justin herbert

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. 

Cal will challenge Oregon's resolve

Cal will challenge Oregon's resolve

We're about to find out if these Oregon Ducks have the resolve to tighten the screws and win a very losable game against California on Saturday night before the heart of the schedule kicks in and the season spirals out of control. 

Oregon has displayed some signs of brilliance through four games this season. The Ducks (3-1) have also demonstrated that they can be had and at times have proven to be their own worst enemy. These realities make Saturday's 15-point spread in UO's favor appear to be out of whack. UO simply has yet to display the consistency needed to warrant being such a big favorite over a 3-1, PAC-12 opponent. 

A converence leading 42 penalties, inconsistent play in the last three games, youth, new coaching staff and new systems are all playing roles in the erratic product we're seeing on the field. 

On merits alone, Cal (3-1) should be favored when the two teams meet at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at Autzen Stadium. The Golden Bears have better wins on their resume (at North Carolina and Mississippi) and a much better loss (No. 5 USC). Oregon's 3-1 record is deceiving. The Ducks are 1-1 against Power Five competition and has two cheap wins (Southern Utah and at Wyoming). The 42-35 win over Nebraska, which lost to Northern Illinois, is decent. But the 37-35 loss at Arizona State, a team that lost to San Diego State and narrowly defeated New Mexico, 37-31, is a head-scratcher. 

Cal is going to give Oregon all it can handle. The Golden Bears' defense made life miserable for USC quarterback Sam Darnold and the Trojans for three quarters before the dam broke and USC' talent took over and turned a 13-13 tie entering the fourth quarter into a 30-20 win.

Oregon isn't as talented or as experienced as USC and you can bet that Cal coach Justin Wilcox will have some good defensive schemes dialed up to try to confuse quarterback Justin Herbert, rattle the penalty-prone offensive line and fluster a young receiving corps.  The only way the Ducks could avoid a similar game from taking place that they could lose would be to clean up the problems that cost them at ASU and almost allowed Nebraska to come back from a 42-14 deficit at halftime to steal the game. 

Let's face it: A close win and a close loss against two mediocre teams makes the Ducks mediocre, as well. 

For that reality to change, Oregon must figure out how to cut down on penalties and execute consistently, especially on offense. That requires mental toughness when adversity strikes.  False starts are unacceptable. Technique flaws on offense and defense while under durress that lead to holding penalties can't happen. Alignment and assignment issues on offense and defense musn't be tolerated. 

The big problem for Oregon is that these issues might not be unavoidable this season. The team is simly too young. It needs time to mature. Time to develop that mental swagger to go along with the physical swagger. 

Or, maybe we've already seen signs of the Ducks slowly maturing before our eyes. They did hold on to win over the Cornhuskers after the tide turned. And, after falling behind 31-14 to the Sun Devils, the Ducks bounced back to take a 35-34 lead late in the game.

The smart money, however, is on the notion that this is simply who these Ducks are for the time being. We will know more on Saturday. Oregon, no matter how it plays, needs a win. Otherwise, with and upcoming slate of games against No. 16 Washington State, at Stanford, at UCLA, vs. No. 20 Utah and at No. 6 Washington, even becoming bowl eligibility could suddenly in doubt. 

---

Oregon vs. California

When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Autzen Stadium. 

T.V.: FS1. 

Betting line: Oregon minus 15.

Records: Oregon (3-1), Cal (3-1).

Last week: Cal lost 30-20 at home to No. 5 USC. Oregon lost 37-35 at Arizona State. 

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (43-46, 3-1 at Oregon); Cal's Justin Wilcox (3-1).

Fear factor (five-point scale): 3.5. For the all of the reasons stated above, the Ducks could very easily drop this game. However, it's stretch to believe that Sam Bowers is going to be good enough to win at Autzen Stadium. He has thrown six touchdown passes with eight interceptions on the season. His 55.2 completion percentage ranks 11th in the conference. 

Final pick: Oregon, 37-27. This should be an interesting game but UO will pull it out in the end. 

Oregon's penalties have reached ludicrous levels

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USA Today

Oregon's penalties have reached ludicrous levels

The Oregon Ducks are no strangers to having officials throw numerous yellow flags at them during games but this year's team has raised the bar on infractions accrued to new heights. 

Oregon (3-1) was penalized 14 times on Saturday night during a 37-35 loss at Arizona State to run the Ducks' season total to a Pac-12-leading 42. It could have been worse. Technically, Oregon committed 17 penalties against ASU but the Sun Devils declined three.  

