Will the third start for Oregon freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister be the charm?
Oregon coach Willie Taggart certainly hopes so. His options at quarterback are limited with sophomore Justin Herbert out again for this week's game at UCLA (3-3, 1-2). It will either Burmeister or redshirt senior Taylor Alie. Despite two losses in which the Ducks scored a combined 17 points, it appears that Taggart will stick with Burmeister as the starter and hope that playing near his hometown of La Jolla, Calif., will inspire him to perform better. Even after two subpar performances by Burmeister, Taggart doesn't believe his first quarterback recruit's confidence has waned.
"I just think he's got to play better," Taggart said.
While few people, if any, expected Burmeister to match the production of Herbert when he started as a freshman last year, it was reasonable to expect that the four-star recruit would at least perform like a potential future starter. He has not. Yet. Taggart still believes Herbert will improve.
"Just being sure when you go back and throw," Taggart said. "We've got to make sure from a practice standpoint that we put him in those situations more often than what we do."
Burmeister is not reading defenses well, is making poor decisions and when he does throw the ball, isn't displaying much accuracy aside from the occasional moment here and there. He looks like a quarterback who has very little confidence in what he is doing.
Already down 21-7 in the first quarter, Burmeister had a pass intercepted when he forced a throw to running back Tony Brooks-James who was running a wheel down the left sideline. On the play, running back Kani Benoit can be seen running wide open to the left on a swing route. Also, slot receiver Charles Nelson could be found wide open running a dig route from left to right.
While finding and hitting Nelson might have been a high-end read, reading wide receiver Brenden Schooler on the post route to Brooks-James and then down to Benoit is relatively routine. But Burmeister failed to recognize the multiple black jerseys that flew deep leaving Benoit uncovered.
These types of easy plays must be corrected in order for the offense to start clicking again. Burmeister can't turn what should be an easy throw for a first down into a forced interception, especially when he isn't under pressure.
"We don't need for him to win the football game for us but we definitely can't turn the football over," Taggart said.
The lone bright spot for Burmeister is his running ability, and important skill for Taggart's offense.
"I thought he did a good job running the football," Taggart said. "That's the one thing he looked really comfortable doing."
Taggart will take that every time. Running after a play breaks down is certainly better than forcing a bad pass.
"You don't have to make all of the plays, just make the right play for us," Taggart said.
All of the mistakes Burmeister has made, Taggart said, are correctable. He said the coaches have to do a better job of putting him in easier situations he is capable of executing. Then, it's up to Burmeister to settle down and play good football.
"Just go out and have fun and don't put too much pressure on yourself," Taggart said. "Then things will workout."