The number stands out like a sore thumb. Those who remember Oregon’s vaunted rushing attack last year might scratch their heads and wonder if it’s right. Did Oregon really rush for 31 yards when last year they averaged 280 every game?
The answer is yes, of course, and it was because the Boise State defense pushed around Oregon’s young offensive line all game long. Play after play, quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and running back LeGarrette Blount were getting harassed. So much, in fact, that Blount ended the game with negative-five yards rushing.
And with the Ducks having to pick up the pieces at running back after losing Blount for the season, the rushing situation might seem like it is in shambles right now, if it were not for the three speedy backs who are all ready to get their turn in the spotlight.
“We’re fast, versatile running backs that can do everything,” running back Andre Crenshaw said. “Even though LeGarrette could do everything too, we’re just a bunch of guys trying to make a name for ourselves right now and just do the best we can to help this team out.”
Where Blount was power, expect backs LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and Crenshaw to be lightning in a bottle. All are under six feet tall and 200 pounds, but don’t let their smaller sizes fool you. They can turn on the afterburners in open spaces.
“Kenjon and LaMichael are very similar because they have that great speed,” Kelly said. “But they also have shiftiness with them as well. Both of the guys can start and stop very well and they’re two really tough kids.”
“(Our speed) will help, but we’re still going to miss the power LeGarrette brought to the offense,” Barner said. “Me, LaMichael and Andre are nowhere near as big as him. When LeGarrette is coming through the middle, guys second-guess themselves. When we come through, they come with all they got. We just have to make them miss.”
Barner describes his game as “fast, fast and very deceptive” and head coach Chip Kelly raves about his special teams play and toughness.
“I anticipate Kenjon doing some really, really great things for us here,” Kelly said. “Obviously he’s going to get more time at the running back position and I’m excited to see him with the ball in his hands … Kenjon played really, really well for us on special teams on Thursday. He was a special teams demon. I’m confident in those guys’ competitive nature and athletic ability.”
Barner and the rest of the running backs slotted to play Saturday said that although the feel this week has been different with Blount missing, they’re ready to prove what they have. But they’re not taking the now-open competition personally: They’re all best friends.
“I wouldn’t really say we’re competing with each other; I mean, we’re like best friends so we don’t really look at it like that,” James said. “We’re like brothers so it’s fine.”
Both redshirt freshmen have looked to Crenshaw, a senior, as a role model on and off the field, and Barner says his advice has been priceless.
“Andre is a great leader,” he said. “He always has the right thing to say when you’re feeling down and the right words when you don’t know what’s going on the field. You can look to him in any situation and know what you’re supposed to be doing.”
And like it or not, Kelly and the team will have to throw all of them into the game. Crenshaw is an established back-up, dating back to Jonathan Stewart’s days here in Eugene, but both James and Barner just have one game under their belts.
That doesn’t matter, says Kelly.
“Those guys do bring a little bit different game to the table,” Kelly said. “They have a unique skills set. It’s exciting to see and we’re going to throw them in the deep end and see if they can swim.”
As for Crenshaw, James and Barner, they’re just ready to get out on the Autzen field turf Saturday night and show that the Ducks are ready to move on.
“Our team is hungry,” Crenshaw said. “We’re always going to be hungry. We just want to play and come out with that first victory and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”