Willie Taggart

Taggart hopeful Burmeister will improve in time for UCLA

Taggart hopeful Burmeister will improve in time for UCLA

Will the third start for Oregon freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister be the charm?

Oregon coach Willie Taggart certainly hopes so. His options at quarterback are limited with sophomore Justin Herbert out again for this week's game at UCLA (3-3, 1-2). It will either Burmeister or redshirt senior Taylor Alie. Despite two losses in which the Ducks scored a combined 17 points, it appears that Taggart will stick with Burmeister as the starter and hope that playing near his hometown of La Jolla, Calif., will inspire him to perform better. Even after two subpar performances by Burmeister, Taggart doesn't believe his first quarterback recruit's confidence has waned. 

"I just think he's got to play better," Taggart said. 

Through two starts, and a quarter of play the night Herbert went down against California, Burmeister has completed 19 of 36 passes (52.8 percent) for 172 yards and one touchdown with four interceptions. He's rushed for gains of 69 yards with a net of 27 after deducting yards mostly lost on sacks. 

While few people, if any, expected Burmeister to match the production of Herbert when he started as a freshman last year, it was reasonable to expect that the four-star recruit would at least perform like a potential future starter. He has not. Yet. Taggart still believes Herbert will improve. 

"Just being sure when you go back and throw," Taggart said. "We've got to make sure from a practice standpoint that we put him in those situations more often than what we do."

Burmeister is not reading defenses well, is making poor decisions and when he does throw the ball, isn't displaying much accuracy aside from the occasional moment here and there. He looks like a quarterback who has very little confidence in what he is doing.

Already down 21-7 in the first quarter, Burmeister had a pass intercepted when he forced a throw to running back Tony Brooks-James who was running a wheel down the left sideline. On the play, running back Kani Benoit can be seen running wide open to the left on a swing route. Also, slot receiver Charles Nelson could be found wide open running a dig route from left to right. 

While finding and hitting Nelson might have been a high-end read, reading wide receiver Brenden Schooler on the post route to Brooks-James and then down to Benoit is relatively routine. But Burmeister failed to recognize the multiple black jerseys that flew deep leaving Benoit uncovered. 

These types of easy plays must be corrected in order for the offense to start clicking again. Burmeister can't turn what should be an easy throw for a first down into a forced interception, especially when he isn't under pressure. 

"We don't need for him to win the football game for us but we definitely can't turn the football over," Taggart said.

The lone bright spot for Burmeister is his running ability, and important skill for Taggart's offense.  

"I thought he did a good job running the football," Taggart said. "That's the one thing he looked really comfortable doing."

Taggart will take that every time. Running after a play breaks down is certainly better than forcing a bad pass. 

"You don't have to make all of the plays, just make the right play for us," Taggart said. 

All of the mistakes Burmeister has made, Taggart said, are correctable. He said the coaches have to do a better job of putting him in easier situations he is capable of executing. Then, it's up to Burmeister to settle down and play good football. 

"Just go out and have fun and don't put too much pressure on yourself," Taggart said. "Then things will workout."

Oregon QB Justin Herbert is throwing and drinking his milk

Oregon QB Justin Herbert is throwing and drinking his milk

Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert, out with a fractured left collarbone, has been throwing at practice and maybe more importantly, according to coach Willie Taggart, is drinking his milk.

"I was sitting with him at dinner the other night and he had two vitamin D cartons right there," Taggart said. "He said, 'coach, I'm drinking my milk.' You got to love him."

Taggart would love him a little bit more if Herbert were able to help the Ducks (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) get out of this current tailspin. Herbert broke his left collarbone scoring on a seven-yard touchdown run in the first quarter against California on Sept. 30. In two games without him, Oregon has lost 33-10 at home to No. 15 Washington State (6-1, 3-1) and on Saturday fell 49-7 at No. 22 Stanford (5-2, 4-1).  That's a combined score of 82-17 minus Herbert, who originally was said to be out 4-to-6 weeks.

Freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister has struggled mightily in Herbert's absence. Senior Taylor Alie has also played poorly. Their struggles have led to a virtual collapse of Oregon's offense, which entered the WSU game averaging 49.6 points per game. Saturday's seven points were the fewest scored by an Oregon team since 2007 when the Ducks lost 16-0 to UCLA after star quarterback Dennis Dixon went down for the season with a knee injury. 

