Oregon Ducks

Despite depth, UO confidently starts three freshman on the offensive line

Despite depth, UO confidently starts three freshman on the offensive line

EUGENE - Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood usually tells it like it is, skips the hyperbole.

So when he sings the praises of his three starting redshirt freshmen linemen, his words should excite Ducks fans. 

Center Jake Hanson, right tackle Calvin Throckmorton and left guard Shane Lemieux are the program's next generation of impact linemen. Oregon has started some great redshirt freshmen offensive linemen in the past. Tackle Tyler Johnstone and center Hroniss Grasu started for the 2011 team that won the Rose Bowl championship team. Carson York started for 2009 team that went to the Rose Bowl.

Greatwood said the current trio is on par with those former stars, and have done a bit more to earn their starting jobs.

[LISTEN: The Ducks Squad Podcast with guest senior right guard Cameron Hunt]

“I think they’ve probably had to compete even harder to earn those spots,” Greatwood said. “When those other kids were starting as redshirt freshmen we just didn’t have the depth that we do now.”

The trio, who will make their debut for No. 24 Oregon on Saturday against UC Davis, were signed in the 2015 recruiting class, which included five offensive linemen. 

“We loved that class (of linemen), and still do,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “There were a couple of guys that were very under recruited in our opinion.”

The group also includes guard/center Zach Okun and guard Brady Aiello. Okun has been injured while Aiello is the backup left tackle to junior Tyrell Crosby. 

To earn starting jobs, Throckmorton had to fend off senior transfer Zac Morgan, a two-year starter at Dayton, while Lemieux outlasted redshirt juniors Evan Voeller and Jake Pisarcik. 

Hanson really didn't face much competition.  He is that good. Helfrich and Greatwood said they have no doubt he is the answer at center and has been praised in the same vain as Grasu, a four-year starter. 

All three, however, will face weekly competition. Greatwood plans on rotating several linemen. 

“I feel right now going into the game anyhow I have some depth I haven’t had the luxury of having the last several seasons,” Greatwood said.

The running backs like what they see upfront. 

“It looks solid…” redshirt junior running back Kani Benoit said. “Easy to pick holes through them and pass blocking is great.”

The question now is if the trio can deliver on game day. 

“I hope that they just trust their preparation, relax and take a deep breath and go,” Greatwood said. “But until you see them in that environment, as a coach, you just kind of keep your fingers crossed that they will trust their preparation going into the game and let her rip once the whistle blows.”

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.

What a mess for Oregon in the loss to Stanford...what now?

What a mess for Oregon in the loss to Stanford...what now?

Compiling just 33 passing yards for the entire game, Oregon got rolled by Stanford as QB Justin Herbert sat out another game with a broken collarbone.

BOX SCORE: Stanford 49, Oregon 7

Postgame Videos:
Good or No Good? Time to jump off the Oregon bandwagon?
Saturday Night Lights: Oregon at Stanford
Rabbit stats from Oregon/Stanford
All those penalties...It's just dumb ball

 

Ducks' backs must outduel Bryce Love for UO to win at Stanford

Ducks' backs must outduel Bryce Love for UO to win at Stanford

Oregon's running game had better show up Saturday night at Stanford or this game will be over before Cardinal running back Bryce Love reaches the 175-yard mark. 

Forget about what happens at quarterback for the Ducks (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12). Braxton Burmeister? Taylor Alie? Both? Doesn't matter at this point. Whatever Oregon gets from that position will be gravy and it's not as if Stanford's quarterbacks do much damage, either. 

What matters most for Oregon is that the offensive line doesn't let down the team again like last week during a 33-10 loss at home to No. 8 Washington State (6-0, 3-0) by gaining just 132 yards. The linemen admitted their mistakes. So did their leader, co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal. UO coach Willie Taggart made it clear that the players around the quarterback position must play better in order for the Ducks to win and he was mostly talking about the offensive line. 

"Just our entire performance was frustrating," Cristobal said. 

After a week to lament, the offensive line will have a chance to redeem itself and replicate the 328-yard rushing performance the team put forth two week ago during a 45-24 win over California. When the line is humming, the running back trio of Royce Freeman, Kani Benoit and Tony Brooks-James usually dominates. They are one of the best trios in the nation. But even they can't get loose with no place to run. 

Stanford's defense isn't playing as its usual dominant self. The Cardinal rank ninth in the conference in rushing defense (182 yards per game) while Oregon is averaging 239.3, good enough for third right behind Stanford (260.5). 

