Willie Taggart

Threat of Taggart leaving UO could become an annual thing

Threat of Taggart leaving UO could become an annual thing

The rumors and speculation that Florida plans to pluck coach Willie Taggart from Oregon's nest won't go away.

Not even after Taggart said Monday that he is committed to Oregon and is focused solely on preparing to face No. 12 Washington on Saturday in Seattle. Nor did the chatter die down after players revealed that Taggart told the team during dinner later that evening that those linking his name to Florida were in error. That discussion came about after Taggart's oldest son, Willie Jr., sent him a text from Sheldon High School asking if the family would be moving yet again. 

Willie Jr.'s instincts to check in were correct. Eventually, the Taggart family will leave Eugene. The question is when, not if. And it doesn't matter what Taggart says publicly. Name me a coach that ever responded to rumors that he would be leaving by coming out in the middle of a season and saying, "yep, I'm leaving. See ya."  It simply doesn't work that way. 

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If you didn't like the Taggart hire last December on the heels of firing Mark Helfrich and his entire staff then you couldn't care less if Taggart were to pack up and leave tomorrow. In fact, you might be willing to help him box up some items and load furniture onto a moving truck. Maybe he would dump some used Oregon gear on you. 

If you did like the hire and have been inspired by the staff's energy and impressed by the bountiful recruiting class that's on the way, then you should be nervous. Very nervous. Not necessarily because he might leave this year, but because the speculation about him leaving is going to become an annual thing, especially if he succeeds in returning the Ducks to national prominence.

According to Sources, Taggart is not a prime candidate to replace the fired Jim McElwain despite the rampant rumors that say otherwise. In fact, former Oregon offensive coordinator and Central Florida coach Scott Frost is said to be a far more desired replacement to coach the Gators. That's good news for Oregon because I will go on record right now and state that if Florida, Florida State or Miami came after Taggart he would be gone. It would be very difficult for him to say no. His mother, Gloria, still resides in his hometown of Palmetto, Fla.  One has to imagine that Taggart would prefer to live and work closer to his mother, especially after his father, John Taggart, sadly passed away last summer. 

So if you like Taggart, pray that Florida gets its first choice and doesn't come after Taggart just as Oregon did during its search, which, coincidentally included McElwain at the top of the list of desired replacements for Helfrich. 

Taggart leaving right now would be devastating for the Oregon program. Remember, Taggart was Oregon's fifth or sixth choice depending on which reports from the time of the search you choose believe. The Ducks lured him away from South Florida after others had already rebuffed Oregon's interest. Personally, I think UO lucked out by landing and up-and-coming coaching star who is an elite recruiter from an area rich with talent. 

Taggart would most certainly raid UO's recruiting class, currently ranked No. 5 on Rivals.com and No. 6 on 247Sports. The class includes four players from Florida, two from Texas, one from Georgia and one from North Carolina. Those guys would likely follow Taggart to Florida, which is closer to home for all eight. And given that Taggart has been able to get players from the south to commit to Eugene he certainly would be able to convince players from Arizona and California to head to Florida. 

That would leave Oregon scrambling to find a suitable replacement that could possibly save as much of the recruiting class as possible. A positive for UO in this scenario is that Florida's class is ranked No. 7 on 247Sports, so maybe Taggart wouldn't want many of UO's current commits. 

One of the potential pitfalls of firing Helfrich is ending up in a situation where a new coach views Oregon as a stepping-stone to a better job. Chances were that Helfrich, born and raised on Coos Bay, would have never left Oregon. Taggart, on the other hand, likely won't finish out his five-year, $17 million contract if he is able to get the Ducks back into national contention. 

It would be the third program he would have reinvented, following his stints at Western Kentucky and South Florida. Certainly, higher-profile programs in far better recruiting areas would pursue Taggart if he brings the Ducks back to prominence. 

Would Oregon circle back to McElwain? That certainly wouldn't fire up the Oregon fan base. 

The best game plan for Oregon should Taggart bolt would be to keep a high-end assistant in the fold to hopefully maintain some level of continuity. The Ducks would be wise to elevate defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt or co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal to head coach. 

