Oregon Ducks

Oregon's DBs polish up communication skills

Oregon's DBs polish up communication skills

EUGENE - Oregon cornerback Arrion Springs stepped before a throng of media in front of the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex following a practice this week. 

Meanwhile, in the background, fellow-starting cornerback Ugo Amadi made a request of Springs.

"Give me a shout out," Amadi yelled while walking toward the complex entrance to the locker rooms. 

Springs smiled in response but did not oblige.

"Give me a shout out," Amadi yelled again. 

"Shout out to Ugo," Springs finally said with a wry smile.

Ah, communication. Following instructions. Such simple things that sometimes prove to be so difficult. 

That anecdote fits here only because last season, when one Oregon defensive back would shout instructions to another, it would be up in the air whether or not the information would be correct, processed correctly, relayed in a timely manner or even heard and understood.  Substitute Amadi's first request for a shout-out that went unanswered with a coverage call and you have an example of why the secondary contributed to the team allowing 35 touchdown passes last season. 

This season, however, the defensive backs have vowed to improve their communication to it more often matched Springs reaction to Amadi's second request. The No. 24 Ducks (1-0) won 53-28 on Saturday against UC Davis. Although the Ducks allowed 303 yards passing, they came on 47 attempts for a feeble average of 6.4 yards per attempt. Not a bad showing for the secondary. And it all starts with communication, something new defensive coordinator has stressed to every level of the defense. 

“All the way around, our communication has to be spot on,” Hoke said. “If not, we’re going to have a guy who’s out of a gap, or a guy who’s not fitting the run well, or whatever it might be. When we try to communicate, when we try to talk to each other, we’ve got to be really, really on point.”

That point of emphasis, defensive backs coach John Neal said, has resonated throughout the team, especially with the secondary. 

“You have to talk every play,” Neal said.

A lack of communication killed Oregon's secondary last season when they allowed 35 touchdown passes. Players either didn't know what they were doing and how to communicate that, or those in the know did a poor job of relaying information to others. 

On Saturday, the secondary appeared to take a step in the right direction. That started with the defensive backs being better versed on what their responsibilities are from play to play. 

"When you understand more, you can speak," redshirt junior safety Juwaan Williams said. 

Neal said his defensive backs certainly appear to be more confident in their knowledge. 

“That’s a confidence you get when you know what you’re doing and you’re going to talk a lot now,” Neal said.

Even after mistakes, players reacted with affirmation about what they had done wrong rather than confusion. 

“When we did mess up, they already knew what they messed up on,” Springs said.

Speaking of mistakes, Springs and Williams said there were big plays the defense gave up because of mistakes in coverage that must be cleaned up. 

"In some of the plays we gave up, there wasn't communication," Williams said. "So the communication part of it is something we're progressing and working on everyday. "

Neal said tackling still must be improved.

“I figured that we gave about 14 points away last week,” Neal said. “In order to be an elite team, you can’t do it. And we’re trying to be an elite team.”

Oregon hosts Virginia (0-1) on Saturday at Autzen. UVA quarterback Kirk Benkert completed 26-of-34 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns with one interception last week during a 37-20 loss to Richmond, an FCS program. 

Certainly not a great showing in a loss, but Benkert does have some skills and Virginia likes to throw the ball around. So the Cavaliers should provide a next-level test for UO's secondary and it's communication skills. 

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. 

 

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...