Willie Taggart

Sources: Herbert cleared to play against Arizona following X-ray

Sources: Herbert cleared to play against Arizona following X-ray

Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert, who missed five games with a broken left collarbone, has been cleared to play Saturday against Arizona, according to multiple sources. 

A source told NBC Sports Northwest on Tuesday that Herbert was taking first-team reps and would likely start, as reported that night on Talkin' Ducks. However, Oregon coach Willie Taggart that same day said during an interview that Herbert would undergo an X-ray later in the week to determine his availability. 

On Thursday, Brett McMurphy tweeted that sources had told him that Herbert would start against the Wildcats (7-3, 5-2). However, according to a source, Herbert's availability wasn't 100 percent certain until Friday when an x-ray revealed that Herbert's collarbone had indeed fully healed. But, it was pretty much a done deal that he would return this week unless he suffered a set back. In fact, Herbert, a source said, might have been able to play last Saturday had the Ducks (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) not been on an off week.  

The injury was believed to require six to eight weeks to heal. Saturday will mark seven weeks since Herbert injured his collarbone while rushing for a seven-yard touchdown in the first quarter against California. That score gave the Ducks a 17-0 lead. They went on to win 45-24. 

However, in the five weeks without Herbert the Ducks (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) went 1-4 with freshman Braxton Burmeister starting at quarterback. In his six appearances - counting the Cal game - Burmeister completed 56.8 percent of his passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns with six interceptions. Oregon defeated Utah 41-20 two games ago but found it very difficult to score in four losses, falling 33-10 to Washington State, 49-7 at Stanford, 31-14 at UCLA and 38-3 at Washington.  

Herbert's return makes it quite possible that the Ducks could win their final three games and finish the season with an 8-5 record. 

Oregon releases undaunting 2018 football schedule

Oregon releases undaunting 2018 football schedule

Oregon released its 2018 football schedule and, on paper, it has 10 wins written all over it. The Ducks will play three non-conference games with none of the opponents coming close to being on Oregon's level. 

Bowling Green is 2-9 this season, Portland State is 0-10 and San Jose State is 1-10.  On top of that, Oregon will host Pac-12 North Division rivals Stanford and Washington in 2018. The toughest road game at this time appears to be at at Arizona, which will return quarterback Khaill Tate.

Oregon (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) hosts Arizona (7-3, 5-2) on Saturday

As long as the Ducks remain healthy next season, they should win nine games without breathing hard and will have a legitimate shot at winning 10, or more. 

Oregon could return as many as seven starters on offense and seven on defense, plus a host of young backups that gained valuable experience this season. The Ducks also will likely welcome in a top 10 recruiting class. 

2018 OREGON DUCKS SCHEDULE

Sept. 1                 Bowling Green

Sept. 8                 Portland State

Sept. 15               San Jose State

Sept. 22               Stanford

Sept. 29               at Cal

Oct. 6                   OPEN

Oct. 13                 Washington

Oct. 20                 at Washington State

Oct. 27                 at Arizona

Nov. 3                  UCLA    

Nov. 10                at Utah

Nov. 17                Arizona State

Nov. 23 (Fri.)       at Oregon State

 

Arizona presents Oregon with a chance to finally 'do something'

Arizona presents Oregon with a chance to finally 'do something'

The Oregon Ducks have a chance to finally "do something" of substance this season when they host Arizona on Saturday. 

Oregon (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) not only needs a win in the worst way, but the Ducks could use a victory against a strong opponent in order to validate this uneven season in some capacity. To date, coach Willie Taggart's first year at UO has seen a hot start fueled by taking down weak opponents morph into a hot mess after sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert - expected back this week - went down with a collarbone injury.  

Oregon's best victories this season have come against Utah (5-5, 2-5), California (5-5, 2-5) and Nebraska (4-6, 3-4 BigTen). That's hardly a lot to brag about having defeated. Following the Wildcats (7-3, 5-2) on the schedule will be Oregon State (1-9, 0-7) in the Civil War then, assuming UO qualifies for the postseason, a likely inferior bowl game opponent awaits in December. 

A bowl victory would certainly be sweet for Taggart, who has yet to win a bowl game. But the signature victory of the season would still ben a win over the Wildcats, who have won five of their last six games since sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate became the starter.

The trajectories of both teams have been vastly different since Tate replaced injured starter Brandon Dawkins against Colorado on Oct. 7 and Herbert went down with his injury during a win over Cal the following week.

While Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez discovered that he could have a future Heisman Trophy candidate on his hands, Taggart discovered that his freshman backup, Braxton Burmeister, wasn't close to being ready for Pac-12 play. Consequently, not only did the Ducks go 1-4 in Herbert's absence, but aside from a 41-20 win over the Utes, the Ducks scored just 34 points in four defeats. 

Young quarterback, or not, generating just 8.5 points per game in four losses is a poor reflection on the offensive coaching staff armed with a strong offensive line and a stable of good to great running backs led by Royce Freeman. They couldn't average at least 17 points per game despite poor quarterback play? Oregon still would have still lost all four games but at least the Ducks would have shown a pulse. 

With Herbert expected back this week - Taggart said x-rays later in the week would determine his quarterback's availability - Oregon has a chance to erase the madness of the season by closing strongly with three consecutive wins, highlighted by a victory over Arizona. 

Ironically, Taggart swiped Burmeister from Arizona where he had originally committed. Taggart also flipped freshman receiver Darrian McNeal, who has two receptions for 10 yards. So far, that hasn't worked out so well for UO.

But Taggart and the Ducks can make everything right with a win on Saturday. It is likely to be a shootout. Taggart said the Ducks would have to "pray" in order to defend against Tat. Taggart isn't lying. Oregon has zero chance of "stopping" Tate. But, the Ducks' defense could be good enough prevent Tate from eclipsing the volume of offense Oregon should generate with Herbert back in the pocket. 