The fourth week out from Sept. 30 is Oct. 28 when the Ducks host Utah. Could Herbert return then? If it were up to him, he would probably play this week at UCLA. 

"Justin really wants to get back as soon as possible," Taggart said. "It's pretty cool to watch."

Herbert did begin throwing last week and Oregon's football Twitter account (@OregonFootball) put out a video of him throwing the ball around on Sunday. 

Because Herbert injured his non-throwing shoulder, he has been able to get a jumpstart on regaining his form and timing before the injury is 100 percent healed. The pressing question is: When will that be?

Indications from team sources at the time of the injury made it sound like he could return closer to the four-week mark than the six-week mark. However, other sources said that Oct. 28 would be pushing it. Herbert returning for the Ducks' Nov. 18 home game against Arizona would be seven weeks from the when the injury occurred. 

Without Herbert in action, the Ducks are increasingly becoming in danger of failing becoming bowl eligible. Little evidence suggests that UO can win any of its next three games without Herbert at UCLA (3-3, 1-2), home against Utah (4-2, 1-2) and at No. 12 Washington (6-1, 3-1). Losing all three would put the Ducks at 4-6 with two games remaining. 

Oregon would then need to defeat Arizona (4-2, 2-1) and Oregon State (1-6, 0-4) to reach 6-6. At one time that seemed like a given providing Herbert returned at least by the Arizona game. However, the Wildcats have seen a resurgence thanks to the play of sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate. In two starts, he has rushed for 557 yards and six touchdowns while passing for 302 yards and two scores with zero interceptions. 

If Oregon needs to defeat Arizona in order to become bowl eligible, the Ducks could be in big trouble, with or without Herbert. For that reason, it might be a must that he returns for Utah in order to increase the Duck's chances of getting to six wins. 

"I'm sure he will get back sooner than we think," Taggart said. 

The Ducks had better hope so. 

Oregon's offensive woes could become demoralizing

Oregon's offensive woes could become demoralizing

STANFORD - It's official. The Oregon Ducks are a white hot mess with no remedy in sight beyond the return of quarterback Justin Herbert. 

Losing Saturday night at Stanford was largely expected. But getting trounced 49-7 in a game that saw the defense appear to be unprepared and freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister display zero improvement over last week, it's safe to say that the Ducks (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) will not win a game until Herbert returns from a broken collarbone.

The question now is whether or not the team becomes completely demoralized in the interim making Herbert's ultimate return irrelevant. 

Oregon coach Willie Taggart insisted that his team would remain upbeat and positive. Senior running back Royce Freeman, a team captain, said it's imperative that Oregon maintain its confidence. Nevertheless, some of the long faces of players leaving the field following the game displayed more than just your garden variety disappointment. Some appeared to be downright devastated.

Including a 33-10 loss to WSU last week, the Ducks have lost their last two games by a combined score of 82-17. Such beatdowns are typically reserved for the FCS teams Oregon pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to for them to come get smacked around at Autzen Stadium. 

This is an Oregon team that three weeks ago grappled with the disappointment of suffering its first loss, 37-35 at Arizona State. Now, the can't score 35 points over eight quarters. 

And the problems all start and end with the quarterback play. 

Before this continues, it must be reiterated that Burmeister is only a true freshman. He shouldn't have been expected to perform as spectacularly as Herbert did as a freshman last season when he passed for 19 touchdowns and four interceptions. Burmeister could still develop into a great quarterback. 

That all said, what we witnessed Saturday might can not be merely chalked up as freshman jitters. It might have been Oregon's worst performance from the quarterback position in at least 20 years. It's certainly in the conversation. Things got so bad that Taggart figuratively threw his hands up in the air and at times refused to call pass plays even while facing obvious passing down-and-distance situations. 

Burmeister completed 3 of 8 passes for 23 yards with two interceptions. Senior Taylor Alie entered the game in the third quarter in hopes, Taggart said, of providing a "spark." Instead, he completed just 2 of 5 passes for 10 yards. Included was a throw that went straight into the ground about three yards in front of an open Jacob Breeland, who reacted in frustration that certainly was felt by every player on the team, whether they would admit it tonight. 

