Royce Freeman

Ducks midseason report card: Offense

Ducks midseason report card: Offense

The Oregon Ducks have already matched last season's win total (4-8) with a 4-2 record. So, there is no denying that the Ducks are on the upswing. However, two losses in the PAC-12 raise questions as to just how far Oregon remains from being conference title contenders. 

Oregon's best asset right now is its youth. The Ducks are starting only four seniors on offense and three on defense (four depending on inside linebacker). That means 15 starters will return next season as well as a host of other young players who are seeing playing time. 

Oregon's offense, despite starting six freshmen and sophomores, has been one of the best in the conference averaging 43 points per game. 

Nevertheless, we all saw just how fleeting success can be when the starting quarterback goes down. Without sophomore Justin Herbert (collarbone), Oregon managed to score just 10 points during a 33-10 home loss to Washington State on Saturday. It's the lowest scoring output by an Oregon team since the Ducks lost 19-8 at Boise State to open the 2009 season. 

With that all said, here is a report card on the offense through the midway point of the season:

Quarterback - B-plus: Herbert picked up where he left off last season and continued to eleveate his level of play. He leads the Pac-12 in passing efficiency (172.9). The only real knock on Herbert is that he struggled to generate points in the second half against Nebraska and Wyoming, and he couldn't get the team into field goal range on two final drives during a 37-35 loss at Arizona State. Neither situation, however, could be blamed solely on Herbert. 

The reason this position doesn't receive an "A" is because of the mediocre play of the backups, senior Taylor Alie and freshman Braxton Burmesiter.  Both looked out of place at this level in comparison to Herbert. The lack of depth at this position places Oregon in danger of struggling just to become bowl eligible. 

Running backs - A: Oregon is as deep and skilled at this position as it has ever been.

Senior Royce Freeman ranks third in the conference in rushing yards per game (109.2) despite leaving the win over California with a shoulder injury after having gained 51 yards in the first quarter. Freeman is tied for the conference lead with 10 touchdowns. 

Senior Kani Benoit has performed just as well in a backup role. He has rushed for 329 yards this season and leads the team in yards per carry at 7.3.  His 54.8 yards per game ranks 12th in the conference and his eight rushing touchdowns leave him tied for sixth. 

Tony Brooks-James hasn't gotten off to a great start with 158 rushing yards on 3.5 per carry but he has also caught 11 passes for 136 yards. 

Offensive line - B-minus: The offensive line has played very well most of the time but has also experienced enough lapses and has committed enough penalties to not warrant less than an "A" grade.

Oregon ranks second in the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game (239.3). However, a lack of production in the second half against both Nebraska and Wyoming can be traced back to an inconsistent running game. The line was absolutely dominant against California when the Ducks rushed for 328 yards even though Herbert and Freeman went out in the first quarter. But against Washington state, with Burmesiter at quarterback, the line failed to carry the team and the Ducks were held to 132 yards rushing. 

This is a very quality group but consistency has been an issue. 

Wide receivers/tight ends - C-minus: Losing senior slot Charles Nelson (ankle) for three games set this young group back. It's unfair to expect consistency from a corps that includes a converted cornerback (redshirt sophomore Malik Lovette), a converted safety (sophomore Brenden Schooler) and converted running back (junior Taj Griffin).

That said, the group has been about as spotty as expected. Freshman Johnny Johnson III looks like a future star and sophomore Dillon Mitchell is starting to live up to his potential. At tight end, redshirt sophomore Jacob Breeland has also played well. 

But that's a lot of freshman, sophomores and young men making position changes to expect greatness right away. What we've seen is very inconsistent play that has hurt Herbert at times and certainly didn't help Burmeister in his start. 

Still, in the end, the team's youth is its greatest asset and this position figures to be much better in the future. 

Next up: Defense and special teams.  

Royce Freeman record watch 2017: Chase slows to a crawl

Royce Freeman record watch 2017: Chase slows to a crawl

Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman once again had an underwhelming game this time going for 62 yards on 12 carries during a 33-10 loss to No. 8 Washington State on Saturday at Autzen Stadium.