Leavitt, who coached South Florida before Taggart did, is rumored to be waiting to take over Kansas State once Billy Snyder retires. Cristobal, once the head coach at Florida International, would likely take the Oregon job tomorrow. 

On one hand, Oregon is in a good situation with a seemingly hot commodity at head coach. On the other hand, that's not always good if that coach has other plans elsewhere in the back of his mind. Those plans would certainly involve a major program from his home state. 

Get used to it Oregon fans. Taggart's status with UO could become an annual concern.

Taggart continues playing coy about Herbert's return

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USA Today

Taggart continues playing coy about Herbert's return

Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert is closer to returning. At least, that's what the Ducks' depth chart indicates. 

UO's quarterback chart reads: "Braxton Burmeister or Justin Herbert."  This is the first time that Herbert has appeared on the depth chart since breaking his collarbone on Sept. 30 during a win over California.  Saturday's win over Utah saw the first time Herbert has suited up for a game since getting injured. 

Taggart said after the 41-20 win over the Utes at Autzen Stadium that team doctors didn't tell him that Herbert could not play. However, that doesn't mean they told Taggart that Herbert could play.

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That said, Taggart did indicate that Herbert might have played if the team "needed" him. But one can't be sure if Taggart was serious or is simply playing mind games with opponents, namely No. 12 Washington.

The Ducks (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) play at the Huskies (7-1, 4-1) at 7 p.m. on Saturday. It would be wise to make Washington at least believe that Herbert could return if he is not going to play. If Herbert were going to play, then it would make more sense to not list him on the depth chart.

The difference between the play of Herbert and that of freshman Braxton Burmeister is so vast that the Huskies must prepare for Herbert's potential return. But it doesn't appear to create much of a competitive advantage to have Washington focus on Herbert if he isn't going to play. Does anyone truly believe that the Huskies are too concerned about Burmeister beating them? 

The bottom line is that Herbert will only return when he is completely healed. 

"We're going to put Justin out there when we fell like he's ready to go," Taggart said on Monday. "We're not going to do anything to jeopardize him. If he's ready this week, we will play him. If not, then we won't."

According to a source, Burmeister took first-team reps on Tuesday but Herbert did participate in team sessions. That indicates that Herbert is not ready to return this week. Oregon has a bye next week before hosing red-hot No. 22 Arizona on Nov. 11. 

Taggart said that his team's play against the Utes following three blowout should have boosted his team's confidence. 

"It showed that we could win against a good football team even without our best quarterback," Taggart said. 

Probably, but likely not against a team the caliber of Washington. 

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Oregon vs. Washington

When: 7 p.m., Saturday, Husky Stadium, Seattle, Wash.  

T.V.: FS1. 

Betting line: Washington minus 21.

Records: Ducks (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12), Washington (7-1, 4-1).

Last week: Washington won 44-23 over UCLA (4-4, 2-3). Oregon defeated Utah.  

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (45-49, 5-4 at Oregon); Washington's Chris Petersen (126-27, 20-12 at Washington).

Fear factor (five-point scale): 10. Washington is allowing 12.1 points per game while scoring 38.6. Somehow the Huskies lost 13-7 at Arizona State a couple of weeks ago, which means they can be vulnerable at times. But likely not at home against a Burmeister-led Oregon team. 

If Herbert starts, then the Ducks would have a puncher's chance to win. But even then, it's clear that Oregon is not on Washington's level. 

Preliminary pick: Washington 47-13 (with Burmeister). Washington 47-27 (with Herbert).

SOURCES: Taggart not headed to Florida but Frost very well could be

SOURCES: Taggart not headed to Florida but Frost very well could be

UPDATED: Taggart commented on the rumors during his noon press conference.

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Oregon coach Willie Taggart is not going to become the new coach at Florida, according to multiple sources.

So we can squash any speculation on that front right away.  But No. 15 Central Florida coach Scott Frost, a former UO assistant, very well could become the Gator's new coach, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. 

During his noon press conference, Taggart said that he hasn't been contacted by Florida.

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"I have not been contacted by anyone," he said. "The only AD I've been contacted by is Rob Mullens, and I love that guy. I'm committed to the University of Oregon and focused on Washington, a big time game for us this week."