Let those passing numbers sink in for a second then try to recall having witnessed a worse game from Oregon quarterbacks. In 2007 after quarterback Dennis Dixon went down with a knee injury at Arizona, Oregon lost the following week 16-0 at UCLA.  In that game, the quarterback trio of Cody Kempt, Brady Leaf and John Roper completed 11 of 39 passes for 139 yards with three interceptions. One could argue that those numbers are actually worse overall that what we saw on Saturday but at least former coach Mike Bellotti kept trying to throw the ball. 

When the Ducks lost 19-8 at Boise state to start the Chip Kelly era, they at least got 121 yards out of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who rushed for a touchdown as did Burmeister against Stanford. 

Even during the 2015 Alamo Bowl debacle, Jeff Lockie completed 7 of 15 passes for 36 yards with zero interceptions in just over a half of football. That's better than the 5 of 13 for 33 yards with two interceptions that Burmeister and Alie combined for at Stanford. 

What makes Saturday doubly disappointing is that Burmeister displayed zero improvement from his performance last week against Washington State. In fact, he regressed. Against the Cougars Burmeister completed 15 of 27 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. Oregon would have killed for numbers like that on Saturday. They would have helped the offense sustain drives by supporting the 276 yards Oregon rushed for.

Even Roper, a freshman in 2007, progressed from game to game. Following that UCLA loss, he completed 13 of 25 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns with one interception during a loss to Oregon State. A month later in the Sun Bowl, Roper completed 17 of 30 passes for 180 yards and four touchdowns. 

Oregon linebacker Troy Dye said the defense couldn't allow 49 points so the unit is in no position to worry about what the offense is doing. However, if a team is going to run a no-huddle offense and leave your defense on the field for 37 minutes then you had better score loads of points on offense. Otherwise, you can expect the other team to find the end zone quite often.  

UCLA is next for the Ducks. The Bruins (3-3, 1-2) have the second worst defense in the conference allowing 40.5 points per game. With Herbert, Oregon would likely drop 50 in UCLA. Without him, the Ducks might be lucky to reach 24 points. On the other side, the Bruins offense is averaging 39.5 points per game. Put Oregon's defense on the field for 37 minutes with no scoring support from the offense against the Bruins and quarterback Josh Rosen will lead them to 50 points in a heartbeat. 

A third lopsided victory will put this team's resolve to the ultimate test. If they break, the Ducks could fall short of reaching bowl eligibility for the second consecutive season. 

 

Ducks would be wise to huddle up, run clock and shorten their games

Ducks would be wise to huddle up, run clock and shorten their games

I'm waiting. Not for Oregon to DO something. I'm waiting for them to SAY something.

Braxton Burmeister, a true freshman, had a miserable night at Stanford Saturday. He completed three passes for 23 yards and had two interceptions. Ugly. But this is a freshman who was supposed to be a redshirt this season. He is playing only because the previous coaching regime missed on some quarterbacks it recruited and really missed on one it didn't -- a kid out of Lakeridge named Eric Dungey who ended up at Syracuse and very well might be named the national player of the week after leading his team over Clemson Saturday.

But that's ancient history. What I'm waiting for the current coaching staff at Oregon to say is simply, "We just aren't doing a very good job of getting our young quarterback ready."

The Ducks aren't throwing Burmeister under the bus, they're throwing him to the wolves. He's getting beaten up mentally and physically.

I mean, this kid was touted as a pretty promising quarterback when he was recruited. He seems to have some tools. And I have a hard time believing the Ducks couldn't come up with some throws for him that he's capable of executing.

Oregon is a puzzling offensive team. It rushed for 276 yards against the Cardinal and has a bevy of outstanding running backs. I'm not sure why that running game isn't translating to open receivers. How about some effective play-action passes? Stanford has built its program on a power running game, stong offensive line play and play-action passes. It hasn't asked much from its quarterbacks since Andrew Luck took his talents to Indianapolis. Oregon Coach Willie Taggart is well aware of that system -- he was there. Is it too much to ask that a few temporary changes be made with Oregon's offensive system?

