Oregon Ducks

Oregon's "#TheMovement18" recruiting blitz must scoop up impact defensive linemen

Oregon's "#TheMovement18" recruiting blitz must scoop up impact defensive linemen

Oregon's coaches are killing it on the recruiting trail. They are Tweeting up a storm complete with the fresh hashtag, "TheMovement18," while using plenty of Emojis, GIFs and photos of Ducks swag in order to appeal to the talented teens they are pursuing.  

So far, the high-energy and social media-savvy recruiting tactics under new coach Willie Taggart have worked well and have fans giddy about the future. Oregon's 2018 recruiting class currently ranks No. 11 in the country, according to Rivals.com. That's coming off of a No. 18 ranking for the 2017 recruiting class, completed last February. 

Just one problem: Where are all of the impact defensive linemen?

I know, I know, it's early. Signing day is nearly nine months away. But let's be clear: All of the bells and whistles and hyped commitment gatherings won't mean squat in the end unless the new coaching staff can make a habit out of landing high-end defensive line recruits. Just ask the former coaching staff whose failure in this department from 2013 through 2016 contributed greatly to a defense that last season ranked 128th (518.4 yards per game) in the nation in total defense and 121st (246.5) against the run during a 4-8 season. 

The defensive line is so depleted with veteran talent that Taggart went out and signed graduate transfer defensive lineman Scott Pagano. The former Clemson part-time starter will instantly become the Ducks' best defensive lineman, if not best defensive player. 

Oregon must sign the Paganos of the world on the front end of their careers, not at the back end. The Ducks are trying. According to 247Sports.com, Oregon has issued offers to 24 defensive ends and 10 defensive tackles. Of those 34 players, 21 are rated as 4-star recruits, or better. However, just one is even listed as being "warm" on Oregon while 17 have either already committed, or are listed as "cool" toward Oregon. 

Here is the overall recruiting situation thus far: 

Oregon's big weekend during the spring game included receiving commitments from six recruits followed up by another on Monday. Five were rated as four-star recruits by Rivals.com while 247Sports rated six as four-star prospects.

But zero defensive linemen were included in the haul. 

The Ducks on Friday did receive a commitment from Mohamed Diallo, a three-star defensive lineman out of Arizona Western Community College. He's a nice get. At an athletic 6-foot-3, 295 pounds, Diallo could become a good player for the Ducks at nose guard in 2018. But he must be an addition, not the center piece, to what has to be a much stronger class of defensive linemen. 

Taggart made a big splash in his first recruiting go around, but not at defensive line. UO signed three, but only one is a four-star recruit, freshman early enrollee Rutger Reitmaier. He committed to Oregon last June, five months before Taggart took over the program following the firing of Mark Helfrich.

A quick turnaround for the Oregon Ducks will mostly depend on dramatic improvement from the defense, and that will require a head-turning upgrade in play from the defensive line. So give credit to the Ducks for addressing this problem with the addition of Pagano. But the future of the defensive line remains in serious doubt and must be upgraded through recruiting. 

One of the knocks on the previous staff was that they failed to recruit impact players on defense after 2012, especially within the front seven. Under former coach Chip Kelly In 2012, the Ducks signed maybe their best defensive line recruiting class ever with the additions of four-star recruits, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Alex Balducci. Buckner and Armstead both went on to become first-round NFL Draft picks by the San Francisco 49ers. Balducci signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent and is now a center with the New York Jets.

Kelly's final recruiting influence came in 2013 before he moved on to the NFL. That class, which included 13 of 19 players who committed to Oregon under Kelly, ended up with just two defensive linemen: Torrodney Prevot and Doug Brenner. Prevot actually ended up playing linebacker while Brenner played offensive line. Elijah George, a two-star recruit offensive lineman in that class, is now a reserve defensive lineman.

Let that all sink in for a minute.

The Ducks sought to recover in 2014 with the addition of five defensive line recruits. Only one, however, was rated as a four-star player and that was junior college transfer Tui Talia. Of the four three-star recruits, Justin Hollins and Jalen Jelks have had the only impact. Both remain tweeners who might be undersized to be more than pass rushers. Eddie Heard, who ultimately played linebacker, and former starter, Austin Maloata, were removed from the team following their respective troubles with the law last year. 

Oregon tried again with five defensive line recruits in 2015. Again, just one was a four-star get. That was Canton Kaumatule, who appeared to have the potential to become the next Armstead or Buckner before repeated injuries and concussions slowed his development. He retired last season.  

The other four signees, all three-star recruits, remain projects. Junior Rex Manu and redshirt sophomore Gary Baker are the top returning defensive tackles. They will now play nose guard in UO's 3-4. Redshirt sophomores Drayton Carlberg and Gus Cumberlander will be competing for time at defensive end. 

UO signed four more defensive linemen in 2016. Redshirt freshman Hunter Kampmoyer and sophomore Bryson Young, a four-star recruit, have shown promise. However, Ratu Mafileo retired due to injury concerns and Wayne Tei-Kirby, thrust into action as a freshman, has transferred to BYU. 

To put all of this into perspective, consider that over the last five recruiting cycles Clemson has signed 10 four-star defensive linemen, including Pagano in 2013, and two five-star defensive linemen.

Oregon, during the past handful of years, did just fine signing players at most every other position, especially on offense. Running backs. Wide receivers. Offensive linemen. Even at quarterback where the Ducks at least signed promising four-star recruits, Morgan Mahalak (2014) and Travis Jonsen (2015). Mahalak has since transferred while Jonsen has yet to meet his potential. But, the Ducks hit big on Justin Herbert in 2016. 

Recruiting at defensive back and linebacker has been mixed, but at least some bright spots exist at those two positions. The defensive backs improved greatly last year over 2015, but a lack of a run defense and adequate pass rush left the secondary hung out to dry.

That all said, the linebacker position also needs an upgrade. Even with Balducci, Buckner and Armstead, Oregon's defense got steamrolled in the national title game by Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. One reason was Elliott's talent, another was Oregon's lack of future NFL prospects at linebacker.

But we've seen and are seeing inroads being made at the second level of defense. Sophomore linebacker Troy Dye is a budding superstar. Commit Adrian Jackson, is rated as the No. 11 outside linebacker in the nation. The 2017 class featured linebacker Sampson Niu, who committed to Oregon last June under Helfrich and was rated as the No. 12 outside linebacker in his class. 

Oregon must match that level of recruiting along the defensive line so that transfers such like Pagano are viewed more as nice additions, such as 2015 transfer center Matt Hegarty, rather than as saviors, like 2015 quarterback Vernon Adams Jr..

The 6-foot-3, 295-pound Pagano could be an immediate starter opposite Mondeaux in defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt's 3-4 defense. Or, the former Clemson defensive tackle could also play nose guard. Figure he will play all over in different situational packages. 

Pagano's presence will prevent Leavitt from having to depend on a young end or nose guard that might not be ready to stand up to the rigors of the 3-4 defense.

Freshman nose guard Jordan Scott, a Taggart get, turned heads during spring drills with his athleticism and size but shouldn't be relied upon to carry the load in the middle next season. It's likely going to be up to Manu and Baker to get it done inside. 

But Pagano only buys Oregon time. All of the young defensive linemen have time to develop under position coach Joe Salave'a, considered to be a great recruiter. Helfrich's recruits could ultimately pan out. Regardless, the Ducks must move away from waiting for linemen to develop and step into an era of having a revolving door of impact defensive linemen with NFL potential flowing through the system. 

So while it's nice for Oregon that this staff has brought high energy to the recruiting trail and has landed commitments and signatures from promising recruits at many positions, the reality is that unless they can sign some Buckners, Armsteads and Balduccies, the Ducks' future will include more teams padding their offensive stats against Oregon's defense.  

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."

---

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.