Florida fired Jim McElwain over the weekend leading to the usual widespread rumors about who will replace him and Taggart's name has surfaced. It's only logical that his name is being thrown around given that he is from Palmetto, Fla., and he rebuilt South Florida before becoming Oregon's head coach last December. 

However, according to sources, Taggart has no plans to leave Oregon and has not been offered the Florida
job. But, Frost is certainly a top target of the Gators.

Frost was Oregon's offensive coordinator at Oregon from 2013 through 2015 and helped coach quarterback Marcus Mariota during his Heisman Trophy season (2014). He took over Central Florida in the winter of 2015 after the Knights went 0-12. Frost got UCF to 6-7 last year and now has it at 7-0 and 4-0 in the American Athletic Conference.

It would be a big leap for Frost to go from UCF to Florida after just two seasons as a head coach in a non-Power Five conference. One would think that on paper, Taggart would be the much more desired candidate given that he also rebuilt Western Kentucky before moving on to USF.  

Then again, the college football coaching world very rarely makes sense. Remember that McElwain was a top target of Oregon's before he declined the Ducks' offer leading to UO ultimately hiring Taggart. Frost Frost was never a candidate for the UO job.

Now, McElwain is out at Florida and Frost could be the guy to replace him.

Taggart has a 45-49 lifetime record that is somewhat deciding. WKU had lost 21-straight games before he took over the program in 2010. He went 2-10 that first season before going 7-5 in each of the next two seasons before going to USF in 2013. Western Kentucky has continued to flourish since he departed.

At USF, Taggart inherited a 3-9 team and went 2-10 then 4-8. Along the way he switched to the spread offense and it finally took in year three when the Bulls went 8-5. Last year USF went 10-2 leading to Taggart being offered the Oregon job. 

Oregon, 4-8 last season, will be Taggart's third rebuilding project. It got off to a strong start before quarterback Justin Herbert went down with a collarbone injury against California on Sept. 30. The Ducks were 4-1 after that night but lost three straight without Herbert before ending the losing streak with a 41-20 win over Utah on Saturday. 

Oregon (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) plays at No. 12 Washington (7-1, 4-1) on Saturday. 

Ducks must grow up in a hurry to avoid disaster

Ducks must grow up in a hurry to avoid disaster

Pick a disaster movie, any disaster movie.

Now picture the Oregon football team as a band of humans scrambling to figure out how to prevent the earth from coming to an end an extinction level event. Maybe it's a massive meteor hurtling toward earth. Maybe the mother of all earthquakes is about to strike. The specific disaster doesn't really matter. All that matters is that if the Ducks don’t do something drastic in a hurry, all will be lost. 

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Now downsize that hypothetical and fit it into the real world of the Ducks' football program. Oregon (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12) is three losses away from not reaching a bowl game for the second consecutive season and have three very losable games hurtling their way against Utah, Washington and Arizona. Failing to reach the postseason for the second consecutive season would be a disaster for Oregon.

Missing a bowl game means that a young roster doensn't get a few extra weeks of work and that the team can't end the season on a high note against a formidable non-conference opponent, something that could help propel the team into a strong offseason. 

To help avoid this diappointment, the Ducks must grow up in a hurry and find a way to defeat Utah (4-2, 1-3) on Saturday rather than once again forcing coach Willie Taggart to take the podium following a loss to lament all of the frustrating mistakes his young team made to lose the game. That’s become old and predictable.

The Ducks have played horrible football as of late, losing their last three games by a combined score of
113-31. Yes, Oregon has been without its star quarterback, Justin Herbert (collarbone), and freshman Braxton Burmeister is struggling with the entire concept of the forward pass. But that doesn't fully explain the lopsided defeats the team has suffered at the hands of three good, but hardly great, teams in Washington State (33-10 loss), Stanford (49-7) and UCLA (31-14).

The entire Oregon team, Taggart said, is making its share of mistakes, as well. It’s just that those made by the quarterback are always the most magnified. 

To drive this point home to his team, Taggart had the Ducks watch its latest debacle - that loss at the
mediocre Bruins - as a full unit on Sunday rather than practice. Every player sat in the theater room and watched every play of what was a winnable game that went south in the second half. 