After gaining 460 yards during Oregon's first three games, Freeman has rushed for just 194 yards over his team's last three contests. That includes a 51-yard performance two weeks ago against California when he left the game in the first quarter after suffering a shoulder injury. Had he not gotten injured, Freeman easily could have gone over 200 yards considering that the Ducks rushed for 328 on the evening. 

WSU, however, did a good job of confusing Oregon's offensive line with movement and stunts and the Cougars keyed on the running game of Oregon because they did not fear freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister, who was making his first start

The Ducks (4-2, 1-2 PAC-12) next play at No. 23 Stanford (4-2, 3-1). The Cardinal ranks ninth in the PAC-12 in rushing defense allowing 182 yards per game.

Freeman entered the season with 4,146 career rushing yards and needing 937 to break James' record of 5,082.. 

RECORD WATCH

RUSHING YARDAGE

James' record: 5,082 yards.

Last week: Freeman rushed for 62 yards on 12 carries against the Cougars. 

Previous games: Freeman rushed for 51 yards vs. Cal, 81 yards at ASU, 157 yards at Wyoming, 153 yards vs. Nebraska and 150 against Southern Utah. 

2017 total: Freeman now has has rushed for 654 yards rushing in six games.  

Career total: Freeman has 4,800 yards career rushing yards. 

Freeman needs: He is 283 yards away from breaking James' record. 

RUSHING TOUCHDOWNS

James' record: 53.

Last week: Freeman did not score against Washington State.   

2017 total: Ten.

Career total: Freeman has 54 rushing touchdowns for his career. 

Next up: The Ducks play at 8 p.m., Saturday at No. 23 Stanford.  

Royce Freeman record watch 2017: Injury slows progress

Royce Freeman record watch 2017: Injury slows progress

Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman saw his progress toward becoming the Ducks' all-time leading rusher slowed over the past two weeks. However, plenty of time remains for him to surpass LaMichael James providing Freeman can avoid a major injury setback. 

Freeman appeared to be headed for a big night during a 45-24 win over California on Saturday before a shoulder injury forced him to leave the game in the first quarter after having already gained 51 yards on six carries. The week before, Freeman gained 81 yards on 15 carries during a 37-35 loss at Arizona State. 

The 51-yard performance moved Freeman to within 345 yards of breaking James' record with seven games remaining. Freeman practiced this week and appears to be set to return to action Saturday when the Ducks (4-1, 1-1 PAC-12) host No. 11 Washington State (5-0, 2-0). However, he could be limited because of the injury. 

Freeman entered the season with 4,146 career rushing yards and needing 937 to break James' record of 5,082.. 

RECORD WATCH

RUSHING YARDAGE

James' record: 5,082 yards.

Last week: Freeman rushed for 51 yards on six carries before leaving the game against Cal with a shoulder injury.   

Previous games: Freeman rushed for 81 yards at ASU, 157 yards at Wyoming, 153 yards vs. Nebraska and 150 against Southern Utah. 

2017 total: Freeman now has has rushed for 592 yards rushing in four games.  

Career total: Freeman has 4,738 yards career rushing yards. 

Freeman needs: He is 345 yards away from breaking James' record. 

RUSHING TOUCHDOWNS

James' record: 53.

Last week: Freeman did not score.   

2017 total: Ten.

Career total: Freeman has 54 rushing touchdowns for his career. 

Next up: The Ducks host California (3-1) on Saturday at Autzen Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. 

Ducks overcome adversity, face uncertain future

Ducks overcome adversity, face uncertain future

EUGENE - The Oregon Ducks stared adversity in the face Saturday night and didn't falter. They barely even blinked. They simply found a way to win, and did so convincingly, 45-24 over California at Autzen Stadium. 

The victory did come with a heavy injury toll, however. Starting quarterback Justin Herbert will miss at least a couple of games with a broken collarbone. Still, the night might have provided another peak into something positive to be found within this team. The young Ducks (4-1, 1-1 PAC-12) remain quite flawed but they don't quit.  Not when Arizona State last week took a 31-14 lead in the third quarter and not on Saturday when players began going down left and right from injuries. 

The carnage could have been enough to cause most teams to collapse, as did the 2015 Ducks during the Alamo Bowl debacle two seasonsago. Not this year's team. These Ducks kept their heads up, backups rose to the occasion and UOs pulled through. 

"I realized that this team cares about each other," UO coach Willie Taggart said. "I think what we're all seeing right now is a team that enjoys playing for one another."

Senior running back Royce Freeman left the game first with what appeared to be a shoulder injury after making a nice cut outside to the right for 13 yards early in the first quarter with Oregon leading 3-0. That drive ended with Herbert throwing a 37-yards touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Brenden Schooler to give the Ducks a 10-0 lead.

Team sources say that Freeman's injury isn't all that serious and that he could return next wek against No. 11 Washington State (5-0).  Taggart said during his post game press conference that Freeman told him that he should be okay. 

Minutes after Freeman went down, sophomore wide receiver Dillon Mitchell went out with an undisclosed injury while returning a punt when UO safety Fotu T. Leiato II doubled back to blast a Cal player only to miss his mark and instead drill an unsuspecting Mitchell.

The ensuing drive ended with Herbert rushing for a seven-yard touchdown to give the Ducks a 17-0 lead. On the play, Herbert was violently tackled as he fell into the end zone. Team trainers attended to him on the sideline before he left the field with what multiple team sources say is a broken collarbone that will sideline him for at least a few weeks.

Oregon entered the game minus senior wide receiver Charles Nelson (ankle), redshirt sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland, freshman safety Nick Pickett (knee) and senior inside linebacker A.J. Hotchkins (ankle). 

After Herbert went out, the Ducks' offense took a nap. After gaining 159 yards of offense in the first quarter, the Ducks managed just 32 in the second quarter. Cal (3-2, 0-2) finally scored and make it 17-7 at halftime. Suddenly, a once seemingly sure victory became precarious for UO.

The Ducks figured things out by the second half, found their resolve and turned the game over to the offensive line and the defense.

"You just have to really just keep going and try not to skip a beat," redshirt sophomore center Jake Hanson said. "It seemed like everyone was going down."

Cal trailed 24-17 early in the fourth quarter before the defense really clamped down. Oregon held Cal to eight yards rushingfor the game, sacked Golden Bears quarterback Ross Bowers seven times and had 11 tackles for loss. 

"With everybody dropping like that we just figred, hey, we're losing people but somebody has to step up," junior defensive end Jalen Jelks said.  

The offense rushed for 126 yards in the third quarter alone and would end up with 308 on the day. Running well became a must after Herbert went out.

"It was good to see our offense able to run the football like we did," Taggart said. "That was important. That was an emphasis for us."

Senior running back Kani Benoit rushed for a career-high 138 yards and scored on a 68-yard run to give the Ducks a 31-17 lead with 9:51 remaining in the game. 

"I don't think anyone waivered at all," Benoit said about Herbert going down. "We knew what we were going to do and we know we could execute it."

A sack of Bowers by Oregon outside linebacker Justin Hollins led to a fumble that the Ducks recovered inside the Golden Bears' 5-yard line. That led to a five-yard touchdown run by redshirt sophomore Tony Brooks-James to pretty much ice the game at 38-17 with 8:01 remaining. 

Oregon showed flashes of heart during a 42-35 win over Nebraska when the defense held on for the win after the offense struggled and the Cornhuskers came back from a 42-14 halftime deficit. Last week at ASU, the Ducks looked awful in the first half before coming back to take a 35-34 lead after training 31-14 in the second half. 

But the Ducks were unable to hang on and lost 37-35. 

On Saturday, UO did lead all game and Cal doesn't have a very good offense. Still, the Ducks entered the game with several key players out and watched three more impact players leave the game. Yet, somehow the Ducks managed to find a way to win. 

Some caveats exist. Oregon committed 10 turnovers for 110 yards with most coming in the second half. One penalty negated a long Brooks-James reception on a pass in the third quarter from senior back up quarterback Taylor Alie before he also go injured in the fourth quarter.

Also, Oregon's defense feasted on a very mediocre Cal offense that entered the game averaging 28 points. The Ducks next face a Washington State team averaging 41. 

Finally, despite finding a way to run well and win this game the Ducks will be hard-pressed to use that formula to win many of the upcoming five games on the schedule without Herbert. 

Alie, should he return, is very limited as a passer. He completed 9 of 13 passes for 41 yards against Cal. Freshman Braxton Burmeister, who replaced Alie when he went down, is a mystery but shouldn't be expected to replace Herbert. 

After WSU, the Ducks play at No. 24 Stanford (3-2, 2-1), at UCLA (3-2, 1-1), home against No. 20 Utah (4-0, 2-0) and then at No. 6 Washington (5-0, 2-0). 

The Ducks will need to be strong on offense to defeat any of those opponents. Unless Alie or Burmeister suddenly prove they can pass for 275 yards and multiple touchdowns in a single game, defeating any of the next five opponents is going to be quite difficult. Just don't tell Oregon that. The Ducks believe in themselves too much to listen to what they can't do. 

After Saturday's game, the team could be heard celebrating in the locker room. That level of enthusiasm will be needed if Oregon is going to able to ride up these difficult injuries. 

"We always say around here, 'winning is living' and I think that's what you heard in there," Taggart said. "It can't stop."

SOURCES: UO QB Justin Herbert breaks collarbone

SOURCES: UO QB Justin Herbert breaks collarbone

EUGENE - Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert suffered a broken collarbone while rushing for a touchdown in the first quarter of Saturday night's 45-24 win over California, according to multiple sources. 

The injury occured near the right-handed quarterback's left shoulder and according to a source is not considered to be season-ending. 

Herbert scored on a seven-yard run to give the Ducks (4-1) a 17-0 lead with 2:14 remaining in the first quarter.

Following the scoring play, trainers attended to Herbert's left shoulder on the sideline before he walked out of the stadium and toward the locker room. Broken collarbones can take from between four and eight weeks to heal depending on the severity of the break. If fractured, Herbert would probably be done for the season. If it's a hairline break, he could return in as little as a few weeks. He did not appear to be in serious pain following the injury and as he walked off the field.  

The injury occurred shortly after senior running back Royce Freeman headed to the locker room after it appeared that he injured himself also somewhere around the shoulder area. He also did not return to the game but his injury is said to not be that serious and he could return as soon as Saturday when the Ducks hosts No. 16 Washington State (5-0), which upset No. 5 USC on Friday night. 

Oregon coach Willie Taggart offered no details about his players' injuries during his postgame press conference. However, rumors began circulating immediately following the game that Herbert had indeed broken his collarbone. Several sources close to the team told CSN that they were hearing that Herbert had suffered a break. Official team sources confirmed the news later. 

Herbert finished the day 7 of 8 for 86 yards for one touchdown. 

Compounding the problem at quarterback is that redshirt senior backup Taylor Alie, who replaced Herbert, ended up leaving the game in the fourth carry after getting injured on a running play after he had completed 9 of 13 passes for 41 yards.

That led to Taggart going to freshman quarterback Braxton Brumeister to finish the game. He completed his lone pass attempt for four yards. 

Sources say that Alie's injury isn't serious. That's good news because if he were out the Ducks would be down two just Burmeister and walk-on freshman Mike Irwin out of Lakeridge High School. 

Oregon entered last spring with a very deep group of quarterbacks that included redshirt sophomore Travis Jonsen and redshirt freshman Terry Wilson Jr.  However, Wilson elected to transfer in April during spring drills and in the summer Jonsen left the team leaving Oregon with Herbert and Burmeister, who enrolled at Oregon early enough to participate in spring practices. 

The loss of Jonsen and Wilson forced Taggart to move Alie from wide receiver to quarterback. Alie went to Oregon as a quarterback and in 2015 appeared in games, along with Jeff Lockie, after starter Vernon Adams Jr. injured the index finger on his throwing hand.

In 2016, the Ducks moved Alie and Lockie to wide receiver and went with senior graduate transfer Dakota Prukop, Herbert, Wilson and Jonsen. Herbert took over the starting job week 6 against Washington and threw 19 touchdown passes the rest of the way.  

(more later). 

It's hard enough to keep QBs healthy these days without asking them to run the ball

It's hard enough to keep QBs healthy these days without asking them to run the ball

OK, I don't pretend to know a whole lot about football. Unlike baseball and basketball, I never coached it.

But I do have a tip for young offensive coordinators who weren't even born when I started watching college football. I mean, this is just a tip built on what I've seen over the last several decades of watching games. Take it or leave it:

If you have a quarterback who can throw the ball, maybe even a quarterback considered a blue-chip NFL prospect, TAKE THAT OPTION PACKAGE OUT OF YOUR OFFENSE, PUT IT IN THE TRUNK OF AN OLD JUNK CAR AND RUN IT INTO A VERY DEEP RIVER!

Guys, it's hard enough to keep a quarterback healthy and upright these days without asking him to carry the ball 10-15 times a game. You know better than I do that defenses are going to see a target on his back -- a way to take your most important player away from you. I've written about this kind of thing before and I usually get a bunch of people telling me, "You can't put bubble wrap around these guys. It's football and people get hurt."

Yeah, they do. But why increase the chances of that happening? My goodness, even big strong, tank-like running backs like Royce Freeman have trouble getting through a season without an injury. Most quarterbacks just aren't built to withstand the pounding. Nor should they have to take that abuse. They're too important.

And honestly, it's possible to run an effective offense without some sort of option that includes the quarterback running the ball. Take a look at your TV on Sunday -- the pros have no trouble doing it.

Oregon lost two quarterbacks Saturday night and obviously, Justin Herbert is going to be impossible for them to replace. For what? A short run to the end zone that any one of three or four Duck running backs could have accomplished?

It made me sick to see Herbert hurt on such a play. What a waste. The guy's future is NOT as a runner. His team's future is not with him running the ball. You CAN get along without that play and the entire option attack -- particularly if your offensive line is as good as people say it is. But you can't get along without Herbert -- at least not nearly as well.

And don't get me wrong, it's not just the Ducks who do this. It's a virus all over college football.

No, you can't put bubble wrap around your quarterback. But you can ask him not to run the ball unless he has to AVOID getting tackled. And don't play him with a big lead late in games, either.

Because he's that valuable -- and you're soon going to find that out.

WATCH: Rapid reaction- Ducks win, but at what cost?

WATCH: Rapid reaction- Ducks win, but at what cost?

The Oregon Ducks rebounded with a win Saturday at Autzen Stadium, but it came with a cost. 

As the Ducks improved to 4-1 with a 45-24 victory over Califoria (3-2), they saw senior running back Royce Freeman and sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert leave the game in the first quarter with injuries. Neither returned to action. 

Walk-on quarterback Mike Irwin would have likely played had freshman Braxton Burmeister gone down after he replaced backup Taylor Alie, injured in the fourth quarter. 

BOX SCORE

Stay tuned for injury updates and more throughout the evening. 

UO's Herbert and Freeman leave Cal game during 1st QTR

UO's Herbert and Freeman leave Cal game during 1st QTR

EUGENE - Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman and sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert left the field and headed toward the locker room during the first quarter of tonight's game against California at Autzen Stadium. 

The pair never returned to the game.

Freeman gained 13 yards on a run to the right side and then immediately left the field favoring his shoulder.  A few plays later Herbert threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Brenden Schooler to give the Ducks a 10-0 lead. After the touchdown, Freeman could be seen walking out of the stadium. 

Freeman's return was originally announced as "questionable."

On Oregon's next drive, Herbert scored on a short run in which he got hit pretty hard by a Cal defender. The touchdown made the score 17-0, UO.  Shortly after scoring, Herbert could be seen walking through the tunnel toward the Ducks' locker room. 

Freeman left the game with 51 yards on six carries. 

Herbert is 7 of 8 for 86 yards for one touchdown. 

The Ducks led 17-7 at halftime but gained just 32 yards in the second quarter after amassing 159 in the first quarter. 

Oregon led 31-17 midway through the fourth quarter after senior running back Kani Benoit scored on a 68-yard run. 

Royce Freeman record watch 2017: Set TD mark in down game

Royce Freeman record watch 2017: Set TD mark in down game

Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman became the Ducks' all-time leader in rushing touchdowns Saturday when he scored on an 11-yard run in the second quarter of UO's 37-35 loss at Arizona State. 

