EUGENE - Oregon coach Willie Taggart entered the post-game press conference following a 41-20 win over Utah Saturday at Autzen Stadium and before he fielded a question stated: "How about those Ducks. Winning is living, baby."
If true, then the Ducks were in desperate need of a life-saving serum following three consecutive blowout losses entering Saturday. They delivered just that with a spirited victory filled with big plays, spark and plenty of juice brought about by team-wide culpability born out of desperation.
Taggart made it clear during the week that his team needed to find ways to win without star quarterback Justin Herbert (collarbone) instead of allowing most of the blame for the team's woes to fall at the feet of struggling freshman backup quarterback Braxton Burmeister. Taggart forced the team last Sunday to watch its 31-14 loss at UCLA so that everyone could see that the entire team was struggling to find consistency, not only Burmeister.
"I think that really helped our guys," Taggart said. "It cleared some things up. We challenged each other, coaches and players, to make sure we do our job and try to get better at what we do and don't worry about anyone else. Just get better at what we do."
On Saturday, Taggart saw his team firing on all cylinders. Burmeister still struggled in terms of generating big plays in the passing game. He completed 9 of 12 passes for just 47 yards but had one touchdown pass in the first quarter and threw no interceptions. What made that hold up were 347 yards rushing and an opportunistic defense that produced a touchdown and prevented Utah from finding a rhythm on offense. Oregon shut down Utah's running game (net 91 yards) and sacked quarterback Tyler Huntley four times in front of 56,154.
Oregon linebacker Troy Dye said Sunday's film session forced each player to hold himself and his teammates accountable. '
"Everybody saw what everybody was doing wrong," Oregon linebacker Troy Dye said. "Just to see that everybody has room for improvement shows you that we can't all put the blame on Braxton."
Oregon was outscored 113-31 in the previous three games.
Saturday's victory put the Ducks (5-3, 2-4 Pac-12) one win ahead of last year's record (4-8) and a victory away from becoming bowl eligible with three games remaining, including Oregon State (1-7, 0-5) on Nov. 25.
Saturday's win takes pressure off of Oregon to win at Washington next week or at home the following week against surging Arizona in order to become bowl eligible. Herbert, who warmed up with the team prior to Saturday's game for the first time since injuring his collarbone. Herbert will likely be back by no later than the Arizona game on Nov. 18. If so, the Ducks will have a strong chance to defeat the Wildcats and the Beavers. Heck, if the team plays like it did today it could win both without Herbert.
Again, it all starts with team-wide accountability that must continue, along with consistent improvement.
"We still have a lot of work to do," Dye said.