Troy Dye

Oregon linebacker Troy Dye calls out Willie Taggart on Twitter

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USA Today

Oregon linebacker Troy Dye calls out Willie Taggart on Twitter

Oregon linebacker Troy Dye called out former coach Willie Taggart on Twitter today. 

The sophomore retweeted and responded to my tweet regarding Taggart, introduded today as Florida State's head coach, admitting that FSU contacted him on Thursday despite having told the media that he had not heard from FSU through the weekend. 

https://twitter.com/Tdye15dbTroy/status/938486226675367936

Dye's brother, three-star running back Travis Dye, committed to Oregon's 2018 recruiting class. 

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Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens revealed Tuesday that Taggart informed him about FSU reaching out to him on Thursday. 

Taggart left Oregon yesterday after one season with the Ducks. 

Some players and recruits are claiming that Taggart was not truthful with them through the process. 

Freshman safety Nick Pickett also made a comment on Twitter about Taggart. 

Editor's note: The tweet has since been taken down

It must be pointed out that one freshman player told me that he told Taggart after the team meeting on Tuesday that he was proud of him and gave him a hug. 

So, not everyone at UO is down on Taggart. But clearly, some are regarding the way he handled his exit. 

 

Acceptance of culpability leads Oregon to 41-20 win over Utah

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USA Today

Acceptance of culpability leads Oregon to 41-20 win over Utah

EUGENE - Oregon coach Willie Taggart entered the post-game press conference following a 41-20 win over Utah Saturday at Autzen Stadium and before he fielded a question stated: "How about those Ducks. Winning is living, baby."

If true, then the Ducks were in desperate need of a life-saving serum following three consecutive blowout losses entering Saturday. They delivered just that with a spirited victory filled with big plays, spark and plenty of juice brought about by team-wide culpability born out of desperation. 

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Taggart made it clear during the week that his team needed to find ways to win without star quarterback Justin Herbert (collarbone) instead of allowing most of the blame for the team's woes to fall at the feet of struggling freshman backup quarterback Braxton Burmeister. Taggart forced the team last Sunday to watch its 31-14 loss at UCLA so that everyone could see that the entire team was struggling to find consistency, not only Burmeister.  

"I think that really helped our guys," Taggart said. "It cleared some things up. We challenged each other, coaches and players, to make sure we do our job and try to get better at what we do and don't worry about anyone else. Just get better at what we do."

On Saturday, Taggart saw his team firing on all cylinders. Burmeister still struggled in terms of generating big plays in the passing game. He completed 9 of 12 passes for just 47 yards but had one touchdown pass in the first quarter and threw no interceptions. What made that hold up were 347 yards rushing and an opportunistic defense that produced a touchdown and prevented Utah from finding a rhythm on offense. Oregon shut down Utah's running game (net 91 yards) and sacked quarterback Tyler Huntley four times in front of 56,154.

Oregon linebacker Troy Dye said Sunday's film session forced each player to hold himself and his teammates accountable. '

"Everybody saw what everybody was doing wrong," Oregon linebacker Troy Dye said. "Just to see that everybody has room for improvement shows you that we can't all put the blame on Braxton."

Oregon was outscored 113-31 in the previous three games. 

Saturday's victory put the Ducks (5-3, 2-4 Pac-12) one win ahead of last year's record (4-8) and a victory away from becoming bowl eligible with three games remaining, including Oregon State (1-7, 0-5) on Nov. 25. 

Saturday's win takes pressure off of Oregon to win at Washington next week or at home the following week against surging Arizona in order to become bowl eligible. Herbert, who warmed up with the team prior to Saturday's game for the first time since injuring his collarbone. Herbert will likely be back by no later than the Arizona game on Nov. 18. If so, the Ducks will have a strong chance to defeat the Wildcats and the Beavers. Heck, if the team plays like it did today it could win both without Herbert. 

