charles nelson

Arizona presents Oregon with a chance to finally 'do something'

Arizona presents Oregon with a chance to finally 'do something'

The Oregon Ducks have a chance to finally "do something" of substance this season when they host Arizona on Saturday. 

Oregon (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) not only needs a win in the worst way, but the Ducks could use a victory against a strong opponent in order to validate this uneven season in some capacity. To date, coach Willie Taggart's first year at UO has seen a hot start fueled by taking down weak opponents morph into a hot mess after sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert - expected back this week - went down with a collarbone injury.  

Oregon's best victories this season have come against Utah (5-5, 2-5), California (5-5, 2-5) and Nebraska (4-6, 3-4 BigTen). That's hardly a lot to brag about having defeated. Following the Wildcats (7-3, 5-2) on the schedule will be Oregon State (1-9, 0-7) in the Civil War then, assuming UO qualifies for the postseason, a likely inferior bowl game opponent awaits in December. 

A bowl victory would certainly be sweet for Taggart, who has yet to win a bowl game. But the signature victory of the season would still ben a win over the Wildcats, who have won five of their last six games since sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate became the starter.

The trajectories of both teams have been vastly different since Tate replaced injured starter Brandon Dawkins against Colorado on Oct. 7 and Herbert went down with his injury during a win over Cal the following week.

While Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez discovered that he could have a future Heisman Trophy candidate on his hands, Taggart discovered that his freshman backup, Braxton Burmeister, wasn't close to being ready for Pac-12 play. Consequently, not only did the Ducks go 1-4 in Herbert's absence, but aside from a 41-20 win over the Utes, the Ducks scored just 34 points in four defeats. 

Young quarterback, or not, generating just 8.5 points per game in four losses is a poor reflection on the offensive coaching staff armed with a strong offensive line and a stable of good to great running backs led by Royce Freeman. They couldn't average at least 17 points per game despite poor quarterback play? Oregon still would have still lost all four games but at least the Ducks would have shown a pulse. 

With Herbert expected back this week - Taggart said x-rays later in the week would determine his quarterback's availability - Oregon has a chance to erase the madness of the season by closing strongly with three consecutive wins, highlighted by a victory over Arizona. 

Ironically, Taggart swiped Burmeister from Arizona where he had originally committed. Taggart also flipped freshman receiver Darrian McNeal, who has two receptions for 10 yards. So far, that hasn't worked out so well for UO.

But Taggart and the Ducks can make everything right with a win on Saturday. It is likely to be a shootout. Taggart said the Ducks would have to "pray" in order to defend against Tat. Taggart isn't lying. Oregon has zero chance of "stopping" Tate. But, the Ducks' defense could be good enough prevent Tate from eclipsing the volume of offense Oregon should generate with Herbert back in the pocket. 

He will return to find a better team than the one he left. Senior receiver Charles Nelson hasn't caught a pass from Herbert since the first half of the team's win at Wyoming in game 3. When Nelson returned to action at UCLA, Herbert was already down and out. Now they will be reunited in the passing game that will only be helped by a running game that maintained a high level of production despite the lack of a passing threat to keep defenses honest. 

By any measure, this has been somewhat of a disappointing season for Oregon when one considers what might have been had Herbert remained healthy. Now the focus must be to go 3-0 the rest of the way and ride into the offseason with a win over Arizona, a bowl victory and an 8-5 record. 

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Oregon vs. Arizona

When: 4 p.m., Saturday, Autzen Stadium, Eugene.  

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: Off

Records: Ducks (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12), Arizona (7-3, 5-2).

Last week: Arizona won 49-28 vs. Oregon State. The Ducks were off.  

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (45-50, 5-5 at Oregon); Arizona's Rich Rodriguez (163-116-2, 43-32 at Arizona.

