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 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.