john neal

Don't expect any former Oregon assistant coaches to return under Taggart

Don't expect any former Oregon assistant coaches to return under Taggart

It's becoming increasingly unlikely with each passing day that new Oregon football coach Willie Taggart will retain any of the assistant coaches from former coach Mark Helfrich's staff.

In fact, let's just say right now that barring some dramatic twist of fate, none will return.

Taggart has named just one assistant coach since his introduction on Dec. 8, and that's defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, hired away from Colorado in a deft move to help rebuild the defense. Jimmie Dougherty, according to reports, will become the new wide receivers coach. But Oregon has not officially announced his hiring.

Their selection means the end to the Oregon careers of defensive coordinator Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Matt Lubick. Leavitt will also coach linebackers, which means that long-time assistant Don Pellum is also likely out.

According to sources, Taggart has not spoken to any of the former assistant coaches about remaining at UO, and has made it clear to some that he is going in a different direction with his staff. This comes despite Taggart stating during his introductory press conference that he would at least talk to former assistants. Just one assistant coach, according to sources, has had any contact at all with Taggart and that came about because of a chance meeting within the team's complex.

The assistants received termination letters within days after Helfrich was fired on Nov. 29, and were given until Dec. 31 to clear out their offices. Their contracts run out in late January. Some have already started looking for new jobs. Former UO offensive coordinator Matt Lubick has landed at Ole Miss as wide receivers coach. Other support staff members have also been terminated, according to sources.

So what's taking Taggart so long to fill in the coaching vacancies?  For starters, Taggart's former team, South Florida, still has a game to play. The Bulls face South Carolina on Dec. 29 in the Birmingham Bowl (Alabama). By Dec. 30, expect Taggart to start naming new Oregon assistant coaches as he raids the Bulls' staff.

It's also likely that Taggart will hire assistant coaches from other teams involved in bowl games, as well as some coaches from losing teams. However Taggart chooses to fill out his staff, the inclusion of holdovers from Helfrich's crew appears unlikely.  

Taggart appeared on ESPNU earlier this month, stating that he is looking to complete his staff as quickly as he can.

"I don't want to rush it and just do it, but I want to make sure we get the right guys, the right fit to come in here and help me take care of our players," Taggart said.

That, of course, is entirely Taggart's prerogative. An argument could be made that holding over a couple of assistants could help with Taggart's transition and adaptation to coaching in a Power Five conference. On the other hand, a counter argument could also be presented that the controversial firing of Helfrich and his staff after they had achieved so much success with some stretching back more than 30 years almost requires a completely fresh start in order to allow Taggart to fully redirect the program in an entirely different direction of his design.

That said, there certainly could be value found in at least having talks with former assistants, even if only to pick their brains about what went wrong during a 4-8 season, and about returning players that Taggart must win with over the next few seasons. But those talks have not happened.

Instead, Taggart is going full-speed ahead with his plans to retool the entire department in the mold of what he built at USF.

One USF staff member already in the fold at Oregon is David Kelly, who was/is South Florida's director of player personnel. According to sources, Kelly will hold the same, or a similar position with Oregon, and he has already been spotted at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex.

Kelly is regarded as a high-end recruiter but has had one run-in with the NCAA over rules violations.

In 2010, Rivals.com named Kelly one of the top 25 recruiters in the country, according to the USF website bio on the coach. Kelly has coached at LSU, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Stanford, Duke, in addition to a controversial stint at the University of Central Florida. 

Kelly was a successful recruiting coordinator at the UCF before he was fired following a NCAA investigation that determined he had violated recruiting rules. The investigation occurred in 2011 and consisted of great similarities to the Willie Lyles case that got Oregon into hot water with the NCAA, also in 2011. 

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Kelly, who had denied any wrong doing regarding this case, was accused of violating rules during his association with Ken Caldwell, who mentored Chicago high school football and basketball players. According to the article, Kelly, along with then UCF athletics director Keith Tribble and basketball coach Donnie Jones were all accused of allowing Caldwell to steer athletes to UCF, much like Lyles was accused by the NCAA of steering running back Lache Seastrunk to Oregon in 2010. 

Kelly was fired from UCF. According to the Orlando Sentinel article, that led to a decline in the program's recruiting, and that led to a decline in victories. UCF went 12-1 in 2013 and then 9-4 and 0-12 in 2015. UCF then hired former Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost to take over the program before the 2016 season.

Kelly resurfaced this year at USF and now will try to work his recruiting magic at Oregon, which needs help. Taggart has brought in two high-end recruits, but the Ducks have lost several decommits. UO's 2017 class currently consists of just 12 commits and is ranked 51st in the nation by Rivals.com.

That ranking will spike quickly after Taggart has his staff in place and they hit the recruiting trail for a final four-week push before National Signing Day on Feb. 1.

Even signing just eight three-star recruits would get Oregon's class ranking back into the low 20s, which is where it was before Oregon fired Helfrich.

 

Taggart plans to talk to current Oregon assistants

Taggart plans to talk to current Oregon assistants

EUGENE - New Oregon coach Willie Taggart said during today's introductory press conference at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex that he planned to meet with each of the Ducks' assistant coaches to see if they fit with his plans moving forward.