And while I'm at it, why go no-huddle with an inexperienced quarterback? All it does is shorten Oregon's possession time and put more pressure on its defense. Run some clock, shorten the game -- the no-huddle is doing nothing but harm right now. Run the ball, run clock and keep the other team's offense off the field.

Give yourself a chance. And give your young quarterback a chance.

Ducks midseason report card: Defense & special teams

Ducks midseason report card: Defense & special teams

Previous post: Offensive report card

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The most impressive aspect of Oregon's season thus far has been the dramatic turnaround of the defense under new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt.

Last year, Oregon ushered offenses into the end zone while ranking 126th in the nation in total defense (518.4 yards allowed per game) during a 4-8 season. So far this year, the Ducks (4-2, 1-2 PAC-12) rank 29th in total defense (338.3) and 10th in rushing defense (93.7). 

The Ducks lead the conference in sacks (24) and are tops in third-down conversion defense (24.5 percent) after ranking 11th last year (48.5). 

The Ducks are by no means dominant on defense but have shown flashes of heading in that direction. It's still a very young group with just four senior starters and is playing a lot of young players as starters and backups. 

Here are a position-by-position grades for both the defense and special teams:

DEFENSE

Defensive line - B-plus: The improvement of the Ducks' defensive line, which has benefited from the shift back to the 3-4 scheme, is the biggest key to the unit's turnaround. In addition to being stout against the run, the defensive line has been instrumental in the team's improved pass rush. The line has produced 10 1/2 of the team's 24 sacks while helping to create sack opportunities for linebackers. 

Redshirt junior defensive end Jalen Jelks is tied for the team lead with 4 1/2 sacks, including three at Arizona State. His .75 sacks per game ranks tied for second in the PAC-12. Senior defensive end Henry Mondeaux has rebounded from a down year in 2016. He has four sacks to already matching last year's total. He had 6 1/2 sacks in 2015.

Sacks aren't everything, of course. Jelks leads the team with eight tackles for loss and his 1.33 per game ranks second in the conference. 

The return to the 3-4 could have been a disaster if Oregon weren't receiving quality play from freshmen nose tackles Jordon Scott and Austin Faoliu. Scott has added two sacks.

Neither is capable of dominating a game or playing every down. However, as a duo, they have been strong enough in the middle to help protect the inside linebackers, and both appear to have the skills to become very good in the future. 

Linebackers - B-minus: Sophomore inside linebacker Troy Dye and redshirt junior outside linebacker Justin Hollins have been nothing short of steller. Both use their size, speed and athleticism to be extremely disruptive on every down. Piti the quarterback that has both coming after him at the same time.

Dye ranks fourth in the conference in tackles per game (8.7) and is tied with Hollins for fifth in tackles for loss per game (1.2). Each has seven. 

Hollins has forced three fumbles and has 2 1/2 sacks. Dye has three sacks. Their size and athleticism have made the 3-4 defense scary from all angles. 

However, play at inside linebacker next to Dye has been inconsistent. Kaulana Apelu, out for the season with a foot injury, played hard and fast but his lack of size at 200 pounds didn't play well at that position. Senior A.J. Hotchkins has been in and out of the lineup and the very inexperienced redshirt sophomore Blake Rugraff has been underwhelming when filling in, thus far. 

The outside linebacker spot opposite Hollins (the Duck position) has been manned by junior Fotu T Leiato II and sophomore La'Mar Winston Jr.  Winston lately has been solid with 17 tackles, three for loss. Senior backup linebacker Jonah Moi has been the team's best reserve linebacker with 14 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks. 

Defensive backs - C-plus: Gone are the days of woefully blown coverages and mass confusion. The secondary has been solid in coverage and has proven to be good tacklers in space, most of the time.

Senior Arrion Springs, who struggled with catching interceptions, has still been great in pass coverage. His 10 passes defended are tied for second in the conference. 

Freshman cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., who has a shot at being named a freshman All-American, and junior Ugowchukwu. Both are tied for 8th in the conference with six passes defended, including two interceptions. 

Helping make the secondary hum is redshirt senior Tyree Robinson, who has taken a leadership role. That's helped with the maturation of freshman safety Nick Pickett, who surprisingly took over as a starter and has performed well. 