Again, it all starts with team-wide accountability that must continue, along with consistent improvement. 

"We still have a lot of work to do," Dye said. 

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. 

 

Ducks' backs must outduel Bryce Love for UO to win at Stanford

Ducks' backs must outduel Bryce Love for UO to win at Stanford

Oregon's running game had better show up Saturday night at Stanford or this game will be over before Cardinal running back Bryce Love reaches the 175-yard mark. 

Forget about what happens at quarterback for the Ducks (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12). Braxton Burmeister? Taylor Alie? Both? Doesn't matter at this point. Whatever Oregon gets from that position will be gravy and it's not as if Stanford's quarterbacks do much damage, either. 

What matters most for Oregon is that the offensive line doesn't let down the team again like last week during a 33-10 loss at home to No. 8 Washington State (6-0, 3-0) by gaining just 132 yards. The linemen admitted their mistakes. So did their leader, co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal. UO coach Willie Taggart made it clear that the players around the quarterback position must play better in order for the Ducks to win and he was mostly talking about the offensive line. 

"Just our entire performance was frustrating," Cristobal said. 

After a week to lament, the offensive line will have a chance to redeem itself and replicate the 328-yard rushing performance the team put forth two week ago during a 45-24 win over California. When the line is humming, the running back trio of Royce Freeman, Kani Benoit and Tony Brooks-James usually dominates. They are one of the best trios in the nation. But even they can't get loose with no place to run. 

Stanford's defense isn't playing as its usual dominant self. The Cardinal rank ninth in the conference in rushing defense (182 yards per game) while Oregon is averaging 239.3, good enough for third right behind Stanford (260.5). 

So, there's no excuse for the Ducks not to get the job done in the running game. Not even the reality that the Cardinal could key on the run, as did WSU, knowing that sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert isn't at quarterback to burn it with the passing game. 

Stanford hasn't needed strong quarterback play to balance out the run game. The Cardinal is averaging 188.3 passing yards per game with Keller Chryst and K.J. Costello having split the duties. But, they haven't turned the ball over much with just two interceptions thrown, both by Chryst. 

The Cardinal relies heavily on Bryce Love who has rushed for 1,240 yards on the season. That's 46 percent of the Cardinal's offense. The scariest part is that the 5-foot-10, 196-pound Love doesn't require much running room in which to operate. 

“This kid can find the smallest hole and get through it," Taggart said. "And that’s a challenge for a lot of defenses.”

Oregon, on paper, appears equipped to handle Love. Or, at least not let him run wild. The Ducks rank second in the Pac-12 an 10th in the nation in in rushing defense allowing 93.7 yards per game. However, UO has faced the two worst rushing teams in the conference, WSU (82.7, 125th in the nation) and Cal (96.8, 122nd), and the ninth-ranked rushing team, Arizona State (129.4, 97th). Nebraska (148.5) ranks 79th in the nation and Wyoming sits at 118th (100.4). 

Furthermore, none of those teams has a running back like Love. And, none run the style of offense that Stanford does. Nebraska comes close but Stanford's power running game with multiple tight ends and a pounding fullback working in concert with a strong offense line is another animal. For Oregon to be successful against Love, the Ducks cannot blow pursuit angles or expect that someone closer to the ball will make the play. 

"Stack the box," UO senior cornerback Arrion Springs said. "Staaaack the box. Everybody just has to be ready to stop the run. Everybody has to contribute. It's not just going to be the front seven."

Said Taggart: "We've got to gang tackle. It's not going to be one guy bringing him down. "He can get stopped for two or three plays and the next thing you know he will break one for 60."

So figure that Love is going to do his thing. The quarterbacks for both teams will be pedestrian, although Oregon's should be helped by the return of sophomore receiver Dillon Mitchell (concussion) and potentially, senior slot receiver Charles Nelson (ankle). 

That leaves Oregon's running attack as the only reliable aspect of the team that could lead the Ducks to a win. 