“They saw a lot of people making mistakes," Taggart said of the film session. “Even guys that were getting credit for having good games were making critical mistakes."

The goal:  “So everyone could see everybody’s mistakes and not just hear about the mistakes Braxton is making...When you hear so much that we can’t win because Justin is not here I want our guys to see that that’s not the case. We're not winning because everybody else is not doing their job."

Maybe so, but going from nearly 300 yards passing per game with Herbert to 80 places an enormous
amount of pressure on the entire team to compensate for the lack of production from the quarterback
position.”

Taggart has emphasized over and over that he just needs Burmeister to not hurt the team with turnovers. However, when running an up-tempo, no-huddle offense one had better get major production from the quarterback, otherwise the entire team will suffer. 

That all said, if the rest of the team plays better that might also help Burmeister elevate his game. He can't carry the team. The team must carry him. 

A major positive is that Taggart said he hasn't seen evidence of the team faltering psychologically, but
instead they are fighting through the storm.

“Our guys have been able to bounce back and keep a good attitude," he said. "That's been gratifying for
myself. They are looking to find a way to get back into the win column."

Taggart said that the Ducks try to battle through four points of emphasis: 1) public perception, 2), fatigue, 3) division from within and 4) us versus them.

"We just have to fight these things little harder when faced with adversity," he said.

If they don’t start winning some of those fights on Saturday, the Ducks could be home for the holidays and that wouldn't be good for anyone within the program.

Oregon faces virtual must-win against struggling Utah

Oregon faces virtual must-win against struggling Utah

Oregon reaching a bowl game appeared to be a virtual given not too long ago. Three blowout losses later and the Ducks find their postseason hopes leaning against the ropes with reality rearing back to deliver a knockout blow.

The Ducks will host Utah on Saturday in what should be considered all but a must-win for Oregon, which faces a tough schedule down the stretch.

UO coach Willie Taggart, when asked following his team's 31-14 loss at UCLA on Saturday how important it would be for these young Ducks (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12) to gain the experience that comes with playing in a bowl game, said he couldn't even consider such things at the moment. 

“We’re not thinking about bowl right now,” Taggart said. “We need to get another win...If we get another win then we’ll start thinking about those other things. But it’s really, really important now that we find a way to win a ball game.

Failing to reach a bowl game this season should be viewed as a colossal disaster. Despite Oregon going 4-8 last year, plenty of reasons existed to expect the Ducks to win at least six games in 2017. Starting out 4-1 then failing to capture two additional victories over seven remaining contests would certainly be a bad look for Taggart and the program, even when factoring in the loss of sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert (collarbone), who has missed the team's last three games. His return date is unknown. 

Surely Oregon should have been expected to scratch out two more wins with anyone at quarterback. 

Oregon's margin for error to reach 6-6 and become bowl eligible is virtually zero with Utah visiting Autzen on Saturday. As it stands right now, Oregon has one seemingly very winnable game remaining and that's the Civil War on Nov. 25 at home to close the regular season against Oregon State (1-6, 0-4). 

The Ducks also have one seemingly guaranteed loss, with or without Herbert, and that's Nov. 4 at 12 Washington (6-1, 3-1).

If those two games turn out as most of the world would expect them to, the Ducks would need to get a win against either the Utes or surging Arizona on Nov. 11 to reach six victories.

Herbert should return no later than Nov. 11. His injury was said to keep him out 4-to-6 weeks. This Saturday would be the fourth week since the injury occurred Sept. 30 against California. The Arizona game happens seven weeks out. But defeating the Wildcats would be anything but a given even with Herbert and that game looks now like a sure loss if he were not to play.

Arizona sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate has been lighting up the Pac-12 since becoming the Wildcats' starter on Oct. 7.  Tate has amassed 694 yards rushing in three starts and 468 passing with 11 total touchdowns. Arizona has won all three of his starts while averaging 46.3 points per game. 

He has had the opposite impact on his team that Oregon freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister has had on his since replacing Herbert. The Ducks have scored 31 points in three games with Burmeister at quarterback. Simply math would indicate that UO would have a tough time defeating Arizona and Tate without Herbert. 

