Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 10/16/11
By STEVE MIMS EUGENE, Ore. Already without its star running back, Oregon lost starting quarterback Darron Thomas early in the second half on Saturday night. But while it was tough to tell the back-ups from the starters in the backfield, the results looked familiar as Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas combined to run for 244 yards and three scores in support of replacement quarterback Bryan Bennett to lead the ninth-ranked Ducks over No. 18 Arizona State, 41-27, in front of a record crowd of 60,055 at Autzen Stadium. The Ducks knew they would be without All-American LaMichael James, who suffered an elbow injury in last week's win over California. Oregon had reliable backs behind him in Barner, a junior, and De'Anthony Thomas, a true freshman who has been one of the Ducks' top playmakers this season. The question mark was Bennett, a redshirt freshman who had no significant collegiate experience before entering the game when Darron Thomas suffered a knee injury on Oregon's first drive of the second half. Oregon led 21-17 at the time, but quickly fell behind 24-21 before Bennett led Oregon on back-to-back touchdown drives to push the Ducks ahead 35-24. "I tried to stay poised, it was the only thing I could do," said Bennett, who ran five times for 65 yards and was completed 2 of 5 passes for 22 yards. "I have been in that situation before, obviously not at this level, but I knew the main thing was to stay poised because it is on my shoulders now. You have to keep going and move the offense." Bennett led the Ducks on a pair of drives that ended with field goals in the fourth quarter to seal the victory as Oregon improved to 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the Pac-12. "He came in and was calm, cool, and collected," Barner said. "We were grateful to have him." Bennett was the back-up quarterback last season but was never called upon as he redshirted during the Ducks run to the BCS national championship game. He played in two of Oregon's first five games this season in mop-up duty. "I've seen it in practice with Bryan," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "It is not a clich, we tell him he is one play away from being in the game and he did a nice job. He's very athletic and can run and he threw a nice ball." While Oregon had to quickly adapt to Bennett behind center, the Ducks had a whole week to prepare Barner and De'Anthony Thomas to fill in for James at running back. Oregon actually exceeded its season average with 327 rushing yards. Barner, who has been James' back-up for three seasons, ran 31 times for 171 yards and a touchdown. "I was excited," Barner said. "You come to college, you come to play. Nobody wants to sit behind anyone. I'm blessed and I was excited to do that for the team." De'Anthony Thomas ran only seven times, but averaged more than 10 yards per carry with 73 yards and a pair of TDs. "I said all along when LaMichael went down, Does the game plan change?', and it doesn't," Kelly said. "We are fortunate to have depth at running back. Kenjon Barner could start for a lot of teams in the country." James was in street clothes for the game and Darron Thomas walked back on the field to join James on the sideline in the fourth quarter. Kelly said Thomas asked to go back into the game but the quarterback said he was held out for "precautionary reasons". Darron Thomas was optimistic he could return next week at Colorado and James is also hopeful to return against the Buffs. However, if one or both of Oregon's offensive stars do have to miss additional games, the good news for the Ducks is that their schedule hits a soft spot with the trip to Colorado and a home game against Washington State in the next two weeks before traveling to Washington and Stanford for back-to-back games against the two other teams in the North Division that are unbeaten in conference play. The Ducks have shown they can move the ball and win a big game without their two biggest stars as they scored 21 points in the first half without James and added 20 in the second half without James and De'Anthony Thomas for a total of 41 points, just nine below their season average that leads the conference. The Ducks also strengthened the case that the winner of the inaugural conference championship game will likely come out of the North Division. Without its two biggest stars, Oregon still defeated ASU, which was the only team from the South with an unbeaten conference record at the start of the day. No unbeatens remain in the South while three teams in the North have yet to lose a conference game. Arizona State led twice in the first half before Darron Thomas threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to David Paulson just before halftime to put Oregon ahead 21-17 at the break. The momentum seemed to switch to Arizona State on the second play of the third quarter when Darron Thomas was injured on a 6-yard run. Oregon eventually punted on that drive and Arizona State quickly drove 67 yards to pull ahead 24-21 on Cameron Marshall's 4-yard touchdown run. The Ducks brought in Bennett and he led Oregon to a touchdown on his first full drive. De'Anthony Thomas scored on a 3-yard run to put the Ducks ahead 28-24 with 10:31 left in the third quarter. Bennett ran twice on Oregon's next drive for gains of 36 and 18 yards before handing off to Barner, who scored on a 5-yard run to boost Oregon's lead to 35-24 with 8:01 left in the third. Bennett led the Ducks on another scoring drive that ended with a 37-yard field goal by Alejandro Maldonado to push the lead to 38-24 with 14:40 in the game. ASU followed with a 30-yard field goal by Alex Garoutte to cut the lead to 38-27 with 12:44 left in the game, but Oregon answered with another field goal by Maldonado to go ahead 41-27 with 9:26 left in the game.
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