Still, there is room for improvement. Oregon has allowed 11 touchdown passes, tied for ninth most in the conference. The Ducks have allowed nine touchdown passes. Oregon's seven interceptions puts it well on pace to surpass the nine the team had all of last year. However, six of the seven came within the first two games with four against Nebraska. Oregon has not intercepted a pass in three PAC-12 games while allowing nine touchdown passes. For these reasons the secondary fall short of receiving a B grade. 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Return game B-plus: Redshirt junior running back Tony Brooks-James began the season with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Southern Utah. He is averaging 28 yards on 10 returns but that's not enough attempts to qualify to be ranked among the conference leaders. Otherwise, he would be ranked first. Oregon's 24.9 yards per return ranks second. 

Oregon's 7.6 yard average per punt return ranks seventh. This unit has been hindered by the ankle injury suffered by Charles Nelson. He is averaging 17.8 yards per return, which would rank third in the PAC-12 if he had enough returns to qualify. Nelson's replacement, Dillon Mitchell, is averaging a solid 11 yards per return. 

Place kicking - B: Senior kicker Aidan Schneider is once again being used very little. He has attempted just three field goals, making two. He has, however, made all 36 of his extra point attempts and that leads the conference. He ranks ninth in the conference in scoring at seven points per game. The one miss in three attempts prevents Schneider from receiving an "A" grade. But we all know that he is an "A"-level kicker. 

Punting - C-minus: Freshman punter Sam Stack, who has shown great promise, ranks 12th in the conference in punting average (38.3) but has placed nine of his 30 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Again, he's only a freshman. 

Coverage teams B-minus : Oregon's net punting average is 10th in the conference (34.7) thanks mainly to the poor average pe punt. The 1.3 return yards allowed per punt ranks 7th.  The kickoff coverage team has fared much better ranking second in net average at 41.8 yards. 

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.  

Overwhelmed Burmeister needs more help from his friends

Overwhelmed Burmeister needs more help from his friends

EUGENE – The good news is that Braxton Burmeister can only get better. The bad news is that it won’t matter unless he receives a little help from his friends.

The freshman quarterback made his starting debut Saturday night for the Oregon Ducks against No. 11 Washington State and the results were not good. He didn’t run well. He didn’t pass well. He didn’t call the cadence particularly well, at times.

But what transpired on offense for the Ducks (4-2, 1-2 PAC-12) during a 33-10 loss had as much to do with what went on around Burmeister as it did what went on with Burmeister,

Asking him to adequately fill in for the injured Justin Herbert (collarbone) was a tall order to begin with. Doing so while the offensive line had a subpar night and the starting receivers included a former safety and former running back proved to be completely unfair.

“I think this game he can learn a lot from,” UO coach Willie Taggart said. “He got that first game out of the way. He will be better as we move forward. But he needs a lot more help around him.”

The game was clearly too fast for Burmeister who struggled to read coverages and deliver accurate throws on time, if at all. Burmeister flashed some speed when he took off running but didn’t make defenders miss and took a lot of punishment. That could have proven to be problematic had he been injured because senior Taylor Alie was unavailable because of the concussion he suffered during last week’s win over California.

Burmeister ended up completing 15 of 27 passes for 145 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions and was sacked four times. He rushed for 35 yards on 11 carries but after sacks finished with negative four yards rushing.

His best two passes came on a 30-yard touchdown toss to a wide-open sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland that gave UO a 10-7 lead in the first quarter, and a 39-yard pass to sophomore Brenden Schooler who got open on a post route in the fourth quarter.

Other than that, it was dink and dunk for short gains. In fact, 11 of his completions went for eight yards, or less. Burmeister completed at least seven quick screens that went nowhere because WSU’s defense were dialed in on them as if they knew Oregon didn’t have many other options.

“We just didn’t really have enough time back there to make some plays,” Breeland said. “He’s got a good arm. He can throw the ball well.”

True freshmen players are not allowed to speak to the media.

When the Ducks did try to go downfield, Burmeister either found no open receivers and was sacked or flushed from the pocket, or he made an errant through. Several times he threw deep down the sideline on passes that had zero chance for completion because they were too far thrown and/or landed out of bonds.