"I'd really like to talk with those guys and see if they are a good fit for what we're trying to do," Taggart said. "I think it's really important that we get the right fit. That's so important in hiring a staff. For me personally, I want to make sure that we hire a staff that's going to capture the hearts and the minds of our football players. That's probably the most important thing for me. They have to be great mentors to our guys to help them accomplish all of the things that they want to capture as a young man." 

Taggart, hired Wednesday to replace Mark Helfrich who was fired last week after four seasons, will be in charge of putting together his own staff, and he must do so quickly. Taggart and his new staff must get to work on salvaging the 2017 recruiting class that Rivals.com ranks 43rd in the country. It ranked in the low 20s before Helfrich was fired and some key recruits withdrew their commitments.

Oregon has several long-time assistant coaches who have been at Oregon from between 14 and 34 years. But chances are that Taggart doesn't keep any more than one or two assistants if any at all. 

It's almost a lock that the entire defensive staff will be replaced, starting with defensive coordinator Brady Hoke. 

University president Michael H. Schill, who spoke first during the press conference held in a team theater, joked that his only football advice for Taggart was for him to "go find a great defensive coordinator."

Taggart himself later said that doing so was one of his top goals.  Oregon ranked 126th out of 128 teams in total defense.

Offensively, coaches like offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, running backs coach Gary Campbell, who could be set to retire, and quarterbacks coach David Yost appear to have the best chance to stick around. Offensive coordinator Matt Lubick will likely be replaced. 

Greatwood has developed a strong offensive line that includes four redshirt freshman while Yost has helped with the development of freshman quarterback Justin Herbert, a promising star.

Still, chances are that none will be retained. This change has the feel of a complete reboot. 

DB coach John Neal reflects on his time at Oregon, his future, Helfrich's firing and 'Win the Day'

DB coach John Neal reflects on his time at Oregon, his future, Helfrich's firing and 'Win the Day'

John Neal isn't bitter and he isn't angry.

Granted, the defensive backs coach isn't exactly pleased that Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens decided to fire coach Mark Helfrich on Tuesday. Neal would have liked to have seen Helfrich and the rest of the coaching staff get a chance to turn things around following a 4-8 season. But Neal also said he understands how the coaching game works. Firings are a part of the business. Tough decisions need to be made. 

“I’m not one of the ones that is surprised," Neal said. "I’m not ill-prepared, either. You have to win games and you have to produce.”

For 12 out of 14 seasons at Oregon, Neal was a part of a coaching staff that under three head coaches produced great success. During the last eight seasons, Oregon made two trips to the national championship game, claimed four conference titles and won two Rose Bowls. 

Most of all, however, Neal said he will remember working with so many great coaches, and building great relationships with players that will last a lifetime. 

“That’s what I’m most happy about in my time at Oregon," Neal said. "I’ve received a lot of feedback from a lot of my players just thanking me for everything that’s happened here. Ultimately, it’s about relationships.”

--- Reflecting on the positives

It took only the program's second losing season in 12 years to end a legacy that stretched from Rich Brooks to Mike Bellotti to Chip Kelly and then to Helfrich. All are linked through a chain of successions from within. For the first time in 40 years, Oregon has fired a head coach. There is a chance that a new coach could retain some of Oregon's assistants, but it appears obvious that most, which includes some who have been at Oregon for more than 25 years, if not all will be gone. 

Rather than lament on the end, Neal accepts his part in the rise and the downfall. 

Neal recruited and developed many great defensive backfields. Several of his former players reached the NFL, including Patrick Chung, T.J. Ward, Jairus Byrd, Terrance Mitchell and Walter Thurmond. 

The past couple of seasons, however, have seen a dip in production out of Neal's group, and the rest of the defense. Hurting the situation has been missing out on some quality prospects such as Washington's Budda Baker.

Whether or not the staff deserved a mulligan is neither here nor there for Neal. He said he readily shares in the blame for the team's fall from grace. 

“I look at myself and I know I could have done better in a lot of ways,” Neal said.

Neal said that he would always reflect kindly on working at such a great place for so long and being a part of the greatest run of success in program history. Now, at 60, Neal said he gets an opportunity, albeit forced, to stop, reflect and decide what his next move should be. His religious faith, Neal, said leads him to believe that good things will happen for him. 

If the chance arises, he would love to interview for a position with the next Oregon head coach. If that doesn't work out, Neal said he would look for other opportunities. 

“I absolutely have to keep every option open that I have,” Neal said.

Some have questioned how Mullens handled the firing of Helfrich. Instead of informing him on Sunday, Mullens waited until Tuesday while the assistants were already out recruiting. Neal said the "how" is not important to him. He said he understands and respects that the Mullens is making what he believes to be the right choice for Oregon. 

“I don’t care how it was handled," Neal said. "The bottom line is that you’ve got to do the right things. If the right thing takes time, it takes time. It’s not personal...I don’t blame anybody.”

Neal said all coaches live with the constant fear of being fired at any moment. It could be for a personality conflict, or for breaking a rule, or simply because someone simply wanted to make a change. 

"National championship game, or not, the feeling is, 'I've got to do it again,'" Neal said. "You have that constant motivation to try to keep this standard going...We live in a world of constant pressure. The pressure from winning is the same as when you lose."

--- Reflecting on 'Win the Day'"

Neal remembers how bad things were after the 2006 season when the Ducks finished 7-6 after getting destroyed by BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl under Bellotti. 

