Oregon Ducks

Ducks midseason report card: Defense & special teams

Ducks midseason report card: Defense & special teams

Previous post: Offensive report card


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:


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. 


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. 

Royce Freeman named Doak Walker Award finalist

Royce Freeman named Doak Walker Award finalist

Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman has been named a finalist for the Doak Walker Award given annually to the nation's top running back.

With two regular season games remaining, Freeman has rushed for 1,218 yards and 10 touchdowns on 206 carries. Freeman ranks fifth in the Pac-12 with 121.8 rushing yards per game. 

The Ducks (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) host Arizona (7-3, 5-2) on Saturday at Autzen Stadium. 

Earlier this season, Freeman became the program's all-time leading rusher surpassing LaMichael James (5,082). Freeman has rushed for 5,364 in four seasons. 


Oregon releases undaunting 2018 football schedule

Oregon releases undaunting 2018 football schedule

Oregon released its 2018 football schedule and, on paper, it has 10 wins written all over it. The Ducks will play three non-conference games with none of the opponents coming close to being on Oregon's level. 

Bowling Green is 2-9 this season, Portland State is 0-10 and San Jose State is 1-10.  On top of that, Oregon will host Pac-12 North Division rivals Stanford and Washington in 2018. The toughest road game at this time appears to be at at Arizona, which will return quarterback Khaill Tate.

Oregon (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) hosts Arizona (7-3, 5-2) on Saturday

As long as the Ducks remain healthy next season, they should win nine games without breathing hard and will have a legitimate shot at winning 10, or more. 

Oregon could return as many as seven starters on offense and seven on defense, plus a host of young backups that gained valuable experience this season. The Ducks also will likely welcome in a top 10 recruiting class. 


Sept. 1                 Bowling Green

Sept. 8                 Portland State

Sept. 15               San Jose State

Sept. 22               Stanford

Sept. 29               at Cal

Oct. 6                   OPEN

Oct. 13                 Washington

Oct. 20                 at Washington State

Oct. 27                 at Arizona

Nov. 3                  UCLA    

Nov. 10                at Utah

Nov. 17                Arizona State

Nov. 23 (Fri.)       at Oregon State


Arizona presents Oregon with a chance to finally 'do something'

Arizona presents Oregon with a chance to finally 'do something'

The Oregon Ducks have a chance to finally "do something" of substance this season when they host Arizona on Saturday. 

Oregon (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) not only needs a win in the worst way, but the Ducks could use a victory against a strong opponent in order to validate this uneven season in some capacity. To date, coach Willie Taggart's first year at UO has seen a hot start fueled by taking down weak opponents morph into a hot mess after sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert - expected back this week - went down with a collarbone injury.  

Oregon's best victories this season have come against Utah (5-5, 2-5), California (5-5, 2-5) and Nebraska (4-6, 3-4 BigTen). That's hardly a lot to brag about having defeated. Following the Wildcats (7-3, 5-2) on the schedule will be Oregon State (1-9, 0-7) in the Civil War then, assuming UO qualifies for the postseason, a likely inferior bowl game opponent awaits in December. 

A bowl victory would certainly be sweet for Taggart, who has yet to win a bowl game. But the signature victory of the season would still ben a win over the Wildcats, who have won five of their last six games since sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate became the starter.

The trajectories of both teams have been vastly different since Tate replaced injured starter Brandon Dawkins against Colorado on Oct. 7 and Herbert went down with his injury during a win over Cal the following week.

While Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez discovered that he could have a future Heisman Trophy candidate on his hands, Taggart discovered that his freshman backup, Braxton Burmeister, wasn't close to being ready for Pac-12 play. Consequently, not only did the Ducks go 1-4 in Herbert's absence, but aside from a 41-20 win over the Utes, the Ducks scored just 34 points in four defeats. 