It was Freeman's 10th rushing touchdown of the season and 54th for his career, putting him ahead of LaMichael James (53). Freeman now needs six rushing touchdowns to surpass former Oregon State running back Ken Simonton's Pac-12 Conference record of 59 rushing touchdowns (1998 to 2001). 

Freeman also rushed for 81 yards on 15 carries against the Sun Devils to move closer to breaking James' career rushing yardage record of 5,082. Freeman entered the season with 4,146 career rushing yards and needing 937 to break James' record. 

RECORD WATCH

RUSHING YARDAGE

James' record: 5,082 yards.

Last week: Freeman rushed for 81 yards on 15 carries at ASU (2-2).  

Previous games: Freeman rushed for 157 yards at Wyoming, 153 yards vs. Nebraska and 150 against Southern Utah. 

2017 total: Freeman now has has rushed for 541 yards rushing in four games.  

Career total: Freeman has 4,687 yards career rushing yards. 

Freeman needs: He is 396 yards away from breaking James' record. 

RUSHING TOUCHDOWNS

James' record: 53.

Last week: Freeman rushed for one touchdown to eclipsed James.   

2017 total: Ten.

Career total: Freeman has 54 rushing touchdowns for his career. 

Next up: The Ducks host California (3-1) on Saturday at Autzen Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. 

What exactly is it that the Ducks are trying to do on offense?

What exactly is it that the Ducks are trying to do on offense?

Oregon's 37-35 loss at Arizona State Saturday night was one big, hot mess.

A lot of things went wrong, plenty of mistakes were made and there was blame enough to go around. But I came away from the game amazed at how much improvement Oregon has made on the defensive side of the ball. And also wondering just what in the world the Ducks are attempting to do on offense.

First, the defense. This is a far cry from the group last season that couldn't tackle consistently and was seemingly out of position all night. The Ducks this season are organized and most often in the right position to make plays, even though -- like all college defenses this side of Alabama -- they don't always make them. They even covered receivers one-on-one pretty well when it mattered. Sure, you'll say, they gave up 37 points Saturday night to the Sun Devils.

Of course they did. A lot of that was because of the inconsistent and sometimes even inept offense. Oregon's offensive failings kept its defense on the field for 38:06 of the game. The Oregon offense managed just 21:54 of playing time. That's awful. And folks, don't blame Oregon's uptempo offense. ASU was not huddling, either.

I just don't understand what it is the Ducks want to do with the ball. Going into the game at Tempe, I assumed this was a team that was going to hang its hat on a power running game, running downhill behind powerful Royce Freeman. Well, where did that go?

Freeman averaged 5.4 yards per carry but ran the ball only 15 times. Oregon attempted only 30 rushing plays and 10 of those were assigned to quarterback Justin Herbert. Please tell me why on earth the Ducks didn't come out and establish their running game?

It seemed to me that once Oregon fell behind it panicked a bit and began to lose patience with the run game. And I will say, this is not exactly the most diverse offense Oregon has put on the field over the last decade. There was not a lot of deception or variation. There is a lack of creativity.

And a couple of other things, while I'm at it:

Going 1 for 11 on third down with all the offensive talent Oregon has in the backfield is just crazy. Most of that was because there were way too many long-yardage situations on third down. Too many times when Herbert had to pass on third-and-long and everyone knew it.

And yes, 14 penalties is ridiculous. And just an obvious point -- penalties are a direct result of coaching. Or lack of it. You can talk all you want about cleaning that up, but the bottom line isn't talking, it's doing. It's been a problem all season and that's on the coaches.

Lastly, Oregon had two cracks late in the game at running a two-minute offense and looked sadly unprepared to do so. I'm shocked that Herbert wasn't able to work the ball down the field at least close enough for a long field goal. He's too good back there not to be able to do that. Yes, Oregon's receiving corps is decimated and seemingly lacking in speed. But the Ducks either couldn't protect Herbert or he was having trouble judging where his receivers would be when he cut the ball loose. The defense got late stops when needed and the offense just couldn't even get close to paying it off.

So Oregon may be at a point where the defense is more reliable than the offense.

Who saw that coming?