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. Rodriguez is the inventor of the zone read play that he made famous during his days at West Virginia. Now he has an even better running quarterback in Tate than Pat White, who became a dominant force for the Mountaineers 10 years ago under Rodriguez. Tate is doing things from a rushing standpoint that had never been done before in the Pac-12.  Tate is so good as a runner that he makes former Oregon quarterbacks; Marcus Mariota and Dennis Dixon look ordinary. 

Arizona leads the Pac-12 with 347.7 yards rushing per game. Of that, 161.6 has come from Tate. He is the first Pac-12 quarterback to ever rush for 1,000 yards in a season (1,293 on 11.3 yards per carry). 

Arizona doesn't throw much but when it does, Tate is more than capable of producing big plays, but he has thrown six interceptions. 

Where Arizona is weak is on defense. It ranks 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense. For that reason, it's a good bet that Oregon's more balanced offense, matched against a vastly inferior defense, will prove to be too much for Tate to overcome. 

Game prediction: Oregon 47, Arizona 40.

#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...

Ducks midseason report card: Defense & special teams

Ducks midseason report card: Defense & special teams

Previous post: Offensive report card

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The most impressive aspect of Oregon's season thus far has been the dramatic turnaround of the defense under new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt.

Last year, Oregon ushered offenses into the end zone while ranking 126th in the nation in total defense (518.4 yards allowed per game) during a 4-8 season. So far this year, the Ducks (4-2, 1-2 PAC-12) rank 29th in total defense (338.3) and 10th in rushing defense (93.7). 

The Ducks lead the conference in sacks (24) and are tops in third-down conversion defense (24.5 percent) after ranking 11th last year (48.5). 

The Ducks are by no means dominant on defense but have shown flashes of heading in that direction. It's still a very young group with just four senior starters and is playing a lot of young players as starters and backups. 

Here are a position-by-position grades for both the defense and special teams:

DEFENSE

Defensive line - B-plus: The improvement of the Ducks' defensive line, which has benefited from the shift back to the 3-4 scheme, is the biggest key to the unit's turnaround. In addition to being stout against the run, the defensive line has been instrumental in the team's improved pass rush. The line has produced 10 1/2 of the team's 24 sacks while helping to create sack opportunities for linebackers. 

Redshirt junior defensive end Jalen Jelks is tied for the team lead with 4 1/2 sacks, including three at Arizona State. His .75 sacks per game ranks tied for second in the PAC-12. Senior defensive end Henry Mondeaux has rebounded from a down year in 2016. He has four sacks to already matching last year's total. He had 6 1/2 sacks in 2015.

Sacks aren't everything, of course. Jelks leads the team with eight tackles for loss and his 1.33 per game ranks second in the conference. 

The return to the 3-4 could have been a disaster if Oregon weren't receiving quality play from freshmen nose tackles Jordon Scott and Austin Faoliu. Scott has added two sacks.

Neither is capable of dominating a game or playing every down. However, as a duo, they have been strong enough in the middle to help protect the inside linebackers, and both appear to have the skills to become very good in the future. 

Linebackers - B-minus: Sophomore inside linebacker Troy Dye and redshirt junior outside linebacker Justin Hollins have been nothing short of steller. Both use their size, speed and athleticism to be extremely disruptive on every down. Piti the quarterback that has both coming after him at the same time.

Dye ranks fourth in the conference in tackles per game (8.7) and is tied with Hollins for fifth in tackles for loss per game (1.2). Each has seven. 

Hollins has forced three fumbles and has 2 1/2 sacks. Dye has three sacks. Their size and athleticism have made the 3-4 defense scary from all angles. 

However, play at inside linebacker next to Dye has been inconsistent. Kaulana Apelu, out for the season with a foot injury, played hard and fast but his lack of size at 200 pounds didn't play well at that position. Senior A.J. Hotchkins has been in and out of the lineup and the very inexperienced redshirt sophomore Blake Rugraff has been underwhelming when filling in, thus far. 