He will return to find a better team than the one he left. Senior receiver Charles Nelson hasn't caught a pass from Herbert since the first half of the team's win at Wyoming in game 3. When Nelson returned to action at UCLA, Herbert was already down and out. Now they will be reunited in the passing game that will only be helped by a running game that maintained a high level of production despite the lack of a passing threat to keep defenses honest. 

By any measure, this has been somewhat of a disappointing season for Oregon when one considers what might have been had Herbert remained healthy. Now the focus must be to go 3-0 the rest of the way and ride into the offseason with a win over Arizona, a bowl victory and an 8-5 record. 

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Oregon vs. Arizona

When: 4 p.m., Saturday, Autzen Stadium, Eugene.  

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: Off

Records: Ducks (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12), Arizona (7-3, 5-2).

Last week: Arizona won 49-28 vs. Oregon State. The Ducks were off.  

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (45-50, 5-5 at Oregon); Arizona's Rich Rodriguez (163-116-2, 43-32 at Arizona.

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. Rodriguez is the inventor of the zone read play that he made famous during his days at West Virginia. Now he has an even better running quarterback in Tate than Pat White, who became a dominant force for the Mountaineers 10 years ago under Rodriguez. Tate is doing things from a rushing standpoint that had never been done before in the Pac-12.  Tate is so good as a runner that he makes former Oregon quarterbacks; Marcus Mariota and Dennis Dixon look ordinary. 

Arizona leads the Pac-12 with 347.7 yards rushing per game. Of that, 161.6 has come from Tate. He is the first Pac-12 quarterback to ever rush for 1,000 yards in a season (1,293 on 11.3 yards per carry). 

Arizona doesn't throw much but when it does, Tate is more than capable of producing big plays, but he has thrown six interceptions. 

Where Arizona is weak is on defense. It ranks 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense. For that reason, it's a good bet that Oregon's more balanced offense, matched against a vastly inferior defense, will prove to be too much for Tate to overcome. 

Game prediction: Oregon 47, Arizona 40.

Don't give up on the Ducks, they might not lose again this year

Don't give up on the Ducks, they might not lose again this year

SEATTLE - By far the best reality to take away from Oregon's 38-3 loss Saturday at Washington is that the nightmare is most likely over.

Sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert will likely return the next time the Ducks take the field in two weeks against Arizona. And, Oregon (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) has come out of the five-game stretch without him still in position to not only reach a bowl game but to realistically end the season at 8-5.

All things considered, that's not bad given that UO went 4-8 last season and just lost four out of five in blowout fashion without Herbert.

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"We've taken our lumps now," UO coach Willie Taggart said following Saturday's loss at Husky Stadium. "We'll take them. But we will come back swinging. I promise you that."

Believe it. So, don't dwell on the fact that Oregon were devoured by the hated Huskies (8-1, 5-1) for a second consecutive season. That result was a forgone conclusion once it became clear that Herbert wasn't ready to return from a broken collarbone and that freshman Braxton Burmeister would make his fifth start against the best defense the Pac-12 has to offer.

When asked if Herbert would return for the Arizona game at home on Nov. 18, Taggart responded: "I hope so," he said. "It would be nice."

As much as Taggart has tried to put a positive spin on life without Herbert in order to not impact his team, the reality is that the Ducks have to have him back. Taggart expressed that on Saturday. 

"If he comes back I'm sure everyone will be excited," he said. "You guys will be excited. We'll be excited. Our fan base will be excited. We all know what it is. We need the kid back. He will be great for our football team."

The despondent Ducks who made it to the post-game press conference didn't appear to be a group that expected to lose. That's a good sign. But the reality is that they had to play a near perfect ball game in every area to compensate for the 31 yards passing they got from the quarterback. It wasn't going to happen. 

Speaking of Burmeister, for all of his faults as a clearly overwhelmed freshman quarterback, it can't be said that the kid isn't tough. He can take a hit and he keeps coming back for more. However, he doesn't possess the passing skills needed to compete at this level. At least, not yet. 

Oregon was able to defeat Utah last week because the rest of the team bought into the fact that they all were responsible for a three-game losing streak without Herbert and not just Burmeister. That created a more focused team that through accountability ironed out some issues.

"I think early everybody felt sorry for themselves," Taggart said. "I felt that once he started practicing again they felt a little better."

That wasn't evident in the team's play against Washington only because the Huskies are simply too good to defeat with a one-dimensional offense. Taggart, who said he was never close to playing Herbert in this game, gave his team credit for not quitting and still fighting despite the fact they were clearly outmatched.

But the end result of the team going through what it went through is that Herbert should return to a find a team that is fundamentally much better than it was when he went down. Also, he will hit the field for the first time since the Wyoming game with senior receiver Charles Nelson, who injured his ankle in that third game of the season. What should have been a lethal passing combination all season long has played just two full games together. 

Come Nov. 18, the Ducks will return to being an offense capable of scoring 40 points in a half. Match that with a much improved defense and the Ducks have a the makings of a squad that could run the table the rest of the way.  

So, throw away this game. Forget it ever happened. Take a week off the clear your mind while the Ducks rest their bodies. Then, come back ready to find the Ducks ready to play their best football of the season.

"We still have a lot to play for," Taggart said.

Pride. A winning season. Taggart's first bowl victory. And, the seniors who haven't won a bowl game since the 2014 Rose Bowl. 

"Were just going to fight for any way to win a game," center Jake Hanson said, "and get our seniors to a bowl game."

Doing so and winning would make all that this team has endured worth it in the end. 

Threat of Taggart leaving UO could become an annual thing

Threat of Taggart leaving UO could become an annual thing

The rumