- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Welcome to the spotlight, Mr. Kenjon Barner.
No more talk about whether Marcus Mariota can handle the stage as a redshirt freshman playing on the road. No more talk about De'Anthony Thomas and what he's capable of. You are the key to this game for Oregon. Because you're going to get the most impactful touches.
We all know the Ducks can work sideline-to-sideline as well as any team in the country. They turn the corner with blinding speed and dart around the edges. Here's the thing about USC, though. They have some speed to chase down the corners. So establishing an inside running game will be just as important as the ability to get to the edge.
That's where Barner comes in. In 2012, he's been fantastic at running between the tackles. Of the 121.7 yards per game he averages on the ground each week, 86.6 of them come from inside running -- where he averages 8.2 yards per carry. He's had 21 runs of 10-plus yards running between the tackles, per ESPN Stats & Information.
If Oregon establishes its ability to run a power game up the middle (which they are good at, but don't get the credit for being able to play power football) it will make life very tough on USC defenders. If they cheat to the corners, Barner can gut the middle. If the linebackers cheat inside, he can gash outside. Whether it's an end read or a mid-line read, the Ducks -- and Barner -- can beat you both ways.
And there are, of course, the individual accolades that could come from a strong performance. You know, that little statue that we all love to talk about on the blogosphere. Well Barner could sway some voters his way with a big game. Last year against USC, he gained 90 of his 123 yards by running between the tackles -- so USC knows it's coming.
The question is, can they stop it?
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