The outside linebacker spot opposite Hollins (the Duck position) has been manned by junior Fotu T Leiato II and sophomore La'Mar Winston Jr.  Winston lately has been solid with 17 tackles, three for loss. Senior backup linebacker Jonah Moi has been the team's best reserve linebacker with 14 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks. 

Defensive backs - C-plus: Gone are the days of woefully blown coverages and mass confusion. The secondary has been solid in coverage and has proven to be good tacklers in space, most of the time.

Senior Arrion Springs, who struggled with catching interceptions, has still been great in pass coverage. His 10 passes defended are tied for second in the conference. 

Freshman cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., who has a shot at being named a freshman All-American, and junior Ugowchukwu. Both are tied for 8th in the conference with six passes defended, including two interceptions. 

Helping make the secondary hum is redshirt senior Tyree Robinson, who has taken a leadership role. That's helped with the maturation of freshman safety Nick Pickett, who surprisingly took over as a starter and has performed well. 

Still, there is room for improvement. Oregon has allowed 11 touchdown passes, tied for ninth most in the conference. The Ducks have allowed nine touchdown passes. Oregon's seven interceptions puts it well on pace to surpass the nine the team had all of last year. However, six of the seven came within the first two games with four against Nebraska. Oregon has not intercepted a pass in three PAC-12 games while allowing nine touchdown passes. For these reasons the secondary fall short of receiving a B grade. 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Return game B-plus: Redshirt junior running back Tony Brooks-James began the season with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Southern Utah. He is averaging 28 yards on 10 returns but that's not enough attempts to qualify to be ranked among the conference leaders. Otherwise, he would be ranked first. Oregon's 24.9 yards per return ranks second. 

Oregon's 7.6 yard average per punt return ranks seventh. This unit has been hindered by the ankle injury suffered by Charles Nelson. He is averaging 17.8 yards per return, which would rank third in the PAC-12 if he had enough returns to qualify. Nelson's replacement, Dillon Mitchell, is averaging a solid 11 yards per return. 

Place kicking - B: Senior kicker Aidan Schneider is once again being used very little. He has attempted just three field goals, making two. He has, however, made all 36 of his extra point attempts and that leads the conference. He ranks ninth in the conference in scoring at seven points per game. The one miss in three attempts prevents Schneider from receiving an "A" grade. But we all know that he is an "A"-level kicker. 

Punting - C-minus: Freshman punter Sam Stack, who has shown great promise, ranks 12th in the conference in punting average (38.3) but has placed nine of his 30 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Again, he's only a freshman. 

Coverage teams B-minus : Oregon's net punting average is 10th in the conference (34.7) thanks mainly to the poor average pe punt. The 1.3 return yards allowed per punt ranks 7th.  The kickoff coverage team has fared much better ranking second in net average at 41.8 yards. 

Ducks midseason report card: Offense

Ducks midseason report card: Offense

The Oregon Ducks have already matched last season's win total (4-8) with a 4-2 record. So, there is no denying that the Ducks are on the upswing. However, two losses in the PAC-12 raise questions as to just how far Oregon remains from being conference title contenders. 

Oregon's best asset right now is its youth. The Ducks are starting only four seniors on offense and three on defense (four depending on inside linebacker). That means 15 starters will return next season as well as a host of other young players who are seeing playing time. 

Oregon's offense, despite starting six freshmen and sophomores, has been one of the best in the conference averaging 43 points per game. 

Nevertheless, we all saw just how fleeting success can be when the starting quarterback goes down. Without sophomore Justin Herbert (collarbone), Oregon managed to score just 10 points during a 33-10 home loss to Washington State on Saturday. It's the lowest scoring output by an Oregon team since the Ducks lost 19-8 at Boise State to open the 2009 season. 

With that all said, here is a report card on the offense through the midway point of the season:

Quarterback - B-plus: Herbert picked up where he left off last season and continued to eleveate his level of play. He leads the Pac-12 in passing efficiency (172.9). The only real knock on Herbert is that he struggled to generate points in the second half against Nebraska and Wyoming, and he couldn't get the team into field goal range on two final drives during a 37-35 loss at Arizona State. Neither situation, however, could be blamed solely on Herbert. 

