EUGENE, Ore. — Even without the whole LeGarrette Blount debacle, Oregon is having a bumpy start to the season.
First came the loss to Boise State in which the offense fizzled, followed by a challenging victory over Purdue on Saturday night. And now No. 18 Utah is paying a visit.
"We will just have to come out, focus and prepare and do what we gotta do," running back Kenjon Barner said.
Here's the season recap so far: An ugly loss followed by a confounding win.
Oregon fell flat in the 19-8 opening loss to the Broncos, with just 152 yards offense, their worst showing in nearly 15 years. Oregon — ranked No. 16 in the preseason — didn't have a first down until the third quarter.
That was a marked difference from the Ducks of a season ago. Oregon had the second-ranked rushing offense in the country behind Navy and were ranked among the top 10 in total offense and scoring offense.
It got worse when running back LeGarrette Blount punched Boise State defense end Byron Hout in the aftermath of the game on national television. First-year Oregon head coach Chip Kelly acted swiftly, suspending Blount for the season the next morning.
Blount, a senior, was allowed to stay on scholarship and practice with the team but won't appear in any games, effectively ending his career in Eugene.
The punch brought an unwanted attention on the Ducks, who were scrutinized as they tried to regroup for Purdue. Players said during the week that the best way to distance themselves from Boise State was to beat the Boilermakers.
On Saturday night Oregon's offense came out shaky and the defense had to help out with two scores. But the Ducks stopped Purdue's two-point conversion attempt with about a minute left to emerge with a 38-36 win.
Afterward, there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief among the Ducks.
"The taste never really goes away, but this absolutely helps. It feels great," Barner said.
Barner was among the running backs tasked with getting Oregon going on the ground in Blount's absence, along with Andre Crenshaw and LaMichael James. In the end, Oregon had 193 yards rushing against Purdue, with quarterback Jeremiah Masoli's 84 yards topping the team.
Crenshaw, Masoli and Barner each ran for touchdowns.
Blount, who rushed for 1,002 yards and a school-record 17 touchdowns last season, appeared on the field before the game wearing his No. 9 jersey. He tossed a football with Masoli, then retreated to the locker room when kickoff came.
A fan held a sign reading "Free LeGarrette."
Now that Oregon has its first victory, it should be easier to prepare for the Utes on Saturday. And even No. 8 Cal the next week.
"It was a very positive way to go into this next week," Barner said.
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