That's not a bad situation to be in if the offensive line brings its A-game. 

Oregon at No. 23 Stanford

When: 8 p.m., Saturday, Autzen Stadium. 

T.V.: FS1. 

Betting line: Stanford minus 10.5.

Records: Oregon (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12), Stanford (4-2, 3-1).

Last week: Stanford won 23-20 at Utah. Oregon lost 33-10 at home to No. 8 Washington State (6-0, 3-0).

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (44-47, 4-2 at Oregon); Stanford's David Shaw (68-17).

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. If Burmeister (or Alie) improves dramatically overnight the Ducks will have a strong chance of pulling off the upset. But only if UO's rushing attack is on point. 

Final pick: Stanford 37, Oregon, 27.  UO shows improvement on offense but not enough to combat Stanford's rushing attack led by Love. 

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. 

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

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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. 

 

Ducks' defense excelling with greater challenges ahead

Ducks' defense excelling with greater challenges ahead

LARAMIE, Wyo. - Whenever the down marker flips to "3" on opposing offenses, Oregon's punt return team jumps to attention and the offense becomes antsy. It's becoming a pavlovian response.

That's because 79 percent of the time this season, the Ducks' defense has stopped opposing teams from converting on third down, a dramatic shift from last season. And it all starts with attitude and desire. Oregon senior safety Tyree Robinson said he urges the defense on every third down to dig deep for that extra burst of energy that allows them to play harder so they can get off the field. 

“I think guys have really bought into that , which kind of makes us a special defense right now,” Robinson said. 

According to Oregon sophomore linebacker Troy Dye, defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt tirelessly preaches the importance of making plays on third down, or, the "money down," as he calls it. 

“We have to go out there and make that money,” Dye said. 

Right now, the No. 24 Ducks (3-0) are filthy rich. Opposing offenses have converted just 21.3 percent of the time on third downs, best in the Pac-12 Conference. Last year Oregon allowed a 48.5 percent conversion rate, 11th in the Pac-12. 

The Ducks' defense has shown dramatic improvement over last season in every category imaginable. A low third down conversion rate for opponents and eight turnovers forced have been two of the most important areas of improvement. They lead directly to the team allowing 23 points per game, down from 41.7 a year go. 

Wyoming (1-2) on Saturday managed to convert just 4 of 15 third down attempts during Oregon's 49-13 victory. Two Saturdays ago, Nebraska converted just 2 of 14 attempts during a 42-35 loss at Autzen Stadium. 

"It's great to see those guys get off the field on third down and get the ball back to our offense,” UO coach Willie Taggart said. 

He credits the success to the defense doing a great job of studying opponents and having an idea of what they like to do on third down. Also, they have done a great job of pressuring quarterbacks. Oregon already has 10 sacks after getting just 25 last season. The Ducks sacked Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen twice on Saturday while pressuring him all evening. A projected first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Allen managed just 64 yards passing against Oregon. 

“When you can get to the quarterback, and he didn’t have time to pass the ball, that’s what usually happens," Taggart said. "And if you can get to him early, he will start looking at the rush and I thought that’s what he did.”

Dye said the defense entered this season with something to prove and a chip on its collective shoulders following such a poor season in 2016 when the Ducks ranked 128th in total defense. Robinson said the experience gained last year by so many young players forced into action has paid off this season. 

“It’s awesome to have a defense that we have so much confidence in," UO quarterback Justin Herbert said.

But will it last? Oregon hasn't exactly faced quality offenses to date. Wyoming's 14.3 points per game ranks 120th in the nation. Nebraska ranks 63rd at 31.7 points per game. Oregon won 42-35 over Nebraska on Sept. 9. The Cornhuskers (1-2) lost 21-17 to Northern Illinois on Saturday. 