Young quarterback, or not, generating just 8.5 points per game in four losses is a poor reflection on the offensive coaching staff armed with a strong offensive line and a stable of good to great running backs led by Royce Freeman. They couldn't average at least 17 points per game despite poor quarterback play? Oregon still would have still lost all four games but at least the Ducks would have shown a pulse. 

With Herbert expected back this week - Taggart said x-rays later in the week would determine his quarterback's availability - Oregon has a chance to erase the madness of the season by closing strongly with three consecutive wins, highlighted by a victory over Arizona. 

Ironically, Taggart swiped Burmeister from Arizona where he had originally committed. Taggart also flipped freshman receiver Darrian McNeal, who has two receptions for 10 yards. So far, that hasn't worked out so well for UO.

But Taggart and the Ducks can make everything right with a win on Saturday. It is likely to be a shootout. Taggart said the Ducks would have to "pray" in order to defend against Tat. Taggart isn't lying. Oregon has zero chance of "stopping" Tate. But, the Ducks' defense could be good enough prevent Tate from eclipsing the volume of offense Oregon should generate with Herbert back in the pocket. 

He will return to find a better team than the one he left. Senior receiver Charles Nelson hasn't caught a pass from Herbert since the first half of the team's win at Wyoming in game 3. When Nelson returned to action at UCLA, Herbert was already down and out. Now they will be reunited in the passing game that will only be helped by a running game that maintained a high level of production despite the lack of a passing threat to keep defenses honest. 

By any measure, this has been somewhat of a disappointing season for Oregon when one considers what might have been had Herbert remained healthy. Now the focus must be to go 3-0 the rest of the way and ride into the offseason with a win over Arizona, a bowl victory and an 8-5 record. 


Oregon vs. Arizona

When: 4 p.m., Saturday, Autzen Stadium, Eugene.  

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: Off

Records: Ducks (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12), Arizona (7-3, 5-2).

Last week: Arizona won 49-28 vs. Oregon State. The Ducks were off.  

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (45-50, 5-5 at Oregon); Arizona's Rich Rodriguez (163-116-2, 43-32 at Arizona.

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. Rodriguez is the inventor of the zone read play that he made famous during his days at West Virginia. Now he has an even better running quarterback in Tate than Pat White, who became a dominant force for the Mountaineers 10 years ago under Rodriguez. Tate is doing things from a rushing standpoint that had never been done before in the Pac-12.  Tate is so good as a runner that he makes former Oregon quarterbacks; Marcus Mariota and Dennis Dixon look ordinary. 

Arizona leads the Pac-12 with 347.7 yards rushing per game. Of that, 161.6 has come from Tate. He is the first Pac-12 quarterback to ever rush for 1,000 yards in a season (1,293 on 11.3 yards per carry). 

Arizona doesn't throw much but when it does, Tate is more than capable of producing big plays, but he has thrown six interceptions. 

Where Arizona is weak is on defense. It ranks 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense. For that reason, it's a good bet that Oregon's more balanced offense, matched against a vastly inferior defense, will prove to be too much for Tate to overcome. 

Game prediction: Oregon 47, Arizona 40.

Top-rated basketball recruit, R.J. Barrett, chooses Duke over Oregon

USA Today

Top-rated basketball recruit, R.J. Barrett, chooses Duke over Oregon

The nation's top basketball recruit, R.J. Barrett, just moments ago announced that he will attend Duke over Oregon and Kentucky.

"I can't wait to get there next year," Barrett said during a live stream broadcast. 

Oregon is still in play for Bol Bol, the No. 3-rated center in the nation. 

Barrett said he hopes to be one-and-done at Duke and enter the NBA Draft. 

Even if Oregon also misses out on Bol, it has been a strong week for Oregon. The Ducks earlier this week landed five-star forward Louis King out of Burlington, N.J., and four-star forward Miles Norris out of Chula Vista, Calif. near San Diego. Both are seniors and will join Oregon's team next fall. 

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King, the 23rd-rated players in the nation according to Rivals.com, is listed at 6-foot-8. He averaged 13.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game for Hudson Catholic High School during his junior season. The 6-10 Norris has played for Mater Dei Catholic High School,  Helix High School and will play his senior season for Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. 