Oregon's 10.5 penalties per game are the most for the program since at least 2000 (see chart below). The most Oregon has ever committed in a season since 2000 is 8.8 in 2015. The Ducks have plenty of time to reverse the trend for this season but averaging double-digit penalties per game certainly is cause for alarm. 

"It's as frustrating as it gets," Oregon redshirt sophomore center Jake Hanson said following Saturday's loss. "You can't expect to win games when you have over a 100 yards of penalties. We have a lot of stuff to cleanup this week."

Oregon was charged with 99 yards in penalties on Saturday and is averaging 89.2 on the season (third most in the Pac-12). The penalties hurt. Earning flags and a general lack of execution contributed to the Ducks converting on just one of 11 third down attempts during their loss to the Sun Devils. 

"I think penalties are a huge factor," UO sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert said. "Anytime when you're moving backwards it isn't a good thing." 

UO coach Willie Taggart said the proper technique is needed to avoid penalties such as holding (Oregon committed five total on offense and defense vs. ASU) and pass interference.

"We've just got to teach," Taggart said. "Teach and practice."

False start penalties on the offense were also a big problem against ASU (2-2). The Ducks committed five, four in the first half when UO managed to score just 14 points with one touchdown set up by a muffed punt return by ASU at its 11-yard line. 

'You can't do that," Taggart said of the false starts. "You've got to listen for the call."

Interestingly, while penalties have been a problem for Oregon over the years, they typically haven't hurt the team's won-loss record. The Ducks have ranked at or near the bottom in the conference for much of the past 17 years. In fact, Oregon has committed a whopping eight or more penalties per game in eight out of 17 seasons since 2000. 

In 2010, when Oregon went 12-1 and reached the BCS National Championship game under coach Chip Kelly, the Ducks ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in both penalties per game (7.2) and penalty yards per game (61.2). Kelly's teams ranked ninth in the conference in total penalties in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and ranked eighth in 2009. 

The 2014 team, which reached the national title game under coach Mark Helfrich, ranked ninth in the Pac-12 in penalties per game (8.2) and seventh in penalty yards (72). 

Some of the elevation in numbers over the years could be contributed to the number of plays generated by an uptempo offense. More plays could certainly lead to more penalties. But not enough to account for the poor overall rankings. And, tempo certainly wouldn't necessarily impact the team's conference ranking in that area during today's era when most teams run an uptempo offense. 

In 2004, the year before the Ducks moved to the spread offense and began running some no-huddle, the Ducks committed 8.6 penalties per game, the third most (counting this season) since 2000.

While great UO teams, such as the 2010 and 2014 squads, were able to overcome their penalty totals, lesser Duck teams did not. The aforementioned 2004 Ducks went 5-6 that year. The 2016 season, the program's only other losing campaign since 1993, saw the Ducks rank last in the Pac-12 at 8.3 turnovers per game. 

This Oregon team is closer in playing level to the 2004 and 2016 teams than it is to any of the Ducks' championship teams. These Ducks are simply too young and too inexperienced to be good enough to win many close games while giving away yards through penalties. 

Oregon and Taggart had better clean up this penalty mess or more close, frustrating defeats will surely come their way this season. 

OREGON'S PENALTY TOTALS - 2000-2017

2017 (3-1)

Penalty per game game = 10.5 (12th PAC-12)

Penalty yards per game = 89.2 (10th)

2016 (4-8)

Penalty per game game = 8.3 (12th)

Penalty yards per game = 75.8 (12th)

2015 (9-4)

Penalty per game game = 8.8 (10th)

Penalty yards per game = 61 (10th)

2014 (13-2)

Penalty per game game = 8.2 (9th)

Penalty yards per game = 72 (7th)

2013 (11-2)

Penalty per game game = 8.2 (12th)

Penalty yards per game = 70.2 (10th)

2012 (12-1)

Penalty per game game = 7.9 (9th)

Penalty yards per game = 71.1 (9th)

2011 (12-2)

Penalty per game game = 7.2 (9th)

Penalty yards per game = 65 (7th)

2010 (12-1)

Penalty per game game = 7.2 (9th PAC-10)

Penalty yards per game = 61.2 (9th).