The Ducks begin Pac-12 Conference play this Saturday at Arizona State (1-2). There are 11 teams in the conference averaging better than 31 points per game, including the Sun Devils. Most teams have great passing offenses that will challenge the Ducks' Pac-12 leading 89.7 passing defense efficiency rating. 

ASU junior quarterback Manny Wilkins is averaging 308 passing yards per game with seven touchdown passes and zero interceptions. 

The Pac-12 is going to be a challenge, one the UO defense is looking forward to facing. 

“Oregon is not just an offensive school anymore," Dye said. "We play defense, too.”

Oregon freshmen nose guards Scott and Failou will be tested by Nebraska

Oregon freshmen nose guards Scott and Failou will be tested by Nebraska

EUGENE - We will find out what Oregon freshmen nose guards Jordan Scott and Austin Failou are all about when the Ducks (1-0) host Nebraska Saturday at Autzen Stadium. 

The pair saw their first collegiate action during Saturday's 77-21 win over Southern Utah at Autzen Stadium and by all accounts played well despite neither registering a statistic in the game. 

"They didn't stumble," UO defensive line coach Joe Salave'a said. "That's a good thing. You always learn about those things. But those guys have a different temperament about the game and it's refreshing. With that, we'll continue to push and prod those guys to continue to advance and improve."

Both will receive a new education against the Cornhuskers, who return most of their offensive line from last season when Nebraska (1-0) averaged 162 yards rushing per game. The team rushed for 225 in its opener against Arkansas State with sophomore Tre Bryant going for 192 and two touchdowns on 32 carries. 

That Scott and Failou didn't register a tackle isn't a huge concern given that the nose position usually doesn't generate gaudy statistics. The position's job is to command a double team in order to allow the inside linebackers behind the nose to make plays. Sophomore Troy Dye had 10 tackles. Junior Kaulana Apelu made five stops. 

"Without them keeping the center off of me, keeping the guards off of me, I wouldn't be able to make the tackles that I did make," Dye said. "All of those tackles should go to them. They should each have five and I should have zero."

It's a nice sentiment, but one would think that one of the two nose guards would at least accidentally end up with at least an assisted tackle against a vastly inferior opponent. The last starting nose for Oregon was Alex Balducci (the Ducks ran a 4-3 defense last year). He made 40 tackles in 2015 with 7 1/2 for loss and 3 1/2 sacks. 

Oregon coach Willie Taggart, when asked if Scott and Failou were ready to deal with a Nebraska offensive line that might shove them around, took exception to the word choice of "shoved."

"We're not necessarily going in thinking Nebraska is going to shove our guys around, or anything," he said. 

One would think not. However, there will be some shoving and some hitting and it will be done by a veteran offensive line that might not be as impressed with Scott and Failou and Oregon's coaches and players are. That said, Taggart pointed out that the pair has got in plenty of work against Oregon's offensive line. 

"They are young guys, they know how to play football," Taggart said. "Again, they've been competing against our offensive line all training camp and we've got a pretty good offensive line, as well...We feel like those guys are ready to compete and they will be read to compete against Nebraska this Saturday."

In the long run, we could see graduate transfer Scott Pagano (Clemson) become the answer at nose guard. He is working his way back from an injured foot. Pagano mostly played defensive end at Clemson but also dabbled inside. Ideally, he would be at defensive end opposite senior captain Henry Mondeaux. But if push comes to shove, and the Ducks' freshmen indeed are losing most of those shoving matches on the field, it could be time to turn to Pagano.

But, for now, the two freshmen have a chance to prove they can anchor the Ducks' 3-4 defense inside. 

"I thought they showed that they are good enough to play here," Mondeaux said. "Everyone has things to work on but they showed good motors and they ran around and made some plays. I think they did a good job at doing their job."

Oregon Football now a family after Taggart's courses in team chemistry

Oregon Football now a family after Taggart's courses in team chemistry

EUGENE - Oregon coach Willie Taggart relishes team unity. Watching players who at one time barely knew one another talking, sharing and laughing it up while eating in the team cafeteria brings a smile to his face. 