Hindering the entire process for Burmeister was the wide receiver situation. Senior Charles Nelson ended up missing his third game with an ankle sprain after he warmed up during pregame in hopes of playing. Junior Taj Griffin, who also plays running back, started in his place. Sophomore Dillon Mitchell was unavailable because of the concussion he sustained against Cal leading to Schooler, a safety up until fall camp, starting in his place.

The results were inconsistent route running all game long that added to Burmeister’s confusion and indecision.

“Those are the lumps that you take with having young guys in there,” Taggart said. “A lot of those guys, they made some mistakes, too. We have to do a good job as coaches to make sure those guys are sharp on their assignments…especially when you have a young quarterback.”

But one had to know that all of the above was going to happen with a freshman quarterback making his first start while being saddled with such an inexperience receiving corps.

The biggest surprise proved to be the Ducks' subpar play of the running game. After Herbert went down and out in the first quarter Cal, the Ducks’ offensive line struggled for a quarter before completing dominating the Golden Bears to the tune of 328 yards rushing (5.9 per carry) on the night.

A repeat performance would be needed against WSU (6-0, 3-0), which entered the game with a rather strong defense but not much better than Cal’s.

But Oregon responded by rushing for 132 yards on 49 carries (2.9 per attempt). Senior Royce Freeman, still bothered by an injured shoulder that knocked him out of the Cal win in the first quarter gained 62 on 12 carries.

“We knew what Washington State was going to throw at us with all the movement,” redshirt sophomore center Jake Hanson said. “We just didn’t do a good enough job picking it up. Plain and simple.”

A better day rushing would have opened up more play-action, boots and roll outs for Burmeister, as well as given him better down-and-distance situations. Oregon converted on just 2 of 17 third down attempts

“I thought their D-line did a good jog against us,” Taggart said. “I didn’t think we played our best game upfront offensively. They did a lot of movement upfront that caused us some problems.”

So, where does Oregon go from here?

On the surface, they appear to be in huge trouble with games coming up at Stanford, at UCLA, then home against Utah before playing at Washington. Becoming bowl eligible might rely on winning home games to end the season against Arizona and Oregon State.

Herbert was said to be out 4-to-6 weeks, however, there appears to be a belief that he could return closer to the four than the six. That would but Herbert back in action for Utah on Oct. 28.

That would be great news for the Ducks, but in the meantime they need Burmeister and company to get better.

Despite what we all saw on Saturday, that could easily happen. Now that Burmeister has seen Pac-12 speed, he can adjust. The coaches must simplify the offense even more to allow for better receiver play and for Burmeister to flourish. It is also very likely that the Ducks get back Nelson and Mitchell this week at Stanford. If so, we should see an immediate uptick in the passing game.

Finally, none of that will translate into wins unless the offensive line and the running game can carry the offense.

“Everybody has got to get better,” Taggart said. “We have to go to work and learn from this tape. But more importantly we’ve got to know what we’re doing.”

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.

Taggart praises student section for energizing team against Cal

Taggart praises student section for energizing team against Cal

Oregon coach Willie Taggart said today that he hopes the Autzen Stadium crowd, especially the student section, will provide a boost for the Ducks on Saturday when they host No. 11 Washington State. 

Taggart said UO fans helped the Ducks overcome the glut of injuries that befell his team during a 45-24 win Saturday over California. Now, Taggart is hoping for the same type of fan support when UO faces a much better opponent in WSU (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12), team that will be a challenge for Oregon to defeat minus sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert, out 4-to-6 weeks with a fractured collarbone.

"I thought our student section was awesome," Taggart said of Saturday night. "They were rockin' and rollin' and swag surfin'. I really think that helped our guys in that football game considering all of the injuries and things that happened. I think that really gave them some extra energy to go out there and finish that ball game. That was great to see. It was a great environment to be a part of. "

Oregon (4-1, 1-1) saw Herbert, running back Royce Freeman, wide receiver Dillon Mitchell, backup quarterback Taylor Alie and inside linebacker Kaulana Apelu all go out with injuries during the game. But the team still managed to win despite Cal (3-2, 1-1) transforming a 17-0 deficit in the first quarter into a 24-17 deficit in the second half. 

The Cougars, led by senior quarterback Luke Falk, will be the best team Oregon has faced this season. 

"We're going to need (the fans) this week," Taggart said.

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."