2009 (10-3)

Penalty per game game = 7.3

Penalty yards per game = 62.7

2008 (10-3)

Penalty per game game = 7.3

Penalty yards per game = 62.7

2007 (9-4)

Penalty per game game = 6.1

Penalty yards per game = 55

2006 (7-6)

Penalty per game game = 7.5

Penalty yards per game = 60

2005 (10-2)

Penalty per game game = 8.0

Penalty yards per game = 72.7

2004 (5-6)

Penalty per game game = 8.6

Penalty yards per game = 79.7

2003 (8-5)

Penalty per game game = 7.8

Penalty yards per game = 69.7

2002 (8-5)

Penalty per game game = 8.5

Penalty yards per game = 71.2

2001 (11-1)

Penalty per game game = 6.4

Penalty yards per game = 57.9

2000 (10-2)

Penalty per game game = 8.0

Penalty yards per game = 72.0

Oregon reveals true self in loss at ASU, and it's not all bad

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USA Today

Oregon reveals true self in loss at ASU, and it's not all bad

TEMPE, Ariz. - Oregon's zany and quite entertaining 37-35 loss at Arizona State Saturday night might best be defined by one sequence of events involving a spectacular play followed by a selfish moment and a butt chewin' to end all butt chewins. 

UO running back Tony Brooks-James caught a 22-yard touchdown pass near the right sideline of the end zone to draw Oregon to within 31-28 with 4:33 remaining in the third quarter after Oregon had fallen behind 31-14. For whatever reason, the redshirt junior decided to spike the ball, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and the ire of UO coach Willie Taggart. 

The television cameras at Sun Devil's Stadium caught Taggart ripping into Brooks-James on the sideline as if he were his son who had broken curfew and shown up at home with a speeding ticket from another state. 

"I was trying to teach him a lesson," Taggart said. "You've got to understand, we're down in the football game, you make a hell of a play, you just can't do that. That's selfish."

In that one moment you saw where these Oregon Ducks truly are as a team. They are inconsistent and undisciplined enough to fall behind in a game they were favored to win by 14 yet talented enough to fight back on the road to eventually take the lead. In the end, however, costly mistakes prevented the Ducks from pulling this one out revealing that they clearly remain a work in progress. 

And all of that is okay and should have been expected. Oregon is 3-1 after going 4-8 last season. Clear progress has been made. But for anyone who had been seduced by the team's 3-0 start, Saturday night was a wakeup call. Keep expectations in check or prepare for some maddening disappointment mixed among flashes of potential greatness.  

We can expect more games like Saturday's during the season. Oregon, for the first time this season, on Saturday faced a solid offense with a dual-threat quarterback who had some very impressive athletes to get the ball to. Quarterback Manny Wilkins threw for 347 yards with no interceptions and rushed for 56 gross yards (35 net) and two touchdowns. Oregon sacked him four times, three defensive end Jalen Jelks delivering three. But Wilkins managed to overcome adversity much of the night and create big plays. 

"I think they had a hell of a lot more explosive plays than anyone had on us all season," Taggart said. 

ASU's much-maligned defense used its aggressive style to take advantage of Oregon's mistakes. Senior running back Royce Freeman, who entered the game with 460 yards rushing, managed just 81 on a season-low 15 carries. Sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert was a bit off with his touch on some deep passes and several drops by a young receiving corps minus senior Charles Nelson hurt his completion percentage (19 of 35 for 54 percent). Herbert still passed for 281 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions. 

"Penalties and dropped balls," Taggart said of his team's struggles. "It's hard to get into a rhythm... It's hard to go faster like we want to do when you're off schedule."

Oregon committed 14 penalties to bring the season total to a whopping 42 infour games. 

The greatest positive is that Oregon battled back on the road in a Pac-12 Conference game. Consider that the Ducks trailed 31-14 in the third quarter with one of their touchdowns coming courtesy of a muffed punt at the ASU 11. It was a vast departure from the huge leads gained against Wyoming and Nebraska. To that point in Saturday's game, however, little evidence existed to suggest that Oregon would mount a comeback. Yet, the Ducks did just that. Oregon led 35-34 following a four-yard scoring run by Herbert with 6:41 remaining in the game.

"I thought we responded well," Taggart said. "We got ourselves back in it and took the lead in the fourth quarter. I was impressed with out football team by doing that and not giving up and not quitting."

But the Ducks couldn't close. After ASU took the lead with a field goal, Oregon did next to nothing on its final two desperation drives drives. 

