Barner, James both will get their reps
- Stephen Alexander
- Portland Tribune - Sports
EUGENE - For two weeks, Kenjon Barner led the Oregon Ducks on the ground.
Playing in place of an injured LaMichael James, Barner rushed for 171 yards and a touchdown against Arizona State and 115 yards and two TDs against Colorado.
But, when the starting lineups were announced over the public address system at Autzen Stadium on Saturday, James was the starting running back.
Barner was stoic about taking a back seat to the 2010 Heisman Trophy candidate to begin the game against Washington State.
'LaMichael was the starter before me, and he's going to continue to be the starter,' Barner said. 'It doesn't upset me. I've still got to come out and play football.'
While he did not start, Barner outshined James throughout the game. On 11 carries, the 5-11, 195 pound junior gained 107 yards and scored a touchdown. James had 13 carries for 53 yards and no scores.
After Oregon's 43-28 win over Washington State, Barner said that he does not feel there is any drop off between he and James.
'I can't come into the game feeling like, 'OK, he's out, so now we're going to have a drop off,' ' Barner said. 'You can't do that as a football player. You have to have all the confidence in the world in yourself. And your teammates have to have confidence in you.
"My team does have confidence in me, and I have confidence within myself.'
When they took handoffs on Saturday, Barner hit the holes faster than James and was more explosive in the open field. Barner attributed that to the long layoff for James.
'He's been down for a couple of weeks, so I may have a little bit of an edge on him there, but I was hitting holes pretty well, and things opened up,' Barner said.
James missed the last two games because of a dislocated elbow he suffered against California. The 5-9, 195-pound junior said he had no pain in his arm on Saturday.
'I don't have any pain at all,' James said. 'I don't have any soreness. That's surprising to me, because I figured I would. But I feel great.'
James found it difficult to adjust to game speed. He is a rhythm player, and the more he gets into a flow of the Ducks' hurry-up offense the better he becomes. In the first half, James had just 16 yards on seven carries. As the game wore on, though, he began playing better, rushing for 37 yards in the second half, including a 16- yard run in the fourth quarter.
'You've just got to play,' James said. 'I just needed reps. I haven't been playing in three weeks. It was difficult for me at times.'
Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich was stuck for an answer about what factors went into James being less effective than usual.
'He didn't play to his normal standard,' Helfrich said. 'You never know what that chemistry is - the percentage of confidence and physical pain and just getting back in there and doing his deal. I don't know what that is.'
James agreed with Helfrich's assessment that he did not play as well as usual, but said he will get better.
'Today wasn't a great performance by me, but it's what I expected,' James said. 'I haven't played in a while, so I'm only going to get better.'
Ducks coach Chip Kelly said that it does not matter whether James or Barner is in the backfield at the start of the game. Moving forward, who gets more carries will depend on how the players are doing and the tide of the game.
'We never talk about who starts, who doesn't start, how many carries they get,' Kelly said. 'We don't have a set goal of this guy is going to get this many, that guy is going to get that many. It really just depends how the game itself unfolds.'