Oregon Ducks

The Willie Taggert era begins with offensive fireworks, swag surfin' and optimism

EUGENE - Oregon coach Willie Taggart had already started his postgame press conference Saturday night in the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex following the team's record-setting, 77-21 victory over Southern Utah when senior cornerback Arrion Springs walked through a door leading to the seated podium where Taggart sat answering questions. 

"Hold on," Taggart told a surprised Springs. "It's my time."

It certainly is. And his time began with a bang.

The Ducks in their first game under their new coach put on a dizzying show that sparkled from start to finish.

The offense roard to a stadium-record 77 points behind senior running back Royce Freeman and sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert. Even the defense showed signs of improvement under new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. Many much tougher opponents await (Nebraska visits Autzen next week) but at least for one night, the Ducks looked like a team prepared to make a strong turnaround after last year's 4-8 nightmare that led to the firing of Mark Helfrich and the entire staff.  

For Taggart, the night brought many thrills. Before the game, he stood in the tunnel with his team fighting nerves while thick, white smoke began rising from the tunnel's entrance as Oregon's mascot got onto a motorcycle for his traditional ride onto the field. 

"When I heard the motorcycle, I got goosebumps," Taggart said. "I was ready to go then. I wanted to put on some pads."

Before the smoke had cleared the stadium, redshirt junior running back Tony Brooks-James began the process of returning the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Along the way he raced past Oregon's sideline with Taggart joining in on the sprint, the former college quarterback's 41-year-old legs doing their best to keep up.  

The rout was on. That the Ducks dominated 77-21 was of no real consequence. The Thunderbirds (6-5 last season) play in the Big Sky Conference. Oregon is supposed to win this type contest by a number that reflects the $500,000 the Ducks paid Southern Utah to show up.

How Oregon won, however, shouldn't be glossed over when considering the prospects for the rest of the season. There were some good and some bad but mostly the former, and all of it proved to be exciting. 

The Ducks' offense, the envy of many in the nation over the previous 10 seasons, certainly appeared to be a bit different under Taggart but it still produced the same types of fireworks. 

Up-tempo. Strong running game. Maybe a bit more deep balls thrown than usual.

Freeman rushed for 150 yards and four touchdowns. Herbert played a virtually flawless game, completing 17 of 21 passes for 281 yards and one touchdown with zero interceptions.

The offensive line, beefier and stronger after an offseason of intense workouts designed to make them that way, tossed around Thunderbirds defender as if they were, well, FCS players.

"I thought they did what they were supposed to," Taggart said before flipping thorugh the game book searching for rushing statistics.

"Let's see here, about 348 yards rushing," he said. "Yeah, I think they did a good job."

Oregon gained 701 yards of total offense. 

The Oregon defense, however, displayed some of the same warts one would expect to still exist after ranking 128th in the country last season. That said, the group at least played with fire, excitement, speed and tenacity. They just need to still work on actually being good. 

After allowing all 21 points in the first half and 254 yards of total offense to the Thunderbirds, the Ducks' defense became tougher in the second half, holding Southern Utah to 109 yards and zero points.

The only real glaring problem were the team's 12 penalties for 115 yards.  

"We've got to get better with those penalties," Taggart said.

No doubt. Those penalties could have proven costly against a legitimate opponent. 

Then there was the atmosphere. During breaks in the action some players on the sideline, including those not padded up but in jerseys, would perform the swag surfin' dance to the 2009 song of the same title by a F.L.Y. (Fast Life Yungstaz).

"That song brings energy to anybody," Springs said. "It doesn't even matter."

The dance involves swaying back and forth to the beat. Many used a white towl to emphasize their movements. 

That display added a little sparkle to the night and almost made it appear to be more of a party than a football game. 

"Our guys were fired up," Taggart said. "There was a lot of energy. It wasn't artificial. It was real juice. 

Nobody should take anything about Saturday to be an indication that the program is back to its championship ways just yet. 

This is still a young team that will face plenty of oppoenents who could have handled Southern Utah the same way. Arizona, after all, won 62-24 over Northern Arizona, also a Big Sky team. 

Still, Saturday was a great start to the Taggart era. No doubt. The question is, will the Ducks be in position to swag surf their way into contention in the Pac-12 North division?