Even with Herbert, expecting him to out-duel Tate after sitting out seven weeks would be foolish. Herbert could help UO put up numbers but Arizona should be expected to also score a lot of points making the outcome very much in doubt. 

Consequently, it's imperative that the Ducks win over Utah in order to ease the pressure of having to take down Tate and Arizona. 

Believe it or not, the Ducks have a chance to do so even if Burmeister makes his fourth start. Utah is reeling at the moment having lost three consecutive games. The Utes' offense is a mess, which is exactly what the Ducks need to see. If Utah can be held to under 27 points it is possible that Burmeister makes enough progress to lift the Ducks to a close win. 

What Oregon truly needs is for Herbert to make a miraculous recovery and play on Saturday. Either way, the Ducks had better approach this game with a do-or-die mentality.

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Oregon vs. Utah

When: 2:45 p.m., Saturday, Autzen Stadium. 

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: Utah minus 3 1/2.

Records: Ducks (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12), Utah (4-3, 1-3).

Last week: Arizona won 45-44 in overtime at California (4-4, 1-4). Oregon lost 31-14 at UCLA (4-3, 2-3). 

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (44-49, 4-4 at Oregon); Utah's Kyle Whittingham (108-53).

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. Utah has lost three consecutive games to Stanford, at USC and home against ASU. The offense has fallen on hard times while the defense went from allowing 19 points per game through the first four contests to giving up a still solid 27.0.

Oregon, these days, can accommodate such numbers with an offense that has scored 31 points over the last three games. One could very easily see Utah winning this game 24-17. 

Preliminary pick (waiting on Herbert news): Oregon 27, Utah 20. Oregon will be home against a mediocre opponent that is struggling on offense. That, and a couple more plays from Burmeister than usual, will be enough to help the Ducks get that all important fifth victory. Then Taggart can start talking about how important it would be for his team to appear in a bowl game. 

Oregon freshman QB Braxton Burmeister deserves an apology

Oregon freshman QB Braxton Burmeister deserves an apology

PASADENA, Calif. - If Oregon coach Willie Taggart allowed freshmen to speak to the media, I would consider it warranted to offer freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister an apology. 

Not necessarily for the mostly critical remarks myself and other members of the media have hurled toward his play. That's simply part of the job and unavoidable. It also isn't personal. He has not played well during three consecutive losses for Oregon (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12), outscored 113-31 during that stretch, including a 31-14 loss Saturday at UCLA. 

Where an apology is warranted is in relation to Burmeister having been unfairly placed squarely in the crosshairs of the media and fans thanks to circumstances beyond his control resulting in mounds and mounds of criticism.  A 4-1 start for Oregon raised expectations. Sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert going down with a broken collarbone placed those expectations on the Burmeister's shoulders. Suddenly, all eyes were fixated on him, waiting to see if he could perform feats he clearly isn't ready to tackle. That is an incredibly unfair situation. 

Burmeister looked somewhat improved against the Bruins (4-3, 2-3), passing for 74 yards and rushing for two scores. All that stat line really tells anyone is that the bar was set really low following his 23-yard passing performance with two interceptions the previous week during a 49-7 loss at Stanford. 

One would expect better from a former four-star recruit rated by Rivals.com as the No. 7-rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation. But that's part of the problem. Recruiting rankings and hype fuel expectations for instant success, even at a position where patience and proper grooming usually lead to better results. 

Burmeister, who amassed more than 14,000 yards of offense at La Jolla Counry Day High School (Calif.), simply isn't prepared for this level of competition. He should be on the sideline watching, listening and learning while wearing an Oregon baseball cap and headphones. His job should be charting the action on a clipboard or waving his arms around signaling in plays. Instead, he's getting pounded on the field and ripped away from it because too many observers expected him to live up to the hype. But hype is no match for reality and expectations rarely trump logic.

Burmeister's reality thus far = 52.9 completion percentage, 82 passing yards per game, one touchdown pass and five interceptions.

That statistical line screams, "I'm not ready for this."

The fact is that Burmeister is the fourth best quarterback Oregon has had on its roster this year. However, redshirt sophomore Travis Jonsen and redshirt freshman Terry Wilson Jr. transferred to junior colleges because they couldn't beat out sophomore starter Justin Herbert. He broke his collarbone while scoring on a touchdown run against California leading to senior backup Taylor Alie taking the field. He then suffered a concussion forcing UO coach Willie Taggart to burn Burmeister's redshirt in order to finish the Cal game.  That led to Burmeister, far more talented than Alie, becoming the starter way ahead of his time.

In a perfect world where backup quarterbacks were content being backups until their time, Burmeister would be redshirting, safe from complicated game plans, snarling defenses, journalists cozy in the press box and the ire of a fan base spoiled by the play of former UO greats; Joey Harrington, Kellen Clemens, Dennis Dixon, Darron Thomas, Marcus Mariota and Vernon Adams Jr.  

But remember that none of the aforementioned former quarterbacks were asked to start as a freshman. Only Mariota, who redshirted behind Thomas in 2012, would have certainly been better as a true freshman than Burmeister is now.

They were all fortunate to be able to sit and learn. 

Then there's Herbert, another quarterback savant whose rare gifts are further illustrated by Burmeister's struggles. 

As badly as things have gone for Burmeister, there are signs of hope that he could develop into a quality quarterback down the road. He is one tough dude. In three games, Burmeister has been smacked around pretty good while being credited for 40 carries (including sacks). He also can run well. He isn't on the level of Mariota and Dixon, but he could certainly rush for 500 yards in a season providing his passing could keep defenses honest, which it isn't right now.

However, Taggart would like for him to be wise in the face of his competitiveness after taking off. 

“He’s got to be smart and throw the ball away and get down when he should...” Taggart said. "We need for him to learn that ASAP and not take a lot of those hits because some of them are unnecessary.”

As for passing, Burmeister has a live arm and displayed some budding accuracy at UCLA. It's a lot easier to be accurate when you can read defenses quickly, anticipate the throw and deliver the ball with confidence. That's tough to do for any freshman. 

On his thrown interception in the third quarter, Burmeister forced the ball deep down the right sideline after the intended receiver had run the wrong route, according to Taggart. Burmeister also tried to execute a pass play when the call was a run, resulting in him getting blasted by an unblocked pass rusher.

"Those are some of the freshman mistakes that you make and that we need for him not to make," Taggart said. 

Unfortunately, Burmeister clearly isn't ready to avoid making such mistakes. Nor is he ready to take on the Pac-12 as a true freshman. Yet, here he is, saddled with this enormous burden and facing unfair criticism. 

For that reason alone, Burmeister deserves an apology. 

Desperate Ducks running out of time to find answers

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USA Today

Desperate Ducks running out of time to find answers

PASADENA, Calif. - The Oregon Ducks left Southern California on Saturday a desperate football team, and their coach, Willie Taggart, departed as a man searching in vain for answers following a 31-14 to UCLA in the Rose Bowl. 

Three consecutive lopsided losses by the combined score of 113-31 have made it clear that this young and battered team is all but incapable of producing a winning product without starting quarterback Justin Herbert, who has missed three games with a broken collarbone. 

There is plenty of blame to go around. Select any section of the team and you could find fault within. But the bottom line is that all of the team's woes can be linked right back to the absence of Herbert. 

The offense, aside from the yard-churning play of senior running back Royce Freeman, is a disaster. The defense, brilliant at times, isn't skilled or wise enough to carry a team in such a high-scoring conference. 

All of these realities left Taggart somewhat exasperated while he explained mistake after mistake made by his young quarterback, freshman Braxton Burmeister, and the rest of the team.

“Those are the headaches that you get right now," Taggart said in a frustrated tone. "But, you understand that it’s going to get better."

If it doesn't in a hurry, Oregon (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12) could miss a bowl game for the second consecutive season. The Ducks need two victories to reach six and become eligible. Right now, three of the team's four remaining games appear to be imminently losable without Herbert. 

It shouldn't be possible that one player could mean so much to a team. Even in 2015 when the Ducks lost quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., they managed to score 140 points over three games with backup Jeff Lockie as the starter. Taggart would give almost anything right now for that type of offensive production. 

