justin herbert

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.  

Taggart: "we'll see" which QB starts at No. 23 Stanford

Taggart: "we'll see" which QB starts at No. 23 Stanford

Oregon coach Willie Taggart didn't commit to starting freshman Braxton Burmeister at No. 23 Stanford on Saturday but instead indicated that senior Taylor Alie would compete for the job. 

“We’ll let it go through the week and see how the week goes and make sure that the guy that gives us the best chance to win is in there to play,” Taggart said. 

Interesting. 

Burmeister made his first career start in place of injured sophomore starter Justin Herbert (collarbone) during a 33-10 loss to No. 8 Washington State on Saturday. Burmeister did not look particularly good while completing 15 of 27 passes for 145 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions. 

Alie, however, didn't look better when he filled in for Herbert during a 45-24 win over California two weeks ago. Alie completed 9 of 13 passes for just 41 yards with one interception. 

Alie left that game after suffering a concussion and on Friday was ruled out for the WSU game limiting Taggart's options. However, while both quarterbacks haven't perform well, it is clear that Burmeister, a four-star recruit signed last January, is the the more talented player of the two. 

Expect Burmeister to show improvement in practice this week and start at Stanford. 

Burmeister is the answer in Herbert's absence

Burmeister is the answer in Herbert's absence

EUGENE - Oregon freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister must live up to his billing as the No. 7 dual-threat quarterback in the nation coming out of high school if the Ducks are going to survive life without sophomore Justin Herbert, out at least a month with a fractured collarbone. 

It's that simple. The problem is, that's a tough ask. 

Asking any freshman quarterback, regardless of perceived skillset, to perform at an elite level in year one is for the most part unrealistic. 

Few have met such expectations. Equally as unrealistic is asking redshirt senior Taylor Alie to suddenly deliver as a starting quarterback when last year he was moved to wide receiver because he had struggled playing quarterback at this level. 

So, as the Ducks (4-1, 1-1 PAC-12) embark on this journey without Herbert starting on Saturday with No. 11 Washington State (5-0 2-0) at home, they do so with an experienced but limited senior and a talented but promising freshman. 

What could possibly go wrong?

The solution is to shrink the playbook as much as needed and get Burmeister onto the field either as the starter or as the backup. 

But make sure Burmeister plays. He is the more talented of the two. Let that flourish. At the very least, he will have gained that much more experience moving forward rather than burning his redshirt to play backup to a guy in Alie who is only playing quarterback out of necessity. 

Maybe, Oregon gets lucky and Burmeister plays like Herbert did last year when he started his first game at this exact same point in the season. 

We already know what Alie, great person by all accounts who worked his tail off to earn a scholarship after walking on at his hometown university, is all about as a quarterback. 

Former UO coach Mark Helfrich told us during the spring of 2016 when he moved Alie and former quarterback Jeff Lockie, the backups to Vernon Adams Jr. in 2015, to wide receiver behind transfer Dakota Prukop, 4-star recruit Travis Jonsen and 3-star recruit Terry Wilson Jr.  

The move stated clearly that Alie was, at best, the No. 5 quarterback on the team behind two players who had never taken college snaps and Lockie, who certainly didn’t perform well in place of Adams. 

Herbert joined the Ducks in the fall of 2016 making Alie essentially No. 6. 

By the spring of 2017, Alie moved up to pseudo No. 5 behind Herbert, Jonsen, Wilson and Burmeister, but remained at wide receiver. 

Wilson elected to transfer during spring drills, which led to Alie once again receiving quarterback reps. When Jonsen left the program over the summer that put Alie into a competition with Burmeister for the backup role. 

But let’s be clear. Just because a bunch of dominoes fell thrusting Alie into the backup role, and now the likely starter, doesn’t mean that he is your typical backup in waiting. He is not. He is in that position by default. So if Alie starts against WSU, one shouldn't expect miracles. 

Burmeister, however, is here because, unlike Alie, the freshman was recruited to play this position at this level. 

Oregon co-offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo insisted this week that the team's game plan wouldn't shift without Herbert moving forward. Arroyo said he has worked with both Alie and Burmeister to always be ready

“We’ve made the room very aware, and I’ve been doing this a long time, that all it takes is one play, and there it is,” Arroyo said. “That’s to fruition and so we move forward.”

Yet, we saw the game plan shift against Cal when Herbert went down at the end of the first quarter. He had passed for 86 yards on 7-of-8 passing to that point. Alie threw for 41 yards on 9 of 13 attempts with one interception before going down with a concussion in the fourth quarter. 

Burmeister completed one pass for four yards in the final minutes. 

Those numbers represent a strategic shift of seismic proportions.

This week, however, the staff will have a chance to formulate game plans that best fit Alie and Burmeister against WSU's defense, ranked third and allowing 20.2 points per game. Advanced preparation will also help against the continuation of the heart of the schedule with games at No. 24 Stanford, UCLA, home against Utah and at Washington up next.  

If Herbert is fortunate, he will return in time for a home game against Arizona on Nov. 18. 

Preparation should improve the overall production for both Alie and Burmeister but neither will come close to matching Herbert's NFL-caliber passing abilities. 

The extreme variable in all of this is that Burmeister is a superior runner to both Herbert and Alie. Plus, the freshman has a live arm.

Burmeister rushed for 3,449 yards and 68 touchdowns while at La Jolla Country Day High School in La Jolla, Calif.  That's in addition to the 11,512 yards and 127 touchdowns he threw for with just 33 interceptions. 

Those are video game numbers, and although some have questioned the strength of the league he played in, the bottom line is that he had the skills enough to receive scholarship offers from a couple of dozen programs including Washington, Florida and Arizona. 

UO coach Willie Taggart said Burmeister has come a long way since joining the team in time for spring drills last March. 

"He has a better understanding of the offense and what we're trying to do," Taggart said. 

Burmeister has displayed, according to Taggart, greater confidence as his knowledge of the offense has increased. 

“It’s allowed him to go out there and play fast and execute," Taggart added. 

Arroyo said that Herbert’s experience is the top asset lost when he went down. 

"You can't put a price on that," Arroyo said. "That's huge."

Arroyo said the starter is not clear and will be determined after a week of competition. 

There is a chance, Arroyo said, that UO could play both, something Oregon did with Kellen Clemens and Jason Fife (2002-2003) and Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf (2005-2006). 

Whatever the plan is, Burmeister must be a huge part of it. Start him. Or, at least play him a lot. He came to Oregon as the potential quarterback of the future. He must deliver now. Otherwise, Oregon will be in serious trouble until Herbert returns.

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. 

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