“There was very, very high probably I could lose my job," Neal said. "Mike might have had to fire people."

Instead, the coaching staff set out to fix the problems by exploring all ideas from all avenues.  Neal said Bellotti allowed anyone and everyone to chime in on how to turn things around. 

It was then that Neal reached out to BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, one of his former players, to discuss his team's strong culture. That led to a more day-to-day focus that manifested itself into the "Win the Day" mantra under Kelly, who took over for Bellotti in 2009 after serving as offensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008. 

"That was the beginning of the cultural turn around," Neal said. 

Neal was a big part of the creation of that mindset, which led to a lot of success. The Ducks contended for a national title in 2007 before quarterback Dennis Dixon, a Heisman Trophy favorite, went down with a knee injury. 

“That was the greatest experience of my life because I got to be extremely and heavily involved in what ultimately came down to Chip Kelly saying 'let’s win the day,'" Neal said. 

Kelly, Neal said, is a one-of-a-kind coach.

“Kelly is a standard I’ll never get to work with again,” Neal said.

The team-wide mantra has somewhat eroded in recent years, Neal said.

Mullens, while announcing Helfrich's firing, referred to a lack of attention to detail and program direction for reasons to make a coaching change.

Neal said the bottom line is that the further away Oregon moved from the past it becomes more and more difficult to get new players and coaches to fully buy into the established culture.

Those who weren't there when it all began were tougher and tougher to get onboard. New assistants who hadn't experience that culture shift and new players had no reference point. If things went south, some who hadn't experienced the previous magic would question the philosophies. 

"Believers are the ones who were there and went through the (creation) of it all," Neal said. 

His biggest fear, Neal said, was losing that momentum.

“The minute momentum changes it starts rolling back on you,” he said.

Negative momentum rolled right over Oregon this season. 

--- Oregon's future remains bright

Neal believes Helfrich and this staff could have fixed the problems and returned the program to glory. He also believes a new coaching staff could accomplish the same. 

“No doubt," he said. "Everything is there to win. We have infrastructure. We have the fan base.”

The first step is becoming consistently competitive again. Oregon had a very young team and was beset by injuries this season. That contributed to Oregon getting blown out by Washington, USC and Stanford. 

Neal said dealing with Washington, coached by Chris Petersen, in the Pac-12 North Division is going to be tough for the Ducks moving forward. 

"I looked at Washington two years ago and went 'oh crap.'" he said. "In two years this team is going to be scary. Chris Petersen is going to go down as one of the top 10 football coaches in history."

Recruiting to Eugene will always be a challenge, but Neal said the elements remains there to be successful.

“I still think it’s extremely attractive," he said of UO. "I think it’s a remarkable deal in the sense of marketing and having your product be the best out there.”

However, not having a ton of regional talent to choose from does hurt.

“You’re going to lose in geography," Neal said, "but you can win in personality and what they believe your saying to them." 

 

Oregon's battered defense ripe for OSU's Ryan Nall

Oregon's battered defense ripe for OSU's Ryan Nall

Just when it appeared that Oregon's defense had made the shift from horrible to average the Ducks have been dealt yet another blow.

Sophomore defensive tackle Rex Manu has been lost for the season with a leg injury. It's another in a long list of problematic developments for a battered and young defensive line that actually played solid football during a 30-28 win at then-No. 11 Utah on Saturday. 

"Another gut punch inside there," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said of his battered group of defensive tackles that has already lost redshirt freshman Drayton Carlberg (leg) and junior Austin Maloata (dismissed from team)

Oregon's bad news is good news for Oregon State, the Ducks' next opponent in the 120th Civil War, which kicks off at 1 p.m., Saturday at Reser Stadium. 

The Beavers (3-8, 2-6 Pac-12) last week snapped a five-game losing streak with a 42-10 win over hapless Arizona (2-9, 0-8) thanks in part to the hard-charging performance of sophomore running back Ryan Nall operating behind a solid offensive line.

Nall, when healthy, is one of the best backs in the Pac-12.  The 6-foot-2, 234-pounder out of Portland's Central Catholic High School is averaging 6.9 yards per carry, and is coming off of a 124-yard performance against the Wildcats.

Oregon (4-7, 2-6) need only look at video from last year's Civil War to remind itself of how good Nall can be. He gouged the Ducks for 174 yards rushing and 54 receiving during a 52-42 UO victory. 

"He's a load," Helfrich said. "He's very difficult to tackle."

Helfrich said Oregon must be mindful of the variety of ways Oregon uses Nall, who gets the ball on misdirection plays, fly sweep, out of the backfield and on straight ahead running plays. 

OSU's creativity, Helfrich said, usually leads to Nall, who earlier this season went for 131 rushing yards against Washington State and for 221 on California, out in space against a linebacker or a defensive back forced to make an arm tackle.

"Him versus an arm is usually a bad matchup for the arm," Helfrich said. "We need to get multiple bodies to him."

Oregon did a solid job of doing just that against Utah's Joe Williams. He did rush for a healthy 149 yards but had a long of just 28, which for UO's porous defense is an accomplishment. Oregon ranks 11th in the Pac-12 against the run (240.7 yards per game) and has allowed the most rushing touchdowns in the conference (34). 

Helfrich said Oregon's defenders have been somewhat slow in adjusting to the 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke, but did commit the least amount of mental errors and missed tackles against the Utes then the group had all season.

Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal said he sees similarities between OSU's offense and Utah's. Beavers coach Gary Andersen worked under Utah coach Kyle Whittingham at Utah from 2004 through 2008. Both were assistants there prior to Whittingham becoming the head coach in 2004. 

Familiar offenses aside, Neal said the Ducks must play with the same intensity they displayed at Utah in order to defeat an OSU team hungry for its first Civil War victory since 2007.

"It will be interesting to see how hard we go out there and play because they are going to play hard," Neal said.

If Oregon fails to show up mentally and physically, Nall will run wild. Neal is a fan of OSU's engine, but doesn't want to see him grind the Ducks into the turf. 

"I love 34," Neal said. "I think he is one of the best players in or league. I don't think the kid has any weaknesses."

Oregon's young defense might have turned the corner at Utah

Oregon's young defense might have turned the corner at Utah

SALT LAKE CITY - Oregon defensive coordinator Brady Hoke might have been the only person in Rice-Eccles Stadium not surprised by his group's strong showing during an improbable 30-28 upset win Saturday at No. 11 Utah. 

Hoke certainly appeared to be a bit elated and a very much relieved following the win, but he said he wasn't surprised by the play of his defense, one of the worst in the nation by every measure imaginable, against a quality Utes offense.

Why? Well, as Hoke puts it, Saturday's performance was something the young defense had been working toward. The months of developing young players, correcting mistakes and evolving was bound to take. Saturday, it did. 

"I don't sleep a lot the night before [games])," Hoke said. "But I just think that there is a lot of improvement across the board."

There should be no illusions that Oregon's defense has completely turned the proverbial corner. The Ducks (4-7, 2-6) gave up 453 yards to Utah, and for the fourth time this season blew a fourth-quarter lead when the Utes scored on a 30-yard touchdown pass to take a 28-24 advantage with 2:16 remaining in the game. 

Still, the fact remains that UO's defense demonstrated dramatic improvement when all signs of sports logic pointed toward Oregon surrendering up 600-plus yards and 50-plus points to the Utes (8-3, 5-3). The Ducks in their previous game allowed Stanford to make them look like blocking dummies while the Cardinal offense, last in the conference in yards per game (359.5) and 11th in scoring (25.1. Entered Oregon game averaging 19.9), pumped out 540 total yards in a 52-27 demolition. 

Against Utah, Oregon allowed 234 yards rushing, 149 to running back Joe Williams, but didn't allow a run of more than 28 yards. Utah quarterback Troy Williams completed 67 percent of his passes (20-of-30) after entering the game completing just 54.9 percent. But he threw just one touchdown pass and Oregon sacked him twice.  

"I don't know what the numbers are but it feels a little better than other games," Hoke said.  

It certainly was. Maybe most importantly, UO made plays at key moments. Utah punted six times. UO linebacker Jimmie Swain forced a fumble deep in the Ducks' red zone in the second quarter (it was Oregon's second recovered fumble of the season). The Ducks tackled well in space (other than the reverse play for Utah's opening touchdown when Utah receiver Cory Butler-Byrd threw out some wicked moves on the Ducks) and routinely were able to get off the field on third down, especially in the first half. 

"Today for the first time in a while we penetrated gaps, we got tackles for losses before they could get going," Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal said.

Said Hoke: "It's learning on the job and I think some of the development is showing up."

These realities prevented Utah from building a big lead (like Stanford's 21-0 advantage in the first quarter) while UO's offense stumbled. The Ducks trailed just 7-3 at halftime in a game that could have been 28-3 at intermission had UO's defense played like it did in most every other game this season. 

Oregon's defense gave up more points in the second half, but one of Utah's touchdowns came on a misplayed punt by freshman wide receiver Dillon Mitchell that resulted in a fumble recovery for a touchdown by the Utes that made the score 21-17 early in the fourth quarter. 

UO's improvement, however, must be accepted with a bit of a caveat. Neal said the Ducks benefited from facing an offense similar to Stanford's a week after losing to the Cardinal.

"The things that we did poorly against Stanford, we had another week to correct," Neal said.

Consequently, UO's players were able to learn from mistakes made against Stanford and apply the new knowledge base and skills to handling Utah's offense. 

"They are a really heavy run team," Oregon freshman linebacker Troy Dye said of Utah. "They have a lot of pulling guards just like Stanford did."

Oregon redshirt sophomore defensive end Justin Hollins said a huge key for the defense was not making costly mistakes early that led to easy scores for the opponent. 

"We stopped shooting ourselves in the foot," he said. "Doing that kind of takes away the juice, like last week. This week we got after it and we kept that juice going, and we kept that competitive edge."

Maintaining that "juice" Hollins spoke of, involved not becoming demoralized by an avalanche of mistakes and points. Trailing just 7-3 at halftime helped Oregon's confidence grow. They could see their hard work paying off.  

"Everybody was on their assignments," Hollins said. "We were fundamentally sound and we just got after it." 

Hollins said defensive players pushed one another to improve by helping alert teammates to deficiencies in their game that maybe they didn't notice.

Oregon wide receiver Charles Nelson, who played safety last season, said he's witnessed all of the work the defenders have put in. He said many of the younger players are being forced to do a lot of self-reflection now that they are being relied upon.  

"When it's something you fail at multiple times, you have to take it, learn from it and better yourself," Nelson said. 

So now what?

Oregon will face Oregon State (3-8, 2-6) in the 120th Civil War on Saturday. The Beavers rank 11th in the conference in total offense (361.4 yards per game), but on Saturday won 42-17 at home over Arizona (2-9, 0-8). 

Certainly, the Beavers will at least see an Oregon defense feeling much better about itself.

"It was a confidence booster," Dye said of the win over Utah. 

Maybe more importantly, the outing relieved the defense of some stress. It's a unit that will return 10 starters next season, and about 15 other players who have contributed. Better days likely lie ahead, and now they have something to build upon after a season of seemingly endless negativity having been thrown their way. 

"We pushed back on some momentum that was trying to run us over," Neal said. 

Ducks search for positives amidst sea of negatives

Ducks search for positives amidst sea of negatives

Searching for reasons to ague how Oregon could win Saturday's 11 a.m. game at No. 11 Utah is an exercise in futility. 

The Ducks (3-7, 1-6) will face a better version of the Stanford team that defeated them 52-27 Saturday at Autzen Stadium. Utah (8-2, 5-2) runs the ball and plays defense similarly to Stanford. Tough. Hard-nosed. The type of traits that make this Oregon team fall to pieces. 

Oregon at this point is simply searching for ways to remain competitive.

"Everybody competing and fighting every single day to get better," UO coach Mark Helfrich said about the team's focus for the 10th consecutive week. 

The problem is that we rarely see evidence of competing and fighting on the field. This team simply has been demoralized. Physically, they don't matchup. Mentally they can't avoid the simple mistakes that only compound the lack of experienced impact talent. 

With two games remaining, Oregon is in search of something positive to cling to. The Ducks' bowl game chances are done. The team is riddled with injuries. But could they at least play the game the right way from the neck up?

Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal said the defense continuously makes the same mistakes over and over, baffling the coaching staff. 

He pointed out a play from Saturday when redshirt junior cornerback Tyree Robinson, one of the team's few experienced veteran players, allowed a Stanford receiver to beat him deep for a 61-yard touchdown down the right sideline when he was playing deep zone coverage with the sole responsibility of not giving up anything deep. Plays like that have riddled the Ducks throughout the season.

"When you see it, it hurts and it's stunning in the sense that the one thing you can't let happen, happens and it keeps happening," Neal said. 

It's likely such issues won't be fixed this season. What we don't know is whether Helfrich and the coaching staff will be back next year to see if their teachings will finally stick. 

"Maybe the long-term affects will be that players that remain in the program will remember this and influence the other players to make the kind of changes in the culture we need to make to get back to being competitive," Neal said. 

Emphasis on "competitive."

"Right now we're not a competitive team," Neal said. "We have to get our competitiveness back. If you win or lose in the fourth quarter, that's one thing, but when you lose in the first quarter, that's another."

Oregon essentially lost its last two games in the first half. The Ducks trialed Stanford 21-0 in the first quarter and 38-13 at halftime. Two weeks ago, USC jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and also led 24-6 at halftime. A similar scenario could play out at Utah.  

"We're not having a ton of fun, which is something you have to try to squeeze out of it at this point and play to their competitiveness," Helfrich said. "Play to the aspects of why they are here, and, again, get the right guys that are onboard to compete."

Ducks must gang up on Christian McCaffrey

Ducks must gang up on Christian McCaffrey

Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey is back to his former self just in time to run up against Oregon's poor run defense Saturday at Autzen Stadium. 

The Ducks should be afraid, very afraid. 

"We can't let Christian McCaffrey have easy scores in space," Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal said. "He's the best change-of-direction player I've seen in a long time." 

Oregon (3-6, 1-5 Pac-12) hosts Stanford (6-3, 4-3) at 1 p.m. in a game the Ducks must have in order to remain alive for bowl eligibility. Avoiding that dreaded seventh defeat on Saturday will require UO to locate, track and bring down McCaffrey on a regular basis. 

If the Ducks can prevent him from shredding them, they will have chance to win because Stanford is as one-dimensional on offense as its ever beed. The Cardinal ranks dead last in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game (142.8) and has just seven touchdown passes on the season. 

The problem for UO is that McCaffrey (122.5 yards per game) is the best running back in the league and the Ducks have the second-worst rushing defense in the Pac-12, allowing 238.7 yards per game. Oregon allowed USC running back Ronald Jones to rush for 171 yards and four touchdowns during Saturday's 45-20 loss to the Trojans. 

McCaffrey, last year's Heisman Trophy runner-up, has had a down year by his standards (980 yards and six touchdowns). But in the team's last two games, wins over Arizona and Oregon State, he rushed for 169 rushing yard with two touchdowns at the Wildcats and then for 199 yards and a touchdown against the Beavers. 

"They are playing a lot better than they were earlier in the year," UO coach Mark Helfrich said of Stanford, while partially crediting that to a healthier McCaffrey. 

"They are using him very similarly to how they have in the past," Helfrich said. "It's just not as much."

A reduction in touches for McCaffrey can be attributed to injuries (he has missed one game) and the emergence of sophomore Bryce Love, who has gained 428 yards rushing this season. The byproduct has been a fresher McCaffrey. 

Containing him will require the most basic of football disciplines: Tackling. 

However, that discipline has become more complicated nationwide because of rules against full contract during practice, and few teams have struggled to adapted to that situation more so than the Ducks. They missed many tackles on Jones at USC and we should all expect them to whiff on plenty more against Stanford. But if the Ducks can  prevent McCaffrey from breaking off a glut of big plays, they would have a chance to win. 

Oregon defensive coordinator Brady Hoke said from watching Stanford game video that disciplined teams that pursue well have avoided allowing McCaffrey, a great cutback player, to run wild. 

"He's not bad," Hoke said with a smile. "What we have to do is play good team defense."

Neal added the team would need a total commitment to getting everyone to him on returns, as well. 

"I love No. 5. I respect the guy in a 1,000 different ways...It's phenomenal to watch him," Neal said.

Neal and Oregon would prefer to not see much from McCaffrey to admire on Saturday. If the Ducks can keep him somewhat in check, they will win. If not, Oregon's bowl chances will go up in flames and everyone can turn their attention to basketball, if they haven't already done so.

Oregon paying $10 million for a coach would be ludicrous

Oregon paying $10 million for a coach would be ludicrous

A Tweet stating that Phil Knight is willing to pay $10 million per year for a football coach to lead Oregon to a national title should be dismissed on arrival with a chuckle because it couldn't possibly be true. 

Or could it?

A question regarding ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell's tweet was posed to UO coach Mark Helfrich on Sunday, a day after the Ducks lost 45-20 at USC to fall to 3-6 on the season. 

His response: "That's the nature of the profession. It would be cool if it was that easy." 

After a pause, Helfrich added: "I take it, it wasn't me that's getting the $10 million?"

Laughter followed.

In actuality, Helfrich would be receiving $11 million in the deal. More on that later. 

What's more pressing is how such a report, if it's true, defines how perspective levels around Oregon's poor season have reached such gutter levels that one must consider that everyone remotely associated with the program - fans, boosters, media - have all lost their damn minds. 

There is not a coach alive that's going to magically bring a national title to Oregon no matter how much Knight, or anyone, pays that person. In fact, I don't think there is a coach alive who believes he could guarantee Oregon a national title, but there are plenty who would take the ridiculous paycheck and give it the ol' college try. 

The idea of throwing that type of money around sounds like an act of desperation rather than one born from deep thought. It's an overreaction to problem that will naturally correct itself. 

Maybe I'm not as alarmed by the current state of UO's program because I saw the eventual demise coming years ago, stated as such and wrote about it while at The Oregonian in 2012. I reiterated that point in 2014 when writing that the national championship window would close after Marcus Mariota moved on to the NFL, and prior to this season called it a year of transition for a young and inexperienced team.

I certainly didn't predict 3-6 at this point, but I did predict that the rest of the conference would catch up with the "blur" offense and the Ducks' talent level would not be able to sustain a string of dominant seasons without the benefit of a fantastical, yet gimmicky offense leading the way. 

However, I also believe that the program will recover when a new influx of talent, led by a transcendent star, were allowed to develop. That star is freshman quarterback Justin Herbert, who will at least become the second greatest quarterback ever to play at Oregon when his career is over (baring injury, of course). 

Allowing this all to play out requires minimal patience, something sorely missing in this day and age. 

What's happened is that fans and boosters have so attached their own egos and emotions to the success of UO's football program that they almost believe they created that success. So, now that things have gone south the first reaction is to punish someone. 

That someone is Helfrich, who had the misfortune of following Chip Kelly, propped up as a football God because he had four great years primarily because from 2009 through 2012, most of the conference had no clue how to handle the Ducks' dizzyingly fast-paced offense.

That has changed and here we are. Those with an open mind recognize that the downfall could have happened to Kelly, as well, and in fact partly did because the final two recruiting classes he oversaw had players all over the 2015 team, and some remain this season on a team virtually void of quality senior leadership.  

Those who believe in the Kelly mythology - and haven't been watching him getting crushed in the NFL - want to believe that Helfrich ruined a good thing, and that Kelly would have kept the gravy train going into eternity. 

Not possible. 

Every program in the conference has the same amount of scholarships and is also free to hire good coaches. Simple math and probability dictate that some of those teams were going to eventually become really good and that Oregon would eventually have a rebuilding season.

What's being ignored at an alarming fashion is that this team on paper had no chance to contend this season. It's far too young and inexperienced, and the Ducks have suffered a crazy amount of injuries.  

The answer to how Oregon returns to glory is not found in simply firing a staff that consists of most of the men who played a huge part in the Ducks' greatest successes. At least don't do so after one bad season. 

Allow me to repeat that: One. Bad. Season. 

Not two. Not three. Not five. One. 

Firing everyone two years after arguably the greatest season in program history would be the lazy thing to do. It requires no imagination. Requires no foresight. No thought. Place blame. Feel superior. Prop up someone else as the savior. Feel better about yourself. 

But there's just one little problem: Who ya gonna get?

I keep waiting for someone, anyone, to name this magical coach that for $10 million will bring the Ducks a national title and never, ever have a bad season. Ever. 

Is Alabama's Nick Saban coming to Oregon? Not a chance. 

Ohio State's Urban Meyer? Ha!

Even if either one did take Knight's money and head to Eugene, there is no guarantee that they bring UO a national title. Recruiting to Eugene is far more difficult than recruiting to Alabama or Ohio State, or their former stops, LSU and Florida. 

Saban, who makes $6.9 million per year, quit on the Miami Dolphins because he didn't have the talent-gathering advantages he enjoyed at LSU. I don't think he would relish trying to win it all at Oregon. 

And if either Saban or Meyer ($6 milllion per year) have trouble winning it all for the Ducks, then who else could possibly do it?

I would assume that this God of a coach already has a national title, correct? Helfrich and company have been to two national title games, one with him as head coach. So an upgrade would have to be someone with a national title already on his resume. 

So are we talking about former championship coaches who have fallen from grace such as Mack Brown, Jim Tressel, Gene Chizik? They could be had.

Maybe Oregon tries to steal Jimbo Fisher ($5.25 million) from Florida State, or Bob Stoops ($5.25 million) from Oklahoma.

Money talks. Anything is possible. 

But why would any of those men guarantee a national title for Oregon? All won big at programs with greater advantages than UO provides. 

Don't get started on the notion that Oregon should ride its facilities to uninterrupted successes. They get Oregon into the recruiting game on a national level, but they don't win that game. 

But let's say the Ducks do land a "big name," that would lead to the irony of ironies. Should that coach returns the Ducks to to prominence in 2017 or 2018, he would be doing so with Helfrich's recruits.

Oops. That would then destroy the narrative that Helfirch can't build a winning team. He already destroyed the idea that he couldn't coach a championship-level team by going 11-2 and 13-2 in his first two seasons. But his haters always seek to point out that Helfrich won with Kelly's recruits. So, to be fair, if a new coach wins early, Helfrich would have to be credited for putting the players together, starting with Herbert. 

If there is room for extreme blame to be placed at the feet of Helfrich and the coaching staff - that includes Kelly, former defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro and former offensive coordinator Scott Frost - its for the lack of an adequate amount of impact players on this team. Oregon is young and inexperienced at quarterback, offensive line, defensive line and linebacker because the current starters beat out older players who didn't pan out. 

For example: Herbert is starting as a freshman only because Morgan Mahalak (2014 four-star recruit) and Travis Jonsen (2015 four-star recruit) didn't reach expectations. Similar scenarios have played out at other positions.

That has led to a young team simply not ready to win.  The staff certainly is to blame for this predicament. However, what those aching to release their venom are too blind to see is that the benefit of losing with a young team is that the players will gain experience and improve.  

We've seen this play out at Oregon before. 

The 2004 Ducks (5-6) and the 2006 Ducks (7-6) struggled with maturity and consistency, but the 2005 team (10-2) and the 2007 team (9-4) were top five teams before injuries at the quarterback position. The 2005-2006 Oregon basketball team missed the NCAA Tournament while losing many close games with four prominent sophomores and a junior leading the way. The following season the Ducks reached the Elite Eight.

There is every reason imaginable to believe that these current Ducks will also rise, and do so under Helfrich. Herbert is a superstar in the making. The offense line is loaded with four potential NFL players who need time to grow. The defense will return 10 starters next season, and there are a host of freshman and redshirt freshmen, other than linebacker Troy Dye and safety Brendan Schooler, that should be very good in the near future. 

But recognizing all of that requires effort. Vision. A willingness to think rather than react. To project, rather than punish. 

Let's forget about Helfrich for a second, because it's not all about him. A new $10 million coach would likely bring his own staff. Are those associated with the program ready to tell Don Pellum, Gary Campbell, John Neal, Jim Radcliffe and Steve Greatwood that it's time for them to go after one bad season in 10 years? 

"Thanks for helping Oregon become a national power but, you had one losing season every 10 years for the past 20 so it's time for you to go."

That doesn't seem right. 

The Oregon Ducks will rise again with the current coaching staff. No doubt. Then, it will have a down season at some point. 

A new coach could win big at Oregon. No doubt. Then he too would eventually have a down season. 

At the very least allow this staff the chance to grow this young roster. See if they can turn things around. Helfrich, an Oregonian from Coos Bay, cares about the program more than anyone else UO could hire. He will work his tail off to fix things. If he fails and the Ducks don't show improvement in 2017, by all means, make a change.

But firing him after one bad season, eating $11 million of buyout money, also buying out the assistants while firing such long-time fixtures, and then throwing crazy money at a big name out of desperation would be unseemly for the Oregon program. 

It would make the Ducks look desperate and common. Not special. Not unique. 

From Rich Brooks to Mike Bellotti to Kelly to Helfrich, Oregon has done things the right way in the head coaching department, and it has paid off. 

Change directions now and UO would veer down an uncertain path that could lead to disaster, a revolving door of overpaid coaches in it just for the money who could ultimately leave the program in ruins. 

Oregon's DBs polish up communication skills

Oregon's DBs polish up communication skills

EUGENE - Oregon cornerback Arrion Springs stepped before a throng of media in front of the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex following a practice this week. 

Meanwhile, in the background, fellow-starting cornerback Ugo Amadi made a request of Springs.