Oregon begins play this season tonight against Coppin State

UO RB coach Pimpleton laments the murder of a former player

Courtesy of Oregon

UO RB coach Pimpleton laments the murder of a former player

Oregon running backs coach Donte Pimpleton prides himself in being a mentor to his players. So when his former high school quarterback, Dominique Denning, was recently shot to death, Pimpleton took the news pretty hard.

“It really hurt a lot because as a coach, when you do what you’re supposed to do as a coach, you should be personally invested in guys," he said. "That’s really big with me. “

Pimpleton certainly was personally invested in Denning, shot and killed on Oct. 19 in Louisville, Ky. According to reports, Denning, 27, was allegedly shot multiple times by suspect Montrell Matthews, 34, during an argument. Denning was taken to University Hospital where he later died. Matthews was arrested and has plead not guilty to murder charges. 

Days later, Pimpleton posted the following comments about Denning (pictured right) on his Instagram account:

  • coach_pimpTough day for me here in Oregon as one of my former players was laid to rest back home. One of the things i fear as a coach is losing one of my players past or present. The first play i ever called in football was 2007 at doss high school, he was my quarterback needless to say the play was an 89yd TD to Cameron Clemons. We always stayed in touch but the thing that hurts the most was the last time i saw him while i was home inn July. I saw him out and he was worked up about something and he was on GO!!!! I went over to him and had to get in him like i had to sometimes when i coached him. Hee was a GREAT player and person but he's still mine. I got him calmed down and what was said haunts me. I asked him if he cared about me, he said "I love you coach" then i told him if he does then he's got to chill!!!! It's crazy it here and im not trying to get a phone call way in Oregon telling me something happened to you. I don't want to have to come home to bury you. You don t want me to have to get a call like that do you?? He said "NO COACH, I'm gonna chill" He said "I love you coach" i told him i loved him to just cool out for me... everybody was like how you calm him down like that. "CAUSE HE'S MINE, i coached him... i got the news alert of a murder while sitting in the airport and i always say a quick prayer because i have alot of cousins, friends and former players back home. Got a call 30min later saying it was him and my HEART DROPPED!!! I wish i could've grabbed him up one more time and get thru to him..... Been hurting for a week, he was a great person.. We had a special team at doss i still talk to alo4 of em. I had 4 quarterbacks that year 2 killed, 1 in jail for manslaughter (self defense) and the one i used to worry about the most is doing good. Hurts bad!!!!! R.I.P. Dominique Denning it's going to be awhile before i get over this one.... 😢😢😢😢😢😢😢😢 #RIP#MYQB #DOMO #HURTING 

Denning had his issues from time to time and Pimpleton, as described in his Instagram account, had a positive impact on his former quarterback at Doss High School where Pimpleton was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2007-2008. 

“Once you coach them, they are always a part of you," Pimpleton said. 

Unfortunately, Pimpleton, from Louisville, Ky., couldn't be there for Denning on Oct. 19.  

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“You take a personal liking and you really love those guys like family," Pimpleton said. " You want to see them do well. When things like that happen, it hurts...To me, that’s one of the biggest fears is that something bad happens to one of my guys that I’ve coached, whether it’s past or present.“

Pimpleton, a graduate of Western Kentucky where he played football with Oregon coach Willie Taggart, said he views himself as a life coach as well as a football coach. He will try to create some good out of the Denning's death by using him as an example to current and future players of the pitfalls that could await you if you make poor decisions. 

“You have to use those as a coach because it’s all about teaching life lessons with young men,” Pimpleton said. “You want to teach them that and what not to do and give examples. And when they know you are genuine, they’ll listen.”

In the long run, such lessons will prove more valuable than what's taught on the field, according to Pimpleton, who pointed out that he spends only about two hours each day on the field with the players. The other 22 hours must also be productive.

