Oregon Ducks

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."

Royce Freeman exits as a true 'man of Oregon'

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USA Today

Royce Freeman exits as a true 'man of Oregon'

The legend of Royce Freeman began in August of 2014 with whispers escaping Oregon's closed practices about a freshman running back laying waste to Ducks defenders. 

Witnesses described his exploits as something akin to Bo Jackson running amok on the Tecmo Bowl video game. Big. Fast. Unstoppable. Defenders bounced off of Freeman's rumbling 235-pound frame like bowling pins. 

When unveiled to the public, Freeman lived up to the hype. He was, and remains, a similar package to that of former Ducks legends, Reuben Droughns and Jonathan Stewart. Fast but punishing. Powerful, yet nimble. 

Simply put: unfair. 

Three years, thousands of yards and many flat-backed defenders later, Freeman will play his final game at Autzen Stadium during Saturday's Civil War against Oregon State. It could actually turn out to be his final game should he elect not to play in UO's bowl game. More on that later.

Freeman will leave Oregon as the most prolific offensive player in the history of the program. More importantly, he will also leave Oregon as one of the most stoic and treasured people to ever wear the green and yellow. 

UO has had its share of legends. There's no need to decide where Freeman ranks among them. Time will gradually decide where he rates among the pantheon of great Ducks. But it should never be forgotten that last year when the program was at its lowest point in recent memory, when Freeman had every reason to leave for the NFL and become an instant millionaire, he stuck around to help make things right. 

Freeman also did everything the right way. One has never heard a negative word about him. Nobody, of course, is perfect. But, according to teammates, they've never really seen him even get angry. He's always even-keeled. Stoic. Thoughtful. He smiles and laughs, but rarely frowns. Freeman simply goes about his business of working hard, churning out yards and being a great teammate.

"He’s a War-Daddy," UO coach Willie Taggart said following Saturday's 48-28 win over Arizona. "He is everything to this football team. I told Royce afterwards how proud I was of him and how much I appreciate of him. I know one thing he wanted to do and a big reason for him to come back was to make sure that this program was going back in the right direction. He can say that now.”

The Ducks (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12) haven't had the season Freeman had hoped they would enjoy. That's primarily because sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert missed five games with a broken collarbone. During that 1-4 stretch, however, is when Freeman demonstrated his true warrior nature. 

With virtually zero threat of passing game to keep defenses honest, Freeman rushed for 626 tough yards but never found the end zone. He made up for that with four touchdowns against Arizona on the night Herbert returned to action. 

Keep in mind that Freeman has been playing with pain most of the season. He left the team's win over California on Sept. 30 with a shoulder injury and hasn't been 100 percent since. 

Taggart said that he has taken precautions to help Freeman work through his pain. Freeman takes mostly mental reps on Tuesday to give him a day off from any pounding his body might take during a regular practice. His body has taken a lot of punishment over his 928 career carries. 

“He’s everything," Taggart said. "I’m proud of him and I love him. I’m so appreciative to him for coming back. He does it all for the love of the University of Oregon.”

Freeman has amassed 5,499 rushing yards, tops in Oregon history and ninth all-time in college football. His 62 total touchdowns and 58 rushing touchdowns are both program records. He needs one more rushing touchdown to tie former Oregon State Ken Simonton's career Pac-12 mark of 59. 

Freeman could tie and break that record against Oregon State on Saturday. 

"It's going to be a special one," Freeman said. "I'm excited to be out there. I've played here for quite awhile. The fans have been nothing but supportive. And, it's a rivalry game so it's going to be fun."

Following the game, Freeman will exit Autzen Stadium for the final time as a player. The only question remaining will be if he will play in the team's bowl game. Freeman was asked about that on Tuesday. His answer was unclear. 

"I'm just focused on this week," Freeman said. 

In reality, Freeman would be better off making Saturday his Oregon swan song and not playing in a bowl game. There is no point for him to do so. He is already battling injuries and has done his part to help UO return to winning after going 4-8 last year. Oregon has plenty of good running backs to turn to and would do just fine in a bowl game without him. Nobody could blame him for choosing to rest his body and start preparing for the next chapter in his life. 

Either way, make sure to take in the awe of No. 21 running at Autzen one more time on Saturday. He's been a site to behold and one to remember long into the future. 

It's a college basketball feast -- but does Portland care?

It's a college basketball feast -- but does Portland care?

Everybody knows tomorrow is Thanksgiving. But it's also the first day of an interesting sports experiment in Portland.