The positive sign Saturday was that the team certainly looked better than it did during a 49-7 loss at Stanford last week. Burmeister, who passed for 23 yards against the Cardinal, connected on some promising throws on Saturday but still amassed just 74 yards through the air. UCLA knew the Ducks couldn't throw well and stacked up against Freeman, who gained 160 yards on 29 punishing carries to become the program's all-time career leading rusher

Oregon fell behind 14-0 before Burmeister manufactured two scoring drives that required 15 plays each and ended with him scoring on the ground. Such long drives covering 6:03 and 5:16 were a departure for UO. But it worked and gave the Ducks hope. In the second half, however, the mistakes resurfaced. Drives died. UCLA (4-3, 2-3) added some scores and that was that.

“We can’t do that to ourselves," Taggart said of the miscues. "I think for us, we’ve got to play cleaner and smarter, all around.”

Especially when you don't have a quarterback that can make plays. Oregon, and most teams for that matter, is not capable of playing so perfectly that they can overcome not having a playmaker at quarterback. The Ducks had to be nearly perfect against a team led by a vastly superior quarterback in Josh Rosen, held to a reasonable 266 yards passing and two touchdowns. 

Taggart said the team entered the game with three goals they needed to reach in order to win the game: Don't turn the ball over. Force turnovers. Reduce penalties. They only accomplished the latter, committing just three for 15 yards after entering the game averaging 10.2 per game, while coughing up two turnovers and forcing zero. 

The fumble was committed by freshman running back Darrian Felix on the Ducks' opening drive and converted into a touchdown. The interception came in the third quarter with the Ducks trailing 24-14. The receiver on the play, Taggart said, ran the wrong route but Burmeister forced a pass deep to him anyway. His underthrown ball ended up in the hands of UCLA cornerback Colin Samuel. 

“We’re taking our lumps right now with a lot of these young guys playing but those guys will continue to get better and we’ll find a way,” Taggart said. 

The biggest positive, according to Taggart, was that his team fought back from being down 14-0 in the first quarter to tie the game at halftime. 

“I thought our guys showed a lot of fight,” Taggart said.

However, when things went south in the second half, so did the team's resolve. 

“Right now I think from a mental standpoint we have to get ourselves right, staying positive, especially when things go wrong," Taggart said. 

When asked if Herbert could return next week at home against Utah, Taggart said he had no idea. Notice that he didn't say "no."

If Herbert returns, the Ducks would have a strong chance to win at least two more games and become bowl eligible. But that is hardly a given. If he remained out until the Ducks host Arizona (4-2, 2-1) on Nov. 18, UO would be in serious jeopardy of not reaching a bowl game for the second consecutive season. 

That certainly was not the plan when Taggart took over for Mark Helfrich, fired last winter. Starting quarterback or no starting quarterback, Taggart was expected to at least get the Ducks back to the postseason. A lot must change in order for that to happen. 

“I believe in this team and love this team and I feel like this team will get it corrected," Taggart said. "We’ve just got to stay the course, stay positive and find the way.”

The opportunities to do so are drying up quickly. 

Oregon's defense faltering in Pac-12 play

Oregon's defense faltering in Pac-12 play

EUGENE - Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt was all smiles when he met with the media on Wednesday outside of the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. He was also very anxious to get out to the practice field. About 90 seconds into the interview session, Leavitt moved one foot toward exiting while asking, "Anything else?"

Well, yeah. Can't get away that easily when we get you once a week and the defense is getting lit up as of late. The Ducks (4-3, 1-2 Pac-12) have given up 143 points (35.6 per game) in four Pac-12 games after allowing just 69 in three non-conference games. So, who could blame Leavitt for wanting to get the practice. Like the Ducks' offense - 17 points in the last two games - the defense has plenty of work to do.

But unlike the offense, which is operating without quarterback Justin Herbert, the Ducks' defense doesn't have an obvious excuse to lean on. The main 11 starters have remained mostly the same with a few depth chart changes and a couple of players missing games here and there. Only inside linebacker Kaulana Apelu has been lost for the season. 

What's happened to the defense is simple. It went from playing very average offenses to facing quarterbacks that can put points on the board. UO has allowed 12 touchdown passes in four Pac-12 games and now faces the challenge of contending with UCLA's Josh Rosen, who has thrown for 17 scoring passes this year. UCLA hosts Oregon at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Rose Bowl. 