“There is more to life than football," Pimpleton said. "This is going to end soon one day.”

One thing Pimpleton won't abide by is allowing one of his players come to Oregon and not take advantage of all the university has to offer. 

“I always tell them that it would be a shame if you come to a place like Oregon and you get all the education and fan support and don’t take advantage of it and set yourself up for life,” he said. “The fans know your name now and scream your name now, but one day, you’re just going to be an average guy. You can’t take this opportunity and blow it up and let it pass you up.”

To that end, Pimpleton makes one thing crystal clear during recruiting. 

“Like I tell them, I don’t how much you’re going to play or how many touchdowns you will score but you’re going to get that degree," Pimpleton said. "I promise the parents that when I go to recruit them.”

Oregon basketball lands two more elite recruits, King and Norris

USA Today

Oregon basketball lands two more elite recruits, King and Norris

Oregon basketball coach Dana Altman has landed two more elite recruits that could help make the Ducks Final Four contenders in the near future. 

Oregon has signed five-star forward Louis King out of Burlington, N.J., and four-star forward Miles Norris out of Chula Vista, Calif. near San Diego. Both are seniors and will join Oregon's team next fall. 

“We really enjoyed getting to know Louis, Miles and their families during the recruiting process,” Altman said in a prepared statement. “These are two exceptional young men and I think our fans are really going to enjoy watching them play and getting to know them. Both of their families have been tremendous to us and they are truly excited about becoming Ducks. Miles and Louis will be great representatives for our basketball program and for the University of Oregon.”

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King, the 23rd-rated players in the nation according to Rivals.com, is listed at 6-foot-8. He averaged 13.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game for Hudson Catholic High School during his junior season. The 6-10 Norris has played for Mater Dei Catholic High School,  Helix High School and will play his senior season for Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. 

Oregon is far from done. The Ducks are reportedly in the running for top-rated prospect, R.J. Barrett and the No. 3-rated player, center Bol Bol, the son of former NBA center Manute Bol, who passed away in 2010. 

Oregon begins play this season on Friday night against Coppin State



Oregon basketball team reloaded for success

USA Today

Oregon basketball team reloaded for success

Oregon's basketball team won't match last year's run to the Final Four after losing seven of the team's best nine players. 

However, this season's squad will be darn good and could hint toward at possible run at returning to the Final Four the following season.  

The Ducks begin non-conference play at 9 p.m., Friday night at home against Coppin State. Oregon coach Dana Altman will have his work cut out for him this season to mold together a group of mostly strangers in time for when Pac-12 play begins on Dec. 29 against Utah. 

Gone are four NBA players. Dillon Brooks (Memphis Grizzlies), Jordan Bell (Golden State Warriors), Tyler Dorsey (Atlanta Hawks) and Chris Boucher (Golden State Warriors), along with Dylan Ennis (graduated), Casey Benson (transfer) and Kavell Bigby-Williams (transfer). 

Such departures would destroy most programs for at least a season., but seemingly not Oregon, which has pulled off one of the greatest reloading adventures of all time. The only real question is if this collection of new talent can come together in time to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. 

"I think we can have a good offensive team if we make shots for each other," UO coach Dana Altman told reporters following a recent exhibition game. "I don't think this can be a team where (players say) 'I'm going to go make a play this time.'  We've got to move it... Our guys just haven't figured that out yet."

That will take time given all of the new faces. Sophomore point guard Payton Pritchard is the only returning regular rotation player. Sophomore forward Keith Smith played minimal minutes last season. 

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True freshmen, forwards Troy Brown, a five-star recruit, and Kenny Wooten, and freshman Victor Bailey Jr. will be instant impact players. Transfer forward Paul White, who sat out last season, and new transfers, guard Elijah Brown and forward Mikyle McIntosh, will contribute in a variety of ways. Then there's also freshman forward Abu Kigab, redshirt freshman forward M.J. Cage and senior center Roman Sorkin.

That's quite a bit of talent to work with that will create opportunities for Altman to play several different types of lineups. 