"We just didn't do enough to finish it," Taggart said. 

That's because these Ducks weren't ready to win a game like this, just yet. They were used to playing from ahead and didn't have the experience and discipline to win in this situation on the road. 

After the game, players took accountability for their performance. Brooks-James said he had to learn from his selfish mistakes. Redshirt sophomore center Jake Hanson blamed himself and the entire offensive line for not clearing the way for Freeman and better protecting Herbert, sacked late during one of the final drives. Sophomore inside linebacker Troy Dye blamed his play and the defense. 

These are all good signs of great things to come. But the road to get there is going to be a bumpy one with the heart of the Ducks schedule kicking into gear real soon. 

 

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?

Oregon at ASU won't reveal much unless Ducks lose

Oregon at ASU won't reveal much unless Ducks lose

The No. 24 Oregon Ducks enter Pac-12 play under Willie Taggart as a mystery team. That probably won't change much come late Saturday night. 

For the first time this season UO will face an opponent capable of putting up numbers on offense and getting after the quarterback on defense when the Ducks (3-0) play at Arizona State (1-2) Saturday night in Sun Devil's Stadium. When the game is over, Oregon should be 4-0 and by Sunday morning ranked as high as No. 20.  Yet, this game probably won't reveal much about what these Ducks are really all about. That is, unless, of course, they were to lose. 

How could that happen?

For starters, unlike previous opponents, Nebraska and Wyoming, the Sun Devils have some pop on offense and they will spread that talent out across the formation seeking mismatches. UO defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt said facing such a team loaded with speed on the outside and at running back will be a challenge for UO. 

"We haven't seen athletes like these guys, yet," he said. 

Oregon redshirt senior safety Tyree Robinson said he believes ASU, averaging 412 yards and 34 points per game, will try to establish the run with 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior running back Kalen Ballage, who runs with power and speed.

"We have to gang tackle," Robinson said.

Maybe. Then again, ASU is averaging a weak 97 rushing yards per game on 2.5 per carry.

ASU, according to Robinson, will use a lot of formations and motions in an attempt to catch Oregon's defense napping. 

"We just have to do a good job of communicating and being in the right place," Robinson said. 

Surely tested will be true freshmen defensive backs Nick Picket and Thomas Graham Jr. They have performed very well so far but have yet to see a wave of plays and athletes coming at them over and over like they will on Saturday.  ASU quarterback Many Wilkins is a threat to run and will certainly extend plays better than Wyoming's Josh Allen did last week. Wilkins has thrown seven touchdown passes with zero interceptions. He is certainly a threat to make some plays on Saturday. Enough to win? Probably not. 

Oregon's defense might allow its share of points but the Ducks certainly won't get run through like many teams did to them last season. More importantly, Oregon's offense should have its way with ASU's defense, which has allowed 37.7 points and 505.3 yards per game.  

For that reason alone, UO should leave the state of Arizona with a win. Only a flow of turnovers could derail Oregon. Yes, the Sun Devils lead the conference with 13 sacks. And yes, they will throw heavy pressure at UO sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert. It simply won't matter. Herbert gets rid of the ball too quickly, which will lead to big plays against pressure. Plus, let's not forget, that last year he tied a program record with 489 yards passing against ASU in one of his only two victories as a starter last season. 

The Ducks will score a ton of points and win. They might even score a nice chunk of those points in the second half, which would be a departure from the previous two weeks. 

Maybe the most significant fact that will come out of a win Saturday is that Oregon would have matched last season's win total (4-8) four games into the season. By any measure, that's great progress. We just won't know if the Ducks are very good, or simply better than the mediocre competition they would have faced to date. 

---

Oregon at Arizona State

When: 7 p.m., Saturday, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz. 

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: Oregon minus 14 1/2.

Records: Oregon (3-0), Arizona State (1-2).

Last week: The Sun Devils lost 52-45 at Texas Tech. Oregon won 49-13 at Wyoming. 

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (43-45, 3-0 at Oregon); Sun Devils' Todd Graham (89-57, 40-28 at ASU).

Sun Devils' impact players: Quarterback Manny Wilkins is off to a pretty hot start, averaging 308 yards passing with seven touchdown tosses and has yet to throw an interception. He has completed 68.3 percent of his passes. Wilkins, a redshirt junior, was the No. 6-rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation when he came out of high school in 2014.

"This will be the first time we've had a good mobile quarterback that we've had to go against," Taggart said. 

Senior running back Kalen Ballage has rushed for 179 yards and four touchdowns but is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. 

Sophomore wide receiver N'Keal Harry is Wilkins' top target. The 6-foot-4 Harry has caught 24 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns. 

ASU's defense is led statistically by two freshmen. Defensive end Jojo Wicker has three sacks on the season and linebacker D.J. Calhoun is averaging 10.3 tackles per game. 

Linebacker Koron Crump (knee), who leads the conference with four sacks, is out for ASU. 

Fear factor (five-point scale): 3.5.  It's a road game. It's a conference game. It's against what will be by far the best offense the Ducks will have faced this season. There's a lot to be worried about for Oregon. However, ASU is about as bad on defense as the Ducks were last season. If the Ducks take care of the football they would once again surpass 40 points. We will know after this game if UO's defense truly has bite if it can keep the Sun Devils in check. 

Final pick: Oregon, 47-33. 

Ducks' defense excelling with greater challenges ahead

Ducks' defense excelling with greater challenges ahead

LARAMIE, Wyo. - Whenever the down marker flips to "3" on opposing offenses, Oregon's punt return team jumps to attention and the offense becomes antsy. It's becoming a pavlovian response.

That's because 79 percent of the time this season, the Ducks' defense has stopped opposing teams from converting on third down, a dramatic shift from last season. And it all starts with attitude and desire. Oregon senior safety Tyree Robinson said he urges the defense on every third down to dig deep for that extra burst of energy that allows them to play harder so they can get off the field. 

“I think guys have really bought into that , which kind of makes us a special defense right now,” Robinson said. 

According to Oregon sophomore linebacker Troy Dye, defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt tirelessly preaches the importance of making plays on third down, or, the "money down," as he calls it. 

“We have to go out there and make that money,” Dye said. 

Right now, the No. 24 Ducks (3-0) are filthy rich. Opposing offenses have converted just 21.3 percent of the time on third downs, best in the Pac-12 Conference. Last year Oregon allowed a 48.5 percent conversion rate, 11th in the Pac-12. 

The Ducks' defense has shown dramatic improvement over last season in every category imaginable. A low third down conversion rate for opponents and eight turnovers forced have been two of the most important areas of improvement. They lead directly to the team allowing 23 points per game, down from 41.7 a year go. 

Wyoming (1-2) on Saturday managed to convert just 4 of 15 third down attempts during Oregon's 49-13 victory. Two Saturdays ago, Nebraska converted just 2 of 14 attempts during a 42-35 loss at Autzen Stadium. 

"It's great to see those guys get off the field on third down and get the ball back to our offense,” UO coach Willie Taggart said. 

He credits the success to the defense doing a great job of studying opponents and having an idea of what they like to do on third down. Also, they have done a great job of pressuring quarterbacks. Oregon already has 10 sacks after getting just 25 last season. The Ducks sacked Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen twice on Saturday while pressuring him all evening. A projected first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Allen managed just 64 yards passing against Oregon. 

“When you can get to the quarterback, and he didn’t have time to pass the ball, that’s what usually happens," Taggart said. "And if you can get to him early, he will start looking at the rush and I thought that’s what he did.”

Dye said the defense entered this season with something to prove and a chip on its collective shoulders following such a poor season in 2016 when the Ducks ranked 128th in total defense. Robinson said the experience gained last year by so many young players forced into action has paid off this season. 

“It’s awesome to have a defense that we have so much confidence in," UO quarterback Justin Herbert said.

But will it last? Oregon hasn't exactly faced quality offenses to date. Wyoming's 14.3 points per game ranks 120th in the nation. Nebraska ranks 63rd at 31.7 points per game. Oregon won 42-35 over Nebraska on Sept. 9. The Cornhuskers (1-2) lost 21-17 to Northern Illinois on Saturday. 

The Ducks begin Pac-12 Conference play this Saturday at Arizona State (1-2). There are 11 teams in the conference averaging better than 31 points per game, including the Sun Devils. Most teams have great passing offenses that will challenge the Ducks' Pac-12 leading 89.7 passing defense efficiency rating. 

ASU junior quarterback Manny Wilkins is averaging 308 passing yards per game with seven touchdown passes and zero interceptions. 

The Pac-12 is going to be a challenge, one the UO defense is looking forward to facing. 

“Oregon is not just an offensive school anymore," Dye said. "We play defense, too.”