It's bad enough giving up touchdown passes. But Oregon isn't even intercepting any to balance things out a bit. After intercepting six passes in non-conference play, the Ducks have picked off just one pass in conference. 

"We do it all of the time in practice, we've just got to translate it into the games," Robinson said.

Getting interceptions against scout team quarterbacks is not the same as facing Pac-12 starters. The quarterback foursome of Arizona State's Manny Wilkins, California's Ross Bowers, Washington State's Luke Falk and Stanford's Keller Christ have given the Ducks problems. Even Bowers, sacked seven times, managed to throw for three touchdowns with no interceptions. The one interception for UO in conference came at Stanford on a dropped and tipped slant pass in the end zone that landed in the arms of freshman cornerback Deommodore Lenoir.

Maybe the most concerning problem is that those same quarterbacks have had poor games against other teams. Falk threw five interceptions in last week's 37-3 loss at Cal. Bowers threw four in a loss to USC. Wilkins threw two at Stanford. Chryst had two picked off at San Diego State. So, they've given up the ball. Just not to Oregon. 

Back to Rosen. He threw for three interceptions and zero touchdowns in a 47-30 loss last week at Arizona. He now has eight on the season, tied for the second most among conference starting quarterbacks.

He is a bit of a gunslinger that likes to take chances. So, if Oregon is going to pull off the upset, the Ducks must find a way to pluck a few of his passes out of the air. 

"We're always focused on turnovers whether that's stripping the ball out, punching it our, quarterback throwing it and get it," UO safeties coach Keith Heyward said. "We just haven't made plays."

Leavitt pointed out that the Ducks have had chances at intercepting a few more during conference play, but failed to catch the ball. 

"Those are missed opportunities," he said. 

With the offense struggling so badly, the defense can't afford to not force turnovers. The mediocre play of backup quarterback Braxton Burmeister, a true freshman, has resulted in too many short drives that result in no points. Oregon's defense was on the field for 37 minutes during its 49-7 loss at Stanford. That's too much pressure to put on a young and rebuilding defense. 

"Obvious we feel like we have to stop the opponent no matter whether the offense is playing like it was before or playing like we are now," Heyward said. "We just have to take care of our own side of the ball and get stops."

Part of the problem is some of the youth of the secondary. The Ducks are have started safety Nick Pickett and cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. Lenoir has seen his playing time increase. They represent the future of the Ducks' secondary. Sometimes growing pains can be tough. 

"They're trying," Leavitt said. "They're doing the best they can. They are going to be great players. I'm really excited about them."

---

Oregon at UCLA

When: 1 p.m., Saturday, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif. 

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: UCLA minus 6 1/2.

Records: Ducks (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12), Bruins (3-3, 1-2).

Last week: UCLA lost 47-30 to Arizona (4-2, 2-1). Oregon lost 49-7 at No. 22 Stanford (5-2, 4-1).

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (44-48, 4-3 at Oregon); UCLA's Jim Mora (44-27).

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. Oregon should run wild but unless the Ducks get some big plays from Burmeister they won't have much of a chance of keeping pace with Rosen and his fleet of receivers.

Redshirt sophomore tight end Caleb Wilson leads the Pac-12 with 7.6 receptions per game over five games. He has caught 38 passes for 489 yards and one touchdown. Redshirt senior wide receiver Darren Andrews is second at 7.3 receptions per game. He has made 44 receptions for 591 yards and seven touchdowns. Redshirt junior Jordan Lasley leads the conference in receiving yards per game (108.4) over five games while catching 54 passes for 543 yards and three touchdowns. 

Final pick: UCLA 44, Oregon 30.  Burmeister will improve enough to help the offense break 20 for the first time in three weeks but it won't be nearly enough. 

#AskFentress, an Oregon Ducks Twitter Q&A - UCLA week

#AskFentress, an Oregon Ducks Twitter Q&A - UCLA week

I took to twitter this week to answer fan questions about the Oregon Ducks (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12). You can find all of them using #AskFentress. Here are some of the best ones as Oregon prepares to play at UCLA (3-3, 1-2) at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

 

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."