So does venturing into the weight room to see players encouraging and competing with one another while working to improve. And, noticing players who in the past would leave the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex all alone now strolling off in groups.

“To sit back and watch that I get goose bumps,” Taggart said. “This is how it’s supposed to be.”

The Ducks, who began fall camp on Monday, having seemingly erased the issue of team fracturing that impacted last year's 4-8 season. Team chemistry and bonding have returned to the 2014 levels when the Ducks last won the Pac-12 championship and advance to the national title game. 

Two years of erosion in those departments certainly contributed to the program's downfall. Taggart, when hired last December, set out to fix the fragile mess with a cocktail of team bonding endeavors he hoped would create an atmosphere that encouraged togetherness away from the field that would translate into better play on game days. Players and coaches hang out together more often, engage in the same leisurely activities and enjoy spirited yet playful ribbing. 

“It’s so important that our guys come together, and enjoy being around each other, and love each other,” Taggart said. “I think training camp is a time where we continue to build that so once we get to the fall guys go out and play for one another.”

-- Friends first -- 

Taggart's energy inspires and influences. He seeks out his players. Welcomes them into his office. He wants to be in their presence. He wants them to seek him out, not fear him. The result is that players feel more comfortable about their place on the team beyond executing the Xs and Os of football. 

“He’s always around us,” Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert said. “When we’re weightlifting at six in the morning, he’s there. He’s fired up. He’s cheering guys on. When were running outside he’s out there. All of the coaches are around. Everyone is just super excited to be around him.”

The team responds to his inviting personality. 

“He radiates energy,” redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Shane Lemieux said. “The whole coaching staff does that.”

The team, including the coaching staff, will spend the first week of fall camp living in dorms in order to further their bond. Team activities away from football are rarely ever limited to players only. 

“Coach Taggart says that everywhere we have to be, the coaches have to be as well,” sophomore linebacker Troy Dye said. "“One of the things he has preached is team chemistry and buying in to being a family."

One of Taggart's mottos is to "have a great day if you want to." He implores his players to have fun. He wants football to be enjoyable. Not feel like a job. So he attempts to structure team activities around enjoying life and one another. He sought men with similar personalities while building his coaching staff. 

“I think this staff is just so excited to be here and they have done a good job of being around us and taking care of us," Herbert said. "I’m really excited to play for them.”

Players feeling comfortable around the staff allows for greater levity and, consequently, a better opportunity for team bonding. Plus, Taggart's lust for life can be infectious. 

“He’s a really enthusiastic person,” senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby said of Taggart. “Young coach. Brings that southern vibe. That Florida vibe. Has a lot of energy.”

-- Like uncles at a barbecue -- 

The coaching staff is relatively young, especially compared to the previous staff. It's not surprising then that they relate well to the modern athlete. So much so that there plenty of teasing and joking around that flows from coaches to players and players to coaches.    

“It’s like having your uncle at a barbecue,” Dye said. “You respect them like hell but at the end of the day you can have fun, joke with them and crack jokes and have fun with them.”

Nobody is safe. Players say that Taggart and the other coaches will crack jokes about players without warning. Shoes. Clothes. Hair. Video game prowess. Not much is off limits. Many players battle back. 

“You can’t just let him get on top of you, or take advantage of you," Dye said. "You’ve got to get a couple back here or there.”

Dye said Taggart has few glaring flaws to attack. 

“You can’t really talk about his swag,” Dye said. “He has the best swag in the nation. He has a new pair of shoes on every day.”

But Taggart has some weaknesses. 

“It’s kind of hard to find things to get on him about but at times we can find something if he’s slacking with his shirt or his shorts, or something,” Dye said. “If he is ashy.”

Taggart's periodic failures to apply lotion on his dry legs aside adds to the banter. 