The reason this position doesn't receive an "A" is because of the mediocre play of the backups, senior Taylor Alie and freshman Braxton Burmesiter.  Both looked out of place at this level in comparison to Herbert. The lack of depth at this position places Oregon in danger of struggling just to become bowl eligible. 

Running backs - A: Oregon is as deep and skilled at this position as it has ever been.

Senior Royce Freeman ranks third in the conference in rushing yards per game (109.2) despite leaving the win over California with a shoulder injury after having gained 51 yards in the first quarter. Freeman is tied for the conference lead with 10 touchdowns. 

Senior Kani Benoit has performed just as well in a backup role. He has rushed for 329 yards this season and leads the team in yards per carry at 7.3.  His 54.8 yards per game ranks 12th in the conference and his eight rushing touchdowns leave him tied for sixth. 

Tony Brooks-James hasn't gotten off to a great start with 158 rushing yards on 3.5 per carry but he has also caught 11 passes for 136 yards. 

Offensive line - B-minus: The offensive line has played very well most of the time but has also experienced enough lapses and has committed enough penalties to not warrant less than an "A" grade.

Oregon ranks second in the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game (239.3). However, a lack of production in the second half against both Nebraska and Wyoming can be traced back to an inconsistent running game. The line was absolutely dominant against California when the Ducks rushed for 328 yards even though Herbert and Freeman went out in the first quarter. But against Washington state, with Burmesiter at quarterback, the line failed to carry the team and the Ducks were held to 132 yards rushing. 

This is a very quality group but consistency has been an issue. 

Wide receivers/tight ends - C-minus: Losing senior slot Charles Nelson (ankle) for three games set this young group back. It's unfair to expect consistency from a corps that includes a converted cornerback (redshirt sophomore Malik Lovette), a converted safety (sophomore Brenden Schooler) and converted running back (junior Taj Griffin).

That said, the group has been about as spotty as expected. Freshman Johnny Johnson III looks like a future star and sophomore Dillon Mitchell is starting to live up to his potential. At tight end, redshirt sophomore Jacob Breeland has also played well. 

But that's a lot of freshman, sophomores and young men making position changes to expect greatness right away. What we've seen is very inconsistent play that has hurt Herbert at times and certainly didn't help Burmeister in his start. 

Still, in the end, the team's youth is its greatest asset and this position figures to be much better in the future. 

Next up: Defense and special teams.  

Overwhelmed Burmeister needs more help from his friends

Overwhelmed Burmeister needs more help from his friends

EUGENE – The good news is that Braxton Burmeister can only get better. The bad news is that it won’t matter unless he receives a little help from his friends.

The freshman quarterback made his starting debut Saturday night for the Oregon Ducks against No. 11 Washington State and the results were not good. He didn’t run well. He didn’t pass well. He didn’t call the cadence particularly well, at times.

But what transpired on offense for the Ducks (4-2, 1-2 PAC-12) during a 33-10 loss had as much to do with what went on around Burmeister as it did what went on with Burmeister,

Asking him to adequately fill in for the injured Justin Herbert (collarbone) was a tall order to begin with. Doing so while the offensive line had a subpar night and the starting receivers included a former safety and former running back proved to be completely unfair.

“I think this game he can learn a lot from,” UO coach Willie Taggart said. “He got that first game out of the way. He will be better as we move forward. But he needs a lot more help around him.”

The game was clearly too fast for Burmeister who struggled to read coverages and deliver accurate throws on time, if at all. Burmeister flashed some speed when he took off running but didn’t make defenders miss and took a lot of punishment. That could have proven to be problematic had he been injured because senior Taylor Alie was unavailable because of the concussion he suffered during last week’s win over California.

Burmeister ended up completing 15 of 27 passes for 145 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions and was sacked four times. He rushed for 35 yards on 11 carries but after sacks finished with negative four yards rushing.

