Dennis Dixon

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 Counry Day 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. 

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.