But, again, they must all mesh together and learn to play team basketball in order for the Ducks, picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12, to be successful.

No worries. Altman has proven in the past that he is deft at taking a batch of new talent and getting them to play together on defense and on offense. It often takes a bit of time. But once the project is complete, the results typically prove to be spectacular. 

"We've got potential." Altman said. "But we've got a tremendous amount of work to do."

Don't give up on the Ducks, they might not lose again this year

Don't give up on the Ducks, they might not lose again this year

SEATTLE - By far the best reality to take away from Oregon's 38-3 loss Saturday at Washington is that the nightmare is most likely over.

Sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert will likely return the next time the Ducks take the field in two weeks against Arizona. And, Oregon (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) has come out of the five-game stretch without him still in position to not only reach a bowl game but to realistically end the season at 8-5.

All things considered, that's not bad given that UO went 4-8 last season and just lost four out of five in blowout fashion without Herbert.

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"We've taken our lumps now," UO coach Willie Taggart said following Saturday's loss at Husky Stadium. "We'll take them. But we will come back swinging. I promise you that."

Believe it. So, don't dwell on the fact that Oregon were devoured by the hated Huskies (8-1, 5-1) for a second consecutive season. That result was a forgone conclusion once it became clear that Herbert wasn't ready to return from a broken collarbone and that freshman Braxton Burmeister would make his fifth start against the best defense the Pac-12 has to offer.

When asked if Herbert would return for the Arizona game at home on Nov. 18, Taggart responded: "I hope so," he said. "It would be nice."

As much as Taggart has tried to put a positive spin on life without Herbert in order to not impact his team, the reality is that the Ducks have to have him back. Taggart expressed that on Saturday. 

"If he comes back I'm sure everyone will be excited," he said. "You guys will be excited. We'll be excited. Our fan base will be excited. We all know what it is. We need the kid back. He will be great for our football team."

The despondent Ducks who made it to the post-game press conference didn't appear to be a group that expected to lose. That's a good sign. But the reality is that they had to play a near perfect ball game in every area to compensate for the 31 yards passing they got from the quarterback. It wasn't going to happen. 

Speaking of Burmeister, for all of his faults as a clearly overwhelmed freshman quarterback, it can't be said that the kid isn't tough. He can take a hit and he keeps coming back for more. However, he doesn't possess the passing skills needed to compete at this level. At least, not yet. 

Oregon was able to defeat Utah last week because the rest of the team bought into the fact that they all were responsible for a three-game losing streak without Herbert and not just Burmeister. That created a more focused team that through accountability ironed out some issues.

"I think early everybody felt sorry for themselves," Taggart said. "I felt that once he started practicing again they felt a little better."

That wasn't evident in the team's play against Washington only because the Huskies are simply too good to defeat with a one-dimensional offense. Taggart, who said he was never close to playing Herbert in this game, gave his team credit for not quitting and still fighting despite the fact they were clearly outmatched.

But the end result of the team going through what it went through is that Herbert should return to a find a team that is fundamentally much better than it was when he went down. Also, he will hit the field for the first time since the Wyoming game with senior receiver Charles Nelson, who injured his ankle in that third game of the season. What should have been a lethal passing combination all season long has played just two full games together. 

Come Nov. 18, the Ducks will return to being an offense capable of scoring 40 points in a half. Match that with a much improved defense and the Ducks have a the makings of a squad that could run the table the rest of the way.  

So, throw away this game. Forget it ever happened. Take a week off the clear your mind while the Ducks rest their bodies. Then, come back ready to find the Ducks ready to play their best football of the season.

"We still have a lot to play for," Taggart said.

Pride. A winning season. Taggart's first bowl victory. And, the seniors who haven't won a bowl game since the 2014 Rose Bowl. 

"Were just going to fight for any way to win a game," center Jake Hanson said, "and get our seniors to a bowl game."

Doing so and winning would make all that this team has endured worth it in the end. 

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.