the guys in our locker room.

"We knew we were going to have to play four quarters," he added. "We were ready for it."

Top-ranked Alabama won, although barely beating LSU. Also winning Saturday were Kansas State and Notre Dame, the latter squeaking by Pittsburgh in triple overtime. Oregon made its point among the unbeaten BCS title game contenders, with style and substance.

"I feel like we're the best team in the country on any night," says Barner, whose record performance also came in front of family who had never seen him play live. He's from Riverside, Calif. "If you don't feel like that about your team, why are you part of the team?"

If people are yearning for an Alabama defense-UO offense matchup for the national championship, they certainly could only sit back and admire the Ducks' offensive machine on Saturday.

"That's Oregon football," Barner adds. "We can put up points. ... Everybody's questioned whether we can handle the fourth-quarter challenge. I think we did pretty well."

James said after the game that it had been the greatest of the UO offensive performances.

The Trojans simply had no answers. Josh Huff added six receptions for 125 yards and two touchdowns. De'Anthony Thomas, returning to his neighborhood (he attended Crenshaw High) and Daryle Hawkins also had TD receptions. The 730 yards offense broke the record of 720 against New Mexico in 2010.

"When we communicate and execute properly, it's hard to stop us," Barner said. "Tonight was one of the nights that we were clicking on all cylinders."

Barner has exited James' shadow during his senior year — James went to the NFL, drafted by the San Francisco 49ers — and he has enjoyed a stellar season. He has 1,295 yards rushing and 20 total TDs in nine games. And he'll go down in the record books as the best single-game rusher of all-time, topping James' 288 yards against Arizona last season and Onterrio Smith's 275 against Washington State in 2001. Then again, he has five games left to improve on his 321 — at Cal next Saturday, versus Stanford, at Oregon State, probably in the Pac-12 title game, and possibly in another BCS game.

"People doubt, I don't," he said. "I know what I'm capable of, what this team is capable of."

The Ducks provided offensive balance, helping free up some holes and space for Barner.

"Just communicating, and executing extremely well," Barner said, of the keys Saturday. "Guys were getting on their blocks, holding their blocks. Receivers down field holding blocks, making key blocks to spring me free. Marcus making plays. We did all the things we needed to do to get big runs."

Barner scored on runs of 27, 5, 9, 5 and 22 yards. He wasn't aware of the record-breaking rushing night.

"Kenjon's one of those guys you can really lean on," Mariota said. "I was starting to not play out my fakes — he's fun to watch."

"No better person to break it than Kenjon, (James') running mate from last year," said Gary Campbell, UO running backs coach. "I knew he could do it. He hadn't had to do it, yet (not playing four quarters because of blowouts). He really cherished the moment toward the end of the game. He wanted to stay in the game and continue to compete."

Campbell has witnessed a lot of good Oregon offense throughout the years. Saturday's performance?

"It ranks among the best," he said. "I just gets better and better the more versed our players are at running (offense). That's our goal, get better every year."

The Trojans managed 615 yards offense and kept pace with the Ducks, despite trailing 21-3 in the first half, and then surviving UO's missed short-field scoring opportunity after Kiko Alonso's first-half interception. Mariota says the Trojans were playing against the pass, therefore Barner ran on third-and-14; on fourth down, Rob Beard missed his field-goal attempt.

Then, Mariota and Barner flubbed an exchange, which led to UO's only turnover.

The defense picked off Barkley twice, and forced one lost fumble. But the key sequence was this at the start of the fourth quarter: Trailing 48-38, USC had the ball at the Trojan 42, with second-and-6; Barkley threw incomplete; and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who battled Lee all night, nearly intercepted Barkley on third down; the Trojans punted.

Oregon took the ball and went 85 yards to score on Barner's 5-yard run, making it 55-38 with 9:15 left. USC kept pushing, but the one punt sealed its fate.

"That was huge," linebacker Michael Clay said.

"Once we got that stop, the momentum switched to us," Ekpre-Olomu said. "We knew that if we could get that touchdown, it would have been ball game."