His best two passes came on a 30-yard touchdown toss to a wide-open sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland that gave UO a 10-7 lead in the first quarter, and a 39-yard pass to sophomore Brenden Schooler who got open on a post route in the fourth quarter.

Other than that, it was dink and dunk for short gains. In fact, 11 of his completions went for eight yards, or less. Burmeister completed at least seven quick screens that went nowhere because WSU’s defense were dialed in on them as if they knew Oregon didn’t have many other options.

“We just didn’t really have enough time back there to make some plays,” Breeland said. “He’s got a good arm. He can throw the ball well.”

True freshmen players are not allowed to speak to the media.

When the Ducks did try to go downfield, Burmeister either found no open receivers and was sacked or flushed from the pocket, or he made an errant through. Several times he threw deep down the sideline on passes that had zero chance for completion because they were too far thrown and/or landed out of bonds.

Hindering the entire process for Burmeister was the wide receiver situation. Senior Charles Nelson ended up missing his third game with an ankle sprain after he warmed up during pregame in hopes of playing. Junior Taj Griffin, who also plays running back, started in his place. Sophomore Dillon Mitchell was unavailable because of the concussion he sustained against Cal leading to Schooler, a safety up until fall camp, starting in his place.

The results were inconsistent route running all game long that added to Burmeister’s confusion and indecision.

“Those are the lumps that you take with having young guys in there,” Taggart said. “A lot of those guys, they made some mistakes, too. We have to do a good job as coaches to make sure those guys are sharp on their assignments…especially when you have a young quarterback.”

But one had to know that all of the above was going to happen with a freshman quarterback making his first start while being saddled with such an inexperience receiving corps.

The biggest surprise proved to be the Ducks' subpar play of the running game. After Herbert went down and out in the first quarter Cal, the Ducks’ offensive line struggled for a quarter before completing dominating the Golden Bears to the tune of 328 yards rushing (5.9 per carry) on the night.

A repeat performance would be needed against WSU (6-0, 3-0), which entered the game with a rather strong defense but not much better than Cal’s.

But Oregon responded by rushing for 132 yards on 49 carries (2.9 per attempt). Senior Royce Freeman, still bothered by an injured shoulder that knocked him out of the Cal win in the first quarter gained 62 on 12 carries.

“We knew what Washington State was going to throw at us with all the movement,” redshirt sophomore center Jake Hanson said. “We just didn’t do a good enough job picking it up. Plain and simple.”

A better day rushing would have opened up more play-action, boots and roll outs for Burmeister, as well as given him better down-and-distance situations. Oregon converted on just 2 of 17 third down attempts

“I thought their D-line did a good jog against us,” Taggart said. “I didn’t think we played our best game upfront offensively. They did a lot of movement upfront that caused us some problems.”

So, where does Oregon go from here?

On the surface, they appear to be in huge trouble with games coming up at Stanford, at UCLA, then home against Utah before playing at Washington. Becoming bowl eligible might rely on winning home games to end the season against Arizona and Oregon State.

Herbert was said to be out 4-to-6 weeks, however, there appears to be a belief that he could return closer to the four than the six. That would but Herbert back in action for Utah on Oct. 28.

That would be great news for the Ducks, but in the meantime they need Burmeister and company to get better.

Despite what we all saw on Saturday, that could easily happen. Now that Burmeister has seen Pac-12 speed, he can adjust. The coaches must simplify the offense even more to allow for better receiver play and for Burmeister to flourish. It is also very likely that the Ducks get back Nelson and Mitchell this week at Stanford. If so, we should see an immediate uptick in the passing game.

Finally, none of that will translate into wins unless the offensive line and the running game can carry the offense.

“Everybody has got to get better,” Taggart said. “We have to go to work and learn from this tape. But more importantly we’ve got to know what we’re doing.”