“It’s fun to have coaches like that that you can joke around with,” redshirt junior defensive end Jalen Jelks said.

But there is a line. 

“You can’t go too crazy," Dye said. "It is the head man. You’ve got to know your limitations.”

Nelson said the give and take creates a better coach-player bond. 

“It's built more of a connection,” Nelson said. “You don’t want a coach who just tells you what you can and can’t do. You want a coach that’s going to laugh with you, joke with you. Just build more of a friendship.”

The team soundtrack that blares in the weight room and during practices has changed, as well. 

“He’s just young and he can relate to us,” senior cornerback Arrion Springs said. “He likes rap music. We don’t have to listen to 80s rock music during practice anymore."

-- Players know where lines are drawn -- 

The player's coach approach only works when discipline has taken hold. Taggart, when hired, spelled out what he expected: Be good students. Good citizens. And, of course, good football players. Failing in two of those areas could lead to dismissal from the football team. 

Taggart sent a message to the team by letting go of senior wide receiver Darren Carrington Jr. following his DUII arrest July 1. 

“He’s going to tell you the truth,” senior wide receiver Charles Nelson said. “He’s going to tell you straight up, ‘this is what I want. This is how we’re going to do it.' And if you don’t like it then you don’t have to be on this team.”

Said Crosby: “When it’s business time, they are all business. When it’s not business time, they know how to have fun. They really allow us to enjoy our time here."

The sense of accountability, respect and trust - all missing at times last season - have created better team leaders. That has led to a greater team connection, according to Lemieux. 

Taggart said he noticed while watching game video from last season that it didn't appear like players were playing for the man next to them. That, the team hopes, will change with greater team bonding. 

“He has taught our team to be more accountable and more accountable for each other," Lemieux said. "There’s stronger leadership roles within our football team now. We’ve all taken it upon us to be a better individual to make the team stronger."

-- HDC is the place to be -- 

Vibrant coaches. Team camaraderie. Renewed energy following a 4-8 season. Each has helped make the team's facility the hot spot for the Ducks.  

Taggart encourages the players to spend as much time at the HDC as possible. Working. Bonding. 

“People love to come to the facility now,” Dye said. “You can just feel the energy.”

Said Jelks: "He just makes us feel like we’re at home."

At times in the recent past, going to the HDC felt like a job for some players. Now, the $68 million facility feels like the team hub. 

“You don’t want to feel like you’re a prisoner in the building,” sophomore wide receiver Dillon Mitchell said. “You don’t want to feel like you’re made to come to the HDC everyday. Taggart and the rest of the coaches make you want to show your face around the building to see them.”

The Ducks appear to have become a closer-knit group and the staff has helped create that. But soon it will be time to perform on the field. Team unity is easier to achieve when winning. How the Ducks react to adversity will be the real test. But for now, the Ducks believe they have at least formed a bond they hope will help them overcome any obstacles on the field. 

“If you can trust a guy off the field," Dye said, "and really get to know him as a person, as an individual, you can really trust him and know that he’s going to be there for you on the field."

Jim Leavitt Part 3: Players respond well to Leavitt, but is there enough talent?

Jim Leavitt Part 3: Players respond well to Leavitt, but is there enough talent?

This is Part 3 of a three-part series on new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt based on an extensive interview conducted for Talkin' Ducks, which first aired on Wednesday and will re-air several times in the coming week. Ducks begin fall camp on Monday. 

Part 1: Enamored with state's beauty, Ducks' program

Part 2 - With big money comes big expectations

---

EUGENE - New Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt doesn't want to hear about the talent the Ducks don't have on defense following a season that saw that side of the ball rank No. 128 in the nation. As far as he is concerned, UO has enough gifted athletes to become formidable right away. 

“There are no excuses,” Leavitt said during a television interview with CSN.  “I donʼt want to hear excuses. 'We donʼt have this and we donʼt have that.' We have plenty. We donʼt have to wait to recruit for two years and all that, weʼll take the guys we got right now and roll. Weʼll go to bat with those guys."

