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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona tasked with containing Oregon’s backfield duo of Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas

Wally Skalij
Oregon's Kenjon Barner (24) slips a tackle attempt by Ohio State punter Jon Thoma, left, during a return in the first quarter of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, Friday, January 1, 2010. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

One year ago, the No. 10 Oregon Ducks traveled to Tucson for a game with the Wildcats. Arizona was already in the midst of a free-fall, coming off blowout losses to Oklahoma State and Stanford.

Oregon running back LaMichael James showed no mercy by running for 288 yards and two touchdowns.

James is gone, yet Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez still sounds a bit worried.

Enter Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas, the Ducks’ latest dynamic backfield duo.

The explosive, miniscule Thomas has piqued Rodriguez’s interest in particular, or his fear.

“He’s not just fast. He’ll make you miss,” Rodriguez said of the sophomore. “He runs through arm tackles, so that’s the thing. Some fast guys, they maybe not play fast, but when he gets north, he sticks his foot in the ground and gets north and south. LaMichael James was the same way. When they get going, when they get a crease, there’s no wasted movement.”

The unique part about Thomas, and something that has made him one of the most exciting football players to watch in the country, is his ability to take it to the house on every single play.

In three games Thomas has 228 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 13 carries.

By comparison, Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey has 344 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 59 carries.

“It’s exicing to play with him,” Barner said of Thomas in a phone interview with the Arizona Daily Wildcat. “Everytime this kid touches the ball, there’s no question in anybody’s mind that he’s gonna go the distance, so him having that kind of capability, that’s a huge asset to this team.”

In his freshman season, Thomas ran for 595 yards, had 605 receiving yards and garnered 18 touchdowns, including kick returns.

In order to declare for the NFL draft, a player needs to spend three years out of high school. Rodriguez is wishing the process could be sped up for Thomas.

“He’s a sophomore, right? Can he come out early?” said Rodriguez, who unsuccessfully tried recruiting Thomas to Michigan when he was head coach. “I think we oughta push for it right now. De’Anthony, you’ve shown enough, you’ve proven enough, it’s time to go to the NFL. Maybe he’ll go before Saturday. You think?”

All kidding aside, Thomas isn’t even the only player Arizona has to worry about tackling. Barner is no schlub either.

Against Arizona in 2011, Barner added 72 yards and two touchdowns to the Ducks’ dismantling of the UA at Arizona Stadium. Last season Barner ran for 939 yards and 11 touchdowns — as the backup. For Arizona, starter Keola Antolin ran for 568 yards and five touchdowns. This year Barner has 324 yards and six touchdowns, including 201 yards and three touchdowns against Fresno State in week two.

“So far so good, but obviously I’m my hardest critic,” Barner said.

“There’s a lot of times where people say that I’ve done awesome, but I know I can do a lot better than what I’ve done. I know what I’m capable of doing … Within our team I feel like I’m capable of doing a lot.”

So, in short, the key for the Wildcats against the Ducks will be tackling. Bringing the running backs down before they can make a big play.

Fullback Taimi Tutogi, who doubles as a defensive end, explained what the Wildcats have to do in order to stop Barner and Thomas.

“We’re gonna use what we have to our advantage,” Tutogi said. “I know that they’ll try to outrun us. If we meet them in the hole or hit them, we just have to make that hit count. Try to bang them up as early as possible, so when the fourth quarter comes up, we have the advantage.”

Defensive lineman Sione Tuihalamaka has a simpler solution.

“They’re fast,” he said. “They have quick feet. They can move. Anybody that runs fast, when we hit them, they might not run fast again.”

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