SOURCES: UO WR Charles Nelson won't play tonight vs. Cal, return date unclear

SOURCES: UO WR Charles Nelson won't play tonight vs. Cal, return date unclear

Oregon senior wide receiver Charles Nelson will not play tonight when the Ducks (3-1) host California (3-1) at Autzen Stadium, according to sources. 

Nelson, who sprained his right ankle two weeks ago during UO's 49-13 win at Wyoming, missed last Saturday's 37-35 loss at Arizona State (2-3, lost today at Stanford) and was seen this week still wearing a walking boot. 

How long Nelson will be sidelined remains unclear, but indications are that his return is not imminent.

Oregon hosts No. 16 Washington State (5-0) next week.  The Cougars upset No. 5 USC last night by the score of 30-27. 

Oregon clearly missed Nelson last week at Arizona State. UO started sophomore Brenden Schooler in place of Nelson and he managed to catch just two passes for 27 yards. Regular starters, sophomore Dillon Mitchell and freshman Johnny Johnson III have been steady but neither has demonstrated the consistency and play-making ability that Nelson has delivered for four seasons with the Ducks. 

Nelson ranks second on the team with 15 receptions and first with 243 yards. 

Mitchell, Johnson and Schooler are not ideal slot receivers in coach Willie Taggart's offense. But freshman Darrian McNeal has struggled thus far and junior Taj Griffin only recently moved to receiver after coming to Oregon as a running back. Both are listed as Nelson's backups on Oregon's depth chart. 

Oregon's young receivers dropped several passes against the Sun Devils and at times ran routes incorrectly or were not aligned properly, all typical mistakes for young receivers. 

Nelson was clearly going to be a go-to receiver for sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert and was on pace for to make roughly 60 receptions this season before his injury. 

 

 

 

Oregon reveals true self in loss at ASU, and it's not all bad

usatsi_10301860.jpg
USA Today

Oregon reveals true self in loss at ASU, and it's not all bad

TEMPE, Ariz. - Oregon's zany and quite entertaining 37-35 loss at Arizona State Saturday night might best be defined by one sequence of events involving a spectacular play followed by a selfish moment and a butt chewin' to end all butt chewins. 

UO running back Tony Brooks-James caught a 22-yard touchdown pass near the right sideline of the end zone to draw Oregon to within 31-28 with 4:33 remaining in the third quarter after Oregon had fallen behind 31-14. For whatever reason, the redshirt junior decided to spike the ball, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and the ire of UO coach Willie Taggart. 

The television cameras at Sun Devil's Stadium caught Taggart ripping into Brooks-James on the sideline as if he were his son who had broken curfew and shown up at home with a speeding ticket from another state. 

"I was trying to teach him a lesson," Taggart said. "You've got to understand, we're down in the football game, you make a hell of a play, you just can't do that. That's selfish."

In that one moment you saw where these Oregon Ducks truly are as a team. They are inconsistent and undisciplined enough to fall behind in a game they were favored to win by 14 yet talented enough to fight back on the road to eventually take the lead. In the end, however, costly mistakes prevented the Ducks from pulling this one out revealing that they clearly remain a work in progress. 

And all of that is okay and should have been expected. Oregon is 3-1 after going 4-8 last season. Clear progress has been made. But for anyone who had been seduced by the team's 3-0 start, Saturday night was a wakeup call. Keep expectations in check or prepare for some maddening disappointment mixed among flashes of potential greatness.  

We can expect more games like Saturday's during the season. Oregon, for the first time this season, on Saturday faced a solid offense with a dual-threat quarterback who had some very impressive athletes to get the ball to. Quarterback Manny Wilkins threw for 347 yards with no interceptions and rushed for 56 gross yards (35 net) and two touchdowns. Oregon sacked him four times, three defensive end Jalen Jelks delivering three. But Wilkins managed to overcome adversity much of the night and create big plays. 

"I think they had a hell of a lot more explosive plays than anyone had on us all season," Taggart said. 

ASU's much-maligned defense used its aggressive style to take advantage of Oregon's mistakes. Senior running back Royce Freeman, who entered the game with 460 yards rushing, managed just 81 on a season-low 15 carries. Sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert was a bit off with his touch on some deep passes and several drops by a young receiving corps minus senior Charles Nelson hurt his completion percentage (19 of 35 for 54 percent). Herbert still passed for 281 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions. 

"Penalties and dropped balls," Taggart said of his team's struggles. "It's hard to get into a rhythm... It's hard to go faster like we want to do when you're off schedule."

Oregon committed 14 penalties to bring the season total to a whopping 42 infour games. 

The greatest positive is that Oregon battled back on the road in a Pac-12 Conference game. Consider that the Ducks trailed 31-14 in the third quarter with one of their touchdowns coming courtesy of a muffed punt at the ASU 11. It was a vast departure from the huge leads gained against Wyoming and Nebraska. To that point in Saturday's game, however, little evidence existed to suggest that Oregon would mount a comeback. Yet, the Ducks did just that. Oregon led 35-34 following a four-yard scoring run by Herbert with 6:41 remaining in the game.

"I thought we responded well," Taggart said. "We got ourselves back in it and took the lead in the fourth quarter. I was impressed with out football team by doing that and not giving up and not quitting."

But the Ducks couldn't close. After ASU took the lead with a field goal, Oregon did next to nothing on its final two desperation drives drives. 

"We just didn't do enough to finish it," Taggart said. 

That's because these Ducks weren't ready to win a game like this, just yet. They were used to playing from ahead and didn't have the experience and discipline to win in this situation on the road. 

After the game, players took accountability for their performance. Brooks-James said he had to learn from his selfish mistakes. Redshirt sophomore center Jake Hanson blamed himself and the entire offensive line for not clearing the way for Freeman and better protecting Herbert, sacked late during one of the final drives. Sophomore inside linebacker Troy Dye blamed his play and the defense. 

These are all good signs of great things to come. But the road to get there is going to be a bumpy one with the heart of the Ducks schedule kicking into gear real soon. 

 

SOURCES: UO WR Charles Nelson will not play tonight at ASU

SOURCES: UO WR Charles Nelson will not play tonight at ASU

TEMPE, Ariz. - Oregon senior wide receiver Charles Nelson, who sprained his right ankle last week, will not play tonight at Arizona State, according to sources. 

Nelson injured his ankle in the first half of the No. 24 Ducks' 49-13 win at Wyoming. He appeared later on crutches and in a walking boot. After the game, UO coach Willie Taggart said the injury wasn't as bad as originally feared. Earlier this week Taggart said that the team hoped to have Nelson in action against the Sun Devils (1-2). That won't happen and Nelson's status for next week's home game against California (3-0) is uncertain. 

Freshman nose guard Austin Faoliu is also expected to return tonight after missing last week's game, according to a source. 

Kickoff tonight is 7 p.m.

Replacing Nelson in the slot could be junior Taj Griffin, who returned to action at Wyoming for the first time since tearing an ACL late last season and caught a 20-yard touchdown against the Cowboys. Freshman Darrian McNeal is also a candidate. 

Without Nelson, Oregon will be relying on a very inexperienced receiving corps. After Nelson, the next leading returning pass catcher from last season is redshirt sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland, who caught six passes for 123 yards in 2016. Nelson caught 52 for 554 yards and five touchdowns, second only to Darren Carrington Jr., who transferred to Utah after Taggart dismissed him from the team for getting arrested and charged with a DUII in July. 

Nelson leads the team with 15 receptions for 253 yards. Sophomore wide receiver Dillon Mitchell's 13 receptions ranks second (156 yards) while freshman Johnny Johnson III is second on the team with 172 receiving yards (10 receptions).

Who starts in place of Nelson is likely irrelevant. Oregon will probably juggle a glut of receivers at multiple positions as it did last week at Wyoming. 

Oregon WR Charles Nelson injures ankle, status uncertain

Oregon WR Charles Nelson injures ankle, status uncertain

LARAMIE, Wyo. - Oregon senior wide receiver Charles Nelson injured his right ankle during the first half of Saturday's 49-13 win at Wyoming and didn't return to action. 

He did, however, return to the field in a walking boot and on crutches.

Oregon coach Willie Taggart said following the game that Nelson's injury wasn't as bad as he initially thought it might be when it first happened. But Taggart said he wasn't sure just how badly Nelson was injured. 

"We won’t know until we get the X-rays," Taggart said.

Nelson is by far the team's most experienced receiver. He leads the team with 13 receptions for 216 yards and one touchdown. Nelson had two receptions for 27 yards on Saturday before getting injured. 

With Nelson out, junior slot Taj Griffin saw his first action of the season since injuring his knee late last year and scored on a 20-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert. 

Redshirt junior Alex Ofodile and sophomore receiver Brenden Schooler also saw extensive action. Freshman slot Darrian McNeal struggled and failed to haul in a couple of passes. 

Losing Nelson would be costly. He gives Herbert a reliable target in the middle of the field that he can rely on in any situation. Losing him for any length of time would place more pressure on an already very young group. 

 

 

Oregon WR Dillon Mitchell must shine

Oregon WR Dillon Mitchell must shine

EUGENE - Oregon sophomore wide receiver Dillon Mitchell won't be able to shake the weight of expectations this season. Not with his immense talent. Not with the loss of senior Darren Carrington Jr.  And not with the team's need for someone, anyone, to emerge as a major threat in the passing game. 

"There's been pressure put on my shoulders," Mitchell said. "But I'm still just playing the game I love. People can expect a lot from me." 

Oregon's decision to move sophomore Brenden Schooler to wide receiver to bolster depth there could prove to be a shrewd move. But it won't matter much if Mitchell doesn't realize his potential. 

Coach Willie Taggart's dismissal of Carrington from the team following his DUII arrest eliminated that best player from an already thin group. Senior Charles Nelson is one of the premiere slot receivers in the Pac-12, if not the country. After Nelson, UO's returning wide receivers last season caught all of three passes for 17 yards. 

Two of those catches, going for a total of nine yards, belonged to Mitchell, who in 2016 was buried on a depth chart behind a very deep group. Gone are Carrington, Devon Allen, Dwayne Stanford and Jalen Brown, who transferred despite having a strong chance to start in 2017. 

But while Mitchell, a four-star recruit last season and 17th-rated receiver in the nation, didn't play all that much last season, he did, by all accounts, display elite potential during practices, which was one of the reasons why he didn't redshirt. 

"I’m just waiting on this season to showcase what I’ve always been doing,” Mitchell said. 

Mitchell wasn't excited to see Carrington, his mentor, leave the program. 

“When I first got here he was the first person to talk to me,” Mitchell said. “He was the first person to show interest in me. He taught me how to be a college football player."

Mitchell called Carrington, "a big brother."

“He had a lot of mistakes but he also did a lot of good things that people will never see,” Mitchell said.

Carrington was the team's best big-play threat. His combination of speed, ability, leaping ability and ball skills made him unique on this roster. Mitchell possesses similar talents, and, if he develops, could lessen the sting of losing Carrington. 

According to Mitchell, he has spent extensive time working out with Herbert during the offseason to improve their chemistry, and he's been working on fine-tuning the craft of route-running. 

“I want to become a more creative wide receiver and try things that haven’t been tried before,” he said. 

But doing in practice and doing on game days are two different things. Taggart is hopeful Mitchell will be the guy on Saturdays that he's seen in practice. One aspect of Mitchell that Taggart has noticed is coming along is that he is becoming more of an extrovert as his confidence has grown. 

“I think he’s coming out of his shell,” Taggart said. “He was very similar to Justin (Herbert).  Just a quiet guy and go about his business. But now you see him smiling and talking and being excited to go."