So, there's no excuse for the Ducks not to get the job done in the running game. Not even the reality that the Cardinal could key on the run, as did WSU, knowing that sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert isn't at quarterback to burn it with the passing game. 

Stanford hasn't needed strong quarterback play to balance out the run game. The Cardinal is averaging 188.3 passing yards per game with Keller Chryst and K.J. Costello having split the duties. But, they haven't turned the ball over much with just two interceptions thrown, both by Chryst. 

The Cardinal relies heavily on Bryce Love who has rushed for 1,240 yards on the season. That's 46 percent of the Cardinal's offense. The scariest part is that the 5-foot-10, 196-pound Love doesn't require much running room in which to operate. 

“This kid can find the smallest hole and get through it," Taggart said. "And that’s a challenge for a lot of defenses.”

Oregon, on paper, appears equipped to handle Love. Or, at least not let him run wild. The Ducks rank second in the Pac-12 an 10th in the nation in in rushing defense allowing 93.7 yards per game. However, UO has faced the two worst rushing teams in the conference, WSU (82.7, 125th in the nation) and Cal (96.8, 122nd), and the ninth-ranked rushing team, Arizona State (129.4, 97th). Nebraska (148.5) ranks 79th in the nation and Wyoming sits at 118th (100.4). 

Furthermore, none of those teams has a running back like Love. And, none run the style of offense that Stanford does. Nebraska comes close but Stanford's power running game with multiple tight ends and a pounding fullback working in concert with a strong offense line is another animal. For Oregon to be successful against Love, the Ducks cannot blow pursuit angles or expect that someone closer to the ball will make the play. 

"Stack the box," UO senior cornerback Arrion Springs said. "Staaaack the box. Everybody just has to be ready to stop the run. Everybody has to contribute. It's not just going to be the front seven."

Said Taggart: "We've got to gang tackle. It's not going to be one guy bringing him down. "He can get stopped for two or three plays and the next thing you know he will break one for 60."

So figure that Love is going to do his thing. The quarterbacks for both teams will be pedestrian, although Oregon's should be helped by the return of sophomore receiver Dillon Mitchell (concussion) and potentially, senior slot receiver Charles Nelson (ankle). 

That leaves Oregon's running attack as the only reliable aspect of the team that could lead the Ducks to a win. 

That's not a bad situation to be in if the offensive line brings its A-game. 

Oregon at No. 23 Stanford

When: 8 p.m., Saturday, Autzen Stadium. 

T.V.: FS1. 

Betting line: Stanford minus 10.5.

Records: Oregon (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12), Stanford (4-2, 3-1).

Last week: Stanford won 23-20 at Utah. Oregon lost 33-10 at home to No. 8 Washington State (6-0, 3-0).

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (44-47, 4-2 at Oregon); Stanford's David Shaw (68-17).

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. If Burmeister (or Alie) improves dramatically overnight the Ducks will have a strong chance of pulling off the upset. But only if UO's rushing attack is on point. 

Final pick: Stanford 37, Oregon, 27.  UO shows improvement on offense but not enough to combat Stanford's rushing attack led by Love. 

Oregon basketball picked to finish fourth in Pac-12

Oregon basketball picked to finish fourth in Pac-12

Media members who cover the Pac-12 picked defending champion Oregon to finish fourth in the Pac-12.

Arizona was picked to win the conference title. Oregon State is picked to finish eighth. 

Considering that Oregon, which reached the Final Four last season, lost Jordan Bell, Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey and Chris Boucher to the NBA, along with Dylan Ennis, being picked to finish fourth is quite complimentary. 

The Ducks return one impact player, sophomore point guard Payton Pritchard, leaving coach Dana Altman to rebuild with a few other young returners, transfers and a loaded recruiting class that includes five-star guard Troy Brown

Oregon will play Northwest Christian in an exhibition game on Nov. 30 before opening the regular season Nov. 20 at home against Coppin State.

Pac-12 conference play begins Dec. 29. The Pac-12 Tournament will be held Mar. 7-10 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. 

2017-18 PAC-12 MEN’S BASKETBALL PRESEASON MEDIA POLL

  Team (First Place) Points
1. Arizona (22) 273
2. USC (1) 251
3. UCLA 223
4. Oregon 203
5. Stanford 182
6. Arizona State 146
7. Utah 129
8. Oregon State 125
9. Colorado 112
10. Washington 71
11. California 46
12. Washington State 33

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

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

I took to twitter this week to answer fan questions about the Oregon Ducks. You can find all of them using #AskFentress. Here are some of the best ones as Oregon prepares to play at No. 23 Stanford this weekend...

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.