Oregon Ducks

Mullens mulls a complex issue regarding coach Helfrich

Mullens mulls a complex issue regarding coach Helfrich

Message for those fretting over the status of Oregon football coach Mark Helfrich: Chill out!

Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens spent today working with the College Football Playoff selection committee in Texas while in the state of Oregon people who care about Ducks football were flipping out.  

Fans, boosters and media are demanding immediate gratification and answers regarding Helfrich’s job status coming off of a 4-8 season, the program’s first losing record since 2004.

The problem for the impatient is that Mullens isn’t on their timetable. He’s on his.

Mullens is scheduled to return to Eugene on Tuesday. He could meet with Helfrich as soon as then, or later in the week.

Clearly, despite numerous reports and speculation, Mullens has not made a decision regarding Helfrich’s status. If Mullens had already decided to fire Helfrich it would have made much more sense to do so on Sunday following UO’s 34-24 loss at Oregon State in the Civil War, and before the head coach and the rest of the coaching staff had headed out to recruit that same day.

Firing the staff while it is scattered around the country recruiting would be a horrible look for Mullens and Oregon.

It’s difficult to believe Mullens could be that cold to a staff that included coaches who have been at Oregon for up to 33 years.

Even if Mullens were leaning toward firing Helfrich and the staff, but had yet to make a decision, he could have ordered that the group not to head out to recruit.

This week is not paramount to the recruiting cycle. If the team were in the Pac-12 championship game this weekend, the staff wouldn’t be out recruiting. Holding them back for a few days would not have made a bit of difference in recruiting, whereas firing the staff while they are out recruiting could have serious impacts on the current class.

The only logical reason to allow the staff to continue as usual would be if Mullens were leaning toward keeping Helfrich and company.

However, not reassuring Helfrich on Sunday at least means that Mullens has his doubts.

What has to happened during that meeting is Helfrich must convince Mullens that he has a plan to fix the issues that led to such a down turn just two years after the team reached the national championship game.

It’s a very complex decision being made that shouldn’t be rushed.

Here is a look at issues in play for Mullens to consider:

  • $15 million price tag:  Firing Helfrich would mean paying him an $11.6 million buyout on his five-year contract signed after the 2014 season. A new coach worth hiring is going to cost at least $15 million over five years. So, UO would essentially be paying about $27 million for a head coach over the next five years. That doesn’t include buying out the assistant coaches for about $3.4 million, paying new assistants and potentially paying the buyout to the school employing Oregon’s future new head coach. The idea that NIKE founder Phil Knight, or other big time boosters, are willing to post so much cash to get rid of Helfrich after one bad season doesn’t seem plausible. We shall see.  
  • Who would Mullens hire to replace Helfrich? It appears that those who want Helfrich gone haven’t thought this part through very clearly. Names have been tossed around with little regard to practicality. The only candidate that might have gotten UO to open up the checkbook and make a move could have been Tom Herman. But he was on the market for only a few hours before Texas hired him away from Houston. Note that he didn’t even give UO a real sniff.  There are no other obvious choices out there that are slam-dunk upgrades over Helfrich, especially when factoring in the money involved. This staff has been to two national title games, won two Rose Bowls and a Fiesta Bowl. What head coach and his staff available could boast such a resume? Former LSU coach Les Miles could. Would he go to Oregon? Maybe. Would the Ducks want him? Maybe. Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, sources say, is not a viable option. But sources say a Miles-to-Oregon occurrence is not very likely. Beyond him, who else makes sense? Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck is a possibility and a hot commodity. But he has been a head coach for just four years and it’s been at Western Michigan of the MAC. There is no guarantee or proven track record to suggest that Fleck would be an obvious upgrade, or ever get Oregon into national title contention. It would be a roll of the dice with, again, a $15 million price tag just to sit at the table. It is possible that in the past few days a search firm has been fleshing out candidates to provide for Mullens as he makes his decision.  
  • Unchartered territory: Oregon hasn’t fired a head football coach in 40 years. It didn’t fire Rich Brooks after he went 3-8 in 1991 following two 8-4 seasons. UO didn’t fire Mike Bellotti after he went 5-6 in 2004 and didn’t win a bowl game from 2002 through 2006. To pull the trigger now after the program’s first losing season in 12 years and two years removed from a trip to the national championship game appears to be a stretch, and something that should give Mullens great pause.
  • What does Oregon want to become? Clearly some fans, boosters and media believe that UO should be a perennial national contender through all eternity since it just had a great six-year run of success.  However, that success was due to a great offense that has since been duplicated to death making it less unique to Oregon. That doesn’t mean UO can’t win big again. It simply means that in a deep Pac-12 loaded with other good coaches, the Ducks are going to have their share of ups and downs based on the level of experienced star talent in place during a given year, and how it matches up against the rest of the conference. It will all be cyclical whether anyone wants to admit that or not. Chasing a delusion by beginning a cycle of hiring and firing coaches if they don’t meet unrealistic expectations would send the program down a rabbit hole after something unattainable.  Does Mullens want to push the panic button after one bad year and essentially tell the next coach that he had better win the national title soon, and never have a bad season or he would be gone next? That’s the message firing Helfrich now would send to a new coach. The leash is short and we have unrealistic expectations.
  • Can Helfrich turn this around? Oregon played this season with a very young but talented team that was hit hard by injuries. There is ample reason to believe that things will turn around in a hurry, especially with freshman quarterback Justin Herbert appearing to be a budding superstar. If Mullens believes this staff, a group he has seen win at a national level, can right the ship then it makes no sense to jettison them. He should take a peak at how TCU has handled Gary Patterson, rumored to have been contacted by Oregon. Patterson took over TCU in 2001 and went from 6-6 to 10-2 and then 11-2 over his first three seasons. Then TCU went 5-6 in 2004. Patterson wasn’t fired. He responded with 10 wins or more in six of the next seven seasons before going 7-6 in 2012 and then 4-8 in 2013. Again, TCU didn’t’ fire him. Patterson rewarded the loyalty by going 12-1 and then 11-2. This year TCU went 6-5.  That’s three times Patterson has had a dip at TCU and three times he has rebounded. All three times TCU didn’t panic and fire him. Oregon should take note.
  • People matter: This isn’t simply about Helfrich. A new coach would likely want to bring in his own staff. How does Mullens easily pull the trigger on essentially also terminating Steve Greatwood, John Neal, Don Pellum, Gary Campbell, Tom Osborne and Jimmy Radcliffe, coaches who have been at UO from between 14 to 33 years? This staff as a whole has more than earned the chance to fix this mess. Most have done it before. Why can’t they do it again?
  • Will season tickets really be impacted by keeping Helfrich: One thing Mullens can’t do is allow the irrational feelings of some fans impact his decision. There aren’t many more irrational groups in our society than fans. Think about it: What compels anyone to allow the performance of people they do not know impact their emotions or trigger anger to the levels of venom and hate being hurled at an Oregon native like Helfrich who two years ago guided the Ducks to their greatest season ever, and recruited, developed and coached the greatest player in program history, Marcus Mariota?  Some fans are threatening to not renew season tickets. Yeah, right! After all of the winning they’ve witnessed at Autzen are they really going to jump off the bandwagon after one losing season if Helfrich returns? I’m calling B.S.  They will pout for a few weeks then get over the irrational pain they feel, realize that the team could be very good next year and then renew their tickets. If not, someone else will scoop them up.  
  • Does Helfrich have a solid plan? This should be an easy sell for Helfrich considering how young and banged up this team was, and that the roster holds a glut of elite-level talent that simply needs time to develop. Helfrich also must sell Mullens on how he is going to raise the level of discipline within the team. Things have become a bit too lackadaisical in some areas, sources say, leading to an erosion of discipline. That must change. Mullens might have some demands that include staff changes. If so, Helfrich must be willing to meet those demands.