"Give me a shout out," Amadi yelled while walking toward the complex entrance to the locker rooms. 

Springs smiled in response but did not oblige.

"Give me a shout out," Amadi yelled again. 

"Shout out to Ugo," Springs finally said with a wry smile.

Ah, communication. Following instructions. Such simple things that sometimes prove to be so difficult. 

That anecdote fits here only because last season, when one Oregon defensive back would shout instructions to another, it would be up in the air whether or not the information would be correct, processed correctly, relayed in a timely manner or even heard and understood.  Substitute Amadi's first request for a shout-out that went unanswered with a coverage call and you have an example of why the secondary contributed to the team allowing 35 touchdown passes last season. 

This season, however, the defensive backs have vowed to improve their communication to it more often matched Springs reaction to Amadi's second request. The No. 24 Ducks (1-0) won 53-28 on Saturday against UC Davis. Although the Ducks allowed 303 yards passing, they came on 47 attempts for a feeble average of 6.4 yards per attempt. Not a bad showing for the secondary. And it all starts with communication, something new defensive coordinator has stressed to every level of the defense. 

“All the way around, our communication has to be spot on,” Hoke said. “If not, we’re going to have a guy who’s out of a gap, or a guy who’s not fitting the run well, or whatever it might be. When we try to communicate, when we try to talk to each other, we’ve got to be really, really on point.”

That point of emphasis, defensive backs coach John Neal said, has resonated throughout the team, especially with the secondary. 

“You have to talk every play,” Neal said.

A lack of communication killed Oregon's secondary last season when they allowed 35 touchdown passes. Players either didn't know what they were doing and how to communicate that, or those in the know did a poor job of relaying information to others. 

On Saturday, the secondary appeared to take a step in the right direction. That started with the defensive backs being better versed on what their responsibilities are from play to play. 

"When you understand more, you can speak," redshirt junior safety Juwaan Williams said. 

Neal said his defensive backs certainly appear to be more confident in their knowledge. 

“That’s a confidence you get when you know what you’re doing and you’re going to talk a lot now,” Neal said.

Even after mistakes, players reacted with affirmation about what they had done wrong rather than confusion. 

“When we did mess up, they already knew what they messed up on,” Springs said.

Speaking of mistakes, Springs and Williams said there were big plays the defense gave up because of mistakes in coverage that must be cleaned up. 

"In some of the plays we gave up, there wasn't communication," Williams said. "So the communication part of it is something we're progressing and working on everyday. "

Neal said tackling still must be improved.

“I figured that we gave about 14 points away last week,” Neal said. “In order to be an elite team, you can’t do it. And we’re trying to be an elite team.”

Oregon hosts Virginia (0-1) on Saturday at Autzen. UVA quarterback Kirk Benkert completed 26-of-34 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns with one interception last week during a 37-20 loss to Richmond, an FCS program. 

Certainly not a great showing in a loss, but Benkert does have some skills and Virginia likes to throw the ball around. So the Cavaliers should provide a next-level test for UO's secondary and it's communication skills. 

Ducks will rotate up to 10 DBs in the secondary

Ducks will rotate up to 10 DBs in the secondary

EUGENE - Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal said Tuesday to expect to see a heavy rotation of defensive backs this season as he works to develop depth while keeping starters fresh in hopes of improving the overall performance of a secondary that struggled most of last season. 

"I'm going to play a lot more guys from the beginning to the end which gives me a chance to evaluate some critical guys that haven't played as much," Neal said. "If we continue that through the season with the amount of plays we play, having more guys playing is going to really help us, make us faster and better obviously in the fourth quarter."

No. 24 Oregon's season begins Saturday against UC Davis at Autzen Stadium. 

Neal said he has confidence in five cornerbacks and six safeties, which includes starting safety Tyree Robinson spending time at cornerback. 

Starting at cornerback will be sophomores Arrion Springs and Ugo Amadi. They will be backed up by redshirt freshman Malik Lovette and freshman Brenden Schooler. 

Robinson, a redshirt junior, and fellow starting safety, redshirt junior Juwaan Williams, will be backed up by redshirt senior Reggie Daniels, a former two-year starter, and redshirt sophomore Khalil Oliver.  

Also potentially in the mix will be redshirt freshman safety Jhet Janis, redshirt junior corner back Ty Griffin, who played some last season, and sophomore Fotu Leiato II.

Injuries and a lack of depth hurt Oregon's secondary last season when the Ducks allowed 35 touchdown passes and ranked 116th in the nation in total defense. Former No. 1 cornerback Chris Seisay missed eight games due to injury putting more pressure on Amadi and Springs. Injuries also hit the safety position, namely Daniels, leading to wide receiver Charles Nelson moving to free safety as a starter. 

Aside from protecting against injuries, increased depth is expected to help the starters play better game to game. 

"We don't have to play like 85 snaps a game like we did last year," Springs said. "If I get tired I can ask to come out so I'm always fresh and not getting lazy and sloppy how we were last year trying to stay in the game and play a lot of snaps. I feel like if we have more depth we can play faster because we won't be as tired."

Of course, playing young players in order to keep the starters fresher can backfire if the younger players aren't ready to perform at a high level. 

"It's such a long season. to stay healthy we have to play more people," Neal said. "But they have to earn it. We have to be able to trust them to."