LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner Make Oregon Backfield the Nation's Best
If you haven't heard yet, the Oregon Ducks have one heck of an offense.
The Ducks have come out of the gates scorching on offense (scoring 120 points and totaling 1,167 yards in their first two matchups) and stingy on defense (holding New Mexico and Tennessee to a total of 13 points).
The Oregon offense is as efficient as it has ever been since the Chip Kelly era began, which is saying a lot considering since the 2007 season the Ducks have not averaged less than 36 points per game. This season, the Ducks are second in the nation in points per game (60) and yards per game (584).
The biggest reason for Oregon's early success this year is the dynamic duo at running back. LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner have fueled the explosive offense and make the team indefensible. By having at least one of them on the field at all times, the Ducks have legitimate touchdown threats no matter where the line of scrimmage may be.
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LaMichael James is flat-out amazing. Although he is just a sophomore, James has already taken a hold of the Pac-10's top running back and playmaker crown.
Forget about Jake Locker, Jacquizz Rodgers, James Rodgers, or any other second-tier Pac-10 talent. Forget about any other player in the nation, actually. James is the most explosive and dynamic runner in the nation.
He is smart, quick, talented, and strong. What James lacks in size, he makes up in confidence.
James may have missed the first week of the season, but he certainly did not let that keep him down in Week 2 against Tennessee. In a game in which Oregon needed its star player to step up, James did.
When the Ducks needed a score to boost the team morale and give them confidence, they looked to James—and James delivered. His thrilling 72-yard rushing touchdown is the best play of the college football season thus far and will be the measuring stick for all plays in the future weeks as the best of the entire season.
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As the backup to the nation's best back, Kenjon Barner does not get many opportunities to show his talents in the backfield. But when he does, Barner puts on a show.
Take Week 1 against New Mexico as an example. With James out due to suspension, Barner dominated the outmatched Lobos defense to the tune of 207 total yards and five touchdowns...IN THE FIRST HALF! That's right...THE FIRST HALF!
Barner sat out the second half while the second and third units torched the defenseless New Mexico Lobos.
LaMichael James returned to his starting role last weekend and took all the glory once again. However, Barner quietly had a very nice game. Barner's rushing attack did not amount to much against the Volunteers (seven attempts for 26 yards), but his versatility as a runner shined. His 228 total yards and a punt return for a touchdown kept the Oregon offense and special teams blazing.
Barner's versatility as a football player along with his incredible athleticism and speed make him one of the most dangerous weapons in the entire nation.
Why Are They So Effective?
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James and Barner are so effective because their skill sets are perfect for college football. Both backs are small, quick, and shifty, which they use to their advantage to hide from their opponents and then burst away from them in an instant.
Their ability to fly by every defender on the field makes them a nightmare for every defense they face because even though they may be small, they have to be caught in order to be hit.
Both backs also see the entire field very well. If there is a hole, they will find it, and once that happens, it is already too late for the defense.
What About Alabama's Duo?
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The Crimson Tide's running back corps is the consensus answer among so-called professional college football experts to the question of best running back duo.
Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson are among the best players in all the nation but are much different players than the Oregon tandem.
Coming off his Heisman campaign a year ago, Ingram is slowly being incorporated into the Alabama offense after suffering a knee injury shortly before the season began. Ingram had an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee and has yet to see the field this season.
Obviously, Ingram has no chance at repeating what he did last year and may never be the back that he once was. A running back's health is key to his football life span, and Ingram's upside is looking a whole lot bleaker now.
Richardson may be the back with more upside, although he is officially Ingram's backup. Richardson has come out in his first two games to rush for 210 yards and three touchdowns.
What I like more about Oregon's backfield in comparison to Alabama's is that the Ducks' backs are much more explosive. James and Barner are two quick-strike backs that are incredible all-around athletes. Their versatility as not only runners but also as football players is key. James can run with both strength and grace, while Barner can play in many different schemes as well as special teams as a returner.
Ingram and Richardson, on the other hand, are the thunder to James and Barner's lightning. Ingram and Richardson would much rather run their opponents over and beat them up physically. This is fine and oftentimes fun to watch, but they do not have the explosiveness and fear factor that Oregon has with its backs.