Leavitt has been paid $1.125 million per year to turn around the Ducks' defense after he did a dramatic job of whipping Colorado's into shape the previous two seasons. The Buffaloes went from allowing more than 30 points per game before Leavitt arrived to 27.5 with him in 2015 and then last year giving up just 21.7, third fewest in the conference.

That rapid rise influenced Oregon to make Leavitt the highest paid assistant in the Pac-12. Colorado had no chance of keeping him. 

"We weren't able to match the money that Oregon paid him," Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said last week during Pac-12 Media Days in Hollywood, Calif. "When he told me how much he was making, I said: 'Why are you even sitting here? Move on.'  I hated to lose him."

Yet, Colorado believes it will be just fine without him. MacIntyre said Colorado will run the same schemes under new defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot.  It's a scheme MacIntyre installed in 2014 when a bunch of sophomores were anchoring the defense. By the time Leavitt had things in order in 2016, the team had nine starting seniors. 

So, was Leavitt's success at Colorado about him, the scheme or the personnel?

"Well, we had very good talent," McIntyre said. "I remember when I was telling coach Leavitt about coming to Colorado, I told him about all those sophomores we had that would be juniors, and then he would be able to work with them and mold them. Then they ended up being seniors. We got better and better, so that was a big part of it. He did an excellent job, there's no doubt."

Oregon is hoping that Leavitt will make all of the difference. But he can't scheme his way to success. He is going to need the talent to get it done. Right now, the Ducks don't have much in the way of proven talent on defense. Of course, that could change overnight. 

Leavitt exited spring practices "encouraged" by what he saw on the field. Encouraged, he said, because of the ability his players displayed. The group only needs to come together in unison. 

"I always tell a group of guys that ‘we donʼt have any stars,'" Leavitt said. "'Itʼs not about that. But together we can be a star, and thatʼs the only way itʼs going to happen.ʼ If we donʼt play that way and weʼre not fundamentally sound and we donʼt play with great discipline and we donʼt line up right and do all the things that weʼre supposed to do, then weʼre not going to be very good. And thatʼs something I believe very strongly that weʼll do."

Leavitt didn’t watch much Oregon game video from last season. He said he didn’t want to evaluate players playing in the 4-3 when he was putting in a 3-4.

“Quite honestly, it didnʼt matter to me," Leavitt said. "We were going to build a completely different defense. I wanted to come in and evaluate them through spring, through winter conditioning, and I told them that. I said, ‘Iʼll evaluate you based on what you are now.’”

So, does Oregon have the talent for a quick turnaround? Sophomore linebacker Troy Dye is the only returning impact player from last season. Everyone else on the roster was marginal to mediocre.

That said, senior defensive end Henry Mondeaux played much better football in 2015 than he did last season. Transfer defensive end Scott Pagano certainly played well the past few seasons at Clemson. Senior cornerback Arrion Springs, one would think, is ready to put it all together and enters fall as the team’s top corner.

So, there are some pieces in place. And for all anyone knows, there could be many more gems ready to flourish in 2017. 

“We've got to take the guys we have right now and got to get them to do what we want them to do in our scheme and I think we got some guys that can do it,” Leavitt said.

Leavitt would like to return to being a head coach before he retires. His last stint at South Florida – where he built the program from the ground up – ended after he was accused of assaulting a player. Leavitt denied the accusations but ultimately lost his job.

He said he’s received other head coaching offers since but not in the Power Five or the NFL, where he would like to be.

But if it doesnʼt happen, then Iʼm ecstatic about being here, and hope to be here a very long time,” Leavitt said. “To do that you got to build a great defense. So I donʼt really think about it. If it happens, it happens. If it doesnʼt, it doesnʼt. Again, I canʼt control those things. All I can do is try to get our defense to practice well each day and play great in games.”