The Phil Knight Invitational -- PK80 -- opens Thursday, running similtaneously in Moda Center and Memorial Coliseum. It's being billed as the greatest in-season college basketball tournament ever and it very well may be. You're talking about the likes of Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State, Ohio State, Texas, Florida, Gonzaga and Oregon -- to name just a few. It's the cream of the crop in college basketball gathered together inside two arenas for a holiday feast of hoops talent. I'm guessing a who's who of NBA general managers, scouts and personnel directors will be on hand.

But one question remains on the eve of the tournament:

Does Portland care?

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

Serious question. A lot has changed since the days when the Far West Classic packed Memorial Coliseum with an eight-team Christmas tournament. College basketball just isn't the attraction it once was. And I'm not necessarily pessimistic about how this tournament will draw in Portland, I'm more curious than anything else. I just don't have any idea how this will be received.

A quick check of the secondary market today showed tickets for some sessions available for as low as $6, even though advertising for this event has been heavy. But that doesn't mean a lot. The actual crowd count at the games is what's going to tell the tale.

Is Portland now strictly an NBA town? Will fans want to watch games in the clunky old "Glass Palace" when they can go next door to Moda and watch in more comfort? Are people still interested in watching the college game, especially some of the very best college teams? Or would they rather save their money and watch the Trail Blazers play? Didn't Oregon's Final Four trip last season spark renewed interest in the sport?  If so, how much?

I don't know, quite honestly. But we will find out this weekend.

 

Dana Altman raises bar on recruiting with addition of Bol

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USA Today

Dana Altman raises bar on recruiting with addition of Bol

Oregon coach Dana Altman added another jewel to his 2018 recruiting class today with the addition of 7-foot-1 Bol Bol, a five-star recruit and the No. 1-rated center in the nation, according to 247Sports.com

Bol, the son of former NBA center Manute Bol, announced his decision today in an article on the Players' Tribune

Bol, when he officially signs, will join a recruiting class that already includes five-star forward Louis King, four-star forward Miles Norris and four-star guard Will Richardson. This is the first time Oregon has ever had two five-star recruits in the same class. 

Oregon's class was ranked No. 8 by 247Sports based on the three signees. Bol's committment raised UO's class to No. 1 in the nation. This comes on the heels of last year when Altman landed the No. 12 class in the nation led by five-star wing Troy Brown. 

The caveat to bringing in such high-end talent is that some could bolt for the NBA after one season. But that would only happen if such a player had delivered one hell of a season. Mixed in with the potential one-and-done talents of Brown, King and Bol are plenty of high-end four-star recruits that will need at least two years to become NBA ready. 

This season's team is loaded with depth thanks to transfers and recruiting despite the Ducks losing seven of their top 10 players from last season's Final Four team. The Ducks (4-0) have been destroying lesser competition with eight players averaging 8.5 points or more. It's an impressive collection of athletes that might not return to the Final Four but certainly will play an entertaining brand of basketball and could grow into a national contender by next season. 

If Altman can maintain a strong mix of transfers such as forward Paul White, who is off to a strong start after sitting out last season following transferring in from Georgetown, and four-star players who will be around two or three years, then the addition of the five-star talent will serve to provide icing on an already championship-caliber cake. 

Of course, it must be pointed out that not all of these high-end recruits will pan out. Former 2015 four-star recruits, Kendall Small and Trevor Manuel, ended up transferring. Forward M.J. Cage, from the 2016 class, redshirted last season and so far this season has received just 7.3 minutes per game. Transfer Kavell Bigby-Williams, from the same class, certainly didn't live up to expectations last season as the top-rated junior college transfer in the nation, and has since transferred. 

Still, Altman only needs to hit on a couple of high-end players from each class in order to piece together a great team. What Altman has done by raising the recruiting levels to match is ability to identify, recruit and properly use transfers is that he has created two flowing pipelines of players that should continue to fill any talent void from year to year and lead to run of consistency that the program has never experienced.

 

Taggart shoots down speculation that he wants out of Oregon

Taggart shoots down speculation that he wants out of Oregon

EUGENE - Oregon coach Willie Taggart hasn't been able to escape the rumors that he could be headed to Florida or that he simply wants out of coaching the Ducks. 

The latter was posed to him following UOs 48-28 win Saturday over Arizona at Autzen Stadium and the first-year UO coach immediately shot it down. 

"Do I look unhappy?" he said with a smile. "I'm not addressing anymore rumors. You might have to ask that guy who put that rumor out there."