 

 

 

In an ideal world this entire situation would be resolved by now. But the complexities that lead to such a decision even being made at this time are certainly going to impact the final decision and must be weighed carefully.

 

So, be patient. It will all be over soon.

 

 

 

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 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. 

Royce Freeman becomes Oregon's all-time leading rusher

Royce Freeman becomes Oregon's all-time leading rusher

PASADENA, Calif. - Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman became the Ducks' all-time leading rusher with a 16-yard run in the fourth quarter of the team's 31-14 loss at UCLA.

The run left Freeman with 153 rushing yards on the day and 5,096 for his career. He finished the game with 160 yards on 29 carries and has 5,103 for his career. 

Freeman entered the game needing 140 yards to break LaMichael James' career record of 5,082, amassed over three seasons from 2009 through 2011. Freeman is in his fourth season with UO. 

Freeman breaking the record today appeared to be a given. The Bruins (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12) entered the game ranked last in the conference and 128th in the nation in rushing defense allowing 313 yards per game. Oregon (4-3, 1-3) entered the day ranked third in the conference and 18th in the nation in rushing with 244.3 yards per game. 

Freeman started the game ranked third in the conference and ninth in the nation with 797 rushing yards. 

Freeman began the season with 4,146 career rushing yards and needing 937 to break James' record. 

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."

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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.

 

Royce Freeman record watch 2017: Now 140 yards away

Royce Freeman record watch 2017: Now 140 yards away

Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman returned to his 100-yard rushing ways on Saturday with 143 on 18 carries during a 49-7 loss at No. 22 Stanford. 

It was Freeman's first 100-yard game since he began the season with three straight such performances before going for 81, 51 and 62 over the following three games. 

Freeman now needs 140 to become Oregon's all-time leading rusher. He should reach that mark on Saturday at UCLA. The Bruins (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12) rank last in the conference and 128th in the nation in rushing defense allowing 313 yards per game. 

Oregon (4-3, 1-3) ranks third in the conference and 18th in the nation in rushing with 244.3 yards per game. Freeman ranks third in the conference and ninth in the nation with 797 rushing yards. 

Freeman entered the season with 4,146 career rushing yards and needing 937 to break James' record of 5,082. 

RECORD WATCH

RUSHING YARDAGE

James' record: 5,082 yards.

Last week: Freeman rushed for 143 yards on 18 carries at Stanford. 

2017 total: Freeman now has has rushed for 797 yards rushing in six games.  

Career total: Freeman has 4,943 yards career rushing yards. 

Freeman needs: He is 140 yards away from breaking James' record. 

Previous games: Freeman rushed for 62 against Washington State, 51 yards vs. Cal, 81 yards at ASU, 157 yards at Wyoming, 153 yards vs. Nebraska and 150 against Southern Utah. 

RUSHING TOUCHDOWNS

James' previous record: 53.

Freeman's record: Freeman has 54 rushing touchdowns for his career. 

Last week: Freeman did not score at Stanford.   

2017 total: Ten.

Next up: The Ducks play at 1 p.m., Saturday at UCLA. 

Taggart hopeful Burmeister will improve in time for UCLA

Taggart hopeful Burmeister will improve in time for UCLA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oregon QB Justin Herbert is throwing and drinking his milk

Oregon QB Justin Herbert is throwing and drinking his milk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ducks had better hope so. 

Oregon's offensive woes could become demoralizing

Oregon's offensive woes could become demoralizing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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