"That guy" is ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski, who on television stated that he was hearing that Taggart wanted out of Oregon. 

Taggart has stated repeatedly that he isn't going anywhere. At least not this season. Rumors swirled last week within the college football world that Taggart could land at Florida after the Gators fired coach Jim McElwain. Taggart is from Palmetto, Fla., and coached at South Florida before taking the Oregon job last December. 

While it must be noted that virtually every coach that has ever left a program at some point avoided a question regarding his plans or flat out said he wasn't leaving and then did in fact leave, the reality is that there has been no concrete evidence or reporting that indicates that Taggart is a prime candidate at any program that could be viewed as being more desirable than Oregon. 

Herbert returns, but it's Oregon's defense that shines in win over Arizona

Herbert returns, but it's Oregon's defense that shines in win over Arizona

EUGENE - Oregon finally did something on the football field worth talking about this season by defeating Arizona 48-28 Saturday night at Autzen Stadium.

The Ducks needed a big win in the worst way. They needed the type of victory that would truly signal the program's turnaround under new coach Willie Taggart in a season filled with disappointing performances and yawn-inspiring wins. They needed a win like Saturday's to validate the existing belief by many that the Ducks' future is bright under Taggart. 

For that victory to occur, the Ducks needed sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert to return to action for the first time since breaking his left collarbone seven weeks again against California. But while he certainly did his thing, by far the most important entity on the field Saturday was the Ducks' defense, which devoured Arizona's emerging superstar quarterback, Khalil Tate. 

The win, something Oregon was favored by odds makers to pull of, wasn't supposed to go down like it did. Tate, who in just seven starts had amassed more than 1,252 yards rushing, more resembled a kitten trapped in a box against Oregon than the dynamic Wildcat quarterback that saved Arizona's season, and maybe coach Rich Rodriguez's job, with one show-stopping performance after another. 

When Saturday's game ended, Tate sat at 32 yards rushing, Taggart flashed his victory smile and Oregon had by far its best win of the season.

The Ducks (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12) are now bowl eligible with feeble Oregon State (1-10, 0-8) up next in the Civil War. Oregon has a great chance to finish the season 8-5 with what should be an easy win over the Beavers followed by likely victory in a bowl game against what likely will be an inferior opponent. But when this season is in the history books, the victory that should be remembered most will be the night the Ducks denied a superstar in the making to make fools out of them and defeated a team that had a real shot at winning 10 games before the Ducks got done with them. 

"It means a lot," Taggart said of the victory that came after five games of mostly turmoil. "It shows the progress in our football team and that we're headed in the direction that we want to go."

With Herbert out, the Ducks lost four out of five games and scored just 34 combined points in those four losses with freshman Braxton Burmeister starting at quarterback. But Oregon team righted itself by realizing that it couldn't lay blame at the feet of the freshman when the entire team had contributed to the team's follies. 

A renewed attention to detail led to a better team on the field when Herbert returned. Especially on defense. That proved true on Saturday. 

Taggart said the plan for Tate was simple: Force him to hand the ball off on zone read and contain him in the pocket. 

Tate looked unstoppable on Arizona's first drive in which the Wildcats never faced a third down and scored after 11 plays covering 83 yards. After that, the Ducks made life miserable for Tate. A defender ran at him every time he showed an inside hand off in order to force him to give the ball to the running back. On passing plays, outside edge rushers committed more to containing him the pocket then going all out for sacks. 

"We tried to keep him in a box," dye said. "We tried to keep him from getting out in space."

That strategy only worked because the Ducks did a great job of stopping the inside and outside zone plays. Many a defense has focused on eliminating running quarterback only to get gashed by inside runs. See virtually every team that ever faced former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota while he operated Oregon's zone read run game from 2012 through 2014. 

Arizona finished with just 171 yards rushing after entering the game averaging 347.7 and even more than that since Tate took over as the starting quarterback. 

"It was just a collective team effort," Dye said. 

The combination of bottling up the inside run game and keeping Tate from finding any creases doomed Arizona's running game, which in turn did a number on the Wildcats' passing game. Tate has a strong arm and throws a good ball but he has yet to prove to be skilled enough to carry a team with his arm. Arizona's previous passing success with him had come about through forcing opposing defenses to focus heavily on the run and thus become susceptible to big plays over the top. Tate entered the game averaging just over 10 yards per pass attempt. Oregon held him to 4.5 on Saturday. 

“We didn’t block them well, we didn’t read them well, and they did a good job," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "The frustrating part is we’ll probably watch the film, and they were playing the exact way we thought they’d play, but they were better than us.”

Truth be told, Taggart said he was nervous about how his defense would perform early on in the preparation process because scout team quarterback Demetri Burch, a three-star wide receiver recruit who played quarterback in high school, had been routinely destroying the Ducks' defense in practice.

"They were so frustrated at times they tackled Demetrius when they could," Taggart said. "Sometimes they couldn't."

Having an off week, Taggart said, proved vital in preparing the defense for Tate. By the end of game week, UO's defense had demonstrated greater success against Burch in practice.

"Without Demetri Burch I don't think we would have played the way we played tonight," Dye said. "He gave us a tremendous look these past 10 days."

Oregon cornerback Ugochukwu Amadi said Burch proved to be tougher to defend against than Tate.

The victory made the Ducks bowl eligible a year after going 4-8. Taggart said that he had one question for Nike founder and Oregon mega-booster Phil Knight: "Does Nike make bowling shoes?" 

Corny, to be sure. 

But what's not corny is that the Ducks have clearly made great strides this season, something Taggart traces back to team camaraderie. 

"We've got a group of young men that believe in each other and that care about each other," he said. "I think we saw that throughout the season when we could have easily folded."

Watch: Rapid Reaction- Ducks defense devours Khalil Tate

Watch: Rapid Reaction- Ducks defense devours Khalil Tate

BOX SCORE

Oregon made Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate look quite ordinary during a 48-28 win over Arizona Saturday night at Autzen Stadium. 

UO held Tate to 32 yards rushing after he had amassed 1,252 on the ground in just seven starts. That performance by the Ducks (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12) overshadowed the return of quarterback Justin Herbert from a broken left collarbone that forced him to miss five games. He looked a bit rusty while completing 14 of 21 passes for 235 yards and one touchdown with one interception. 

Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman rushed for 135 yards on 19 carries and scored four touchdowns to give him 62 total touchdowns for his career, breaking LaMichael Jame's former team record of 58. 

Sources: Herbert cleared to play against Arizona following X-ray

Sources: Herbert cleared to play against Arizona following X-ray

Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert, who missed five games with a broken left collarbone, has been cleared to play Saturday against Arizona, according to multiple sources. 

A source told NBC Sports Northwest on Tuesday that Herbert was taking first-team reps and would likely start, as reported that night on Talkin' Ducks. However, Oregon coach Willie Taggart that same day said during an interview that Herbert would undergo an X-ray later in the week to determine his availability. 

On Thursday, Brett McMurphy tweeted that sources had told him that Herbert would start against the Wildcats (7-3, 5-2). However, according to a source, Herbert's availability wasn't 100 percent certain until Friday when an x-ray revealed that Herbert's collarbone had indeed fully healed. But, it was pretty much a done deal that he would return this week unless he suffered a set back. In fact, Herbert, a source said, might have been able to play last Saturday had the Ducks (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) not been on an off week.  

The injury was believed to require six to eight weeks to heal. Saturday will mark seven weeks since Herbert injured his collarbone while rushing for a seven-yard touchdown in the first quarter against California. That score gave the Ducks a 17-0 lead. They went on to win 45-24. 

However, in the five weeks without Herbert the Ducks (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) went 1-4 with freshman Braxton Burmeister starting at quarterback. In his six appearances - counting the Cal game - Burmeister completed 56.8 percent of his passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns with six interceptions. Oregon defeated Utah 41-20 two games ago but found it very difficult to score in four losses, falling 33-10 to Washington State, 49-7 at Stanford, 31-14 at UCLA and 38-3 at Washington.  

Herbert's return makes it quite possible that the Ducks could win their final three games and finish the season with an 8-5 record. 

Royce Freeman named Doak Walker Award finalist

Royce Freeman named Doak Walker Award finalist

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

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

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

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

 

Oregon releases undaunting 2018 football schedule

Oregon releases undaunting 2018 football schedule

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

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

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

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

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

2018 OREGON DUCKS SCHEDULE

Sept. 1                 Bowling Green

Sept. 8                 Portland State

Sept. 15               San Jose State

Sept. 22               Stanford

Sept. 29               at Cal

Oct. 6                   OPEN

Oct. 13                 Washington

Oct. 20                 at Washington State

Oct. 27                 at Arizona

Nov. 3                  UCLA    

Nov. 10                at Utah

Nov. 17                Arizona State

Nov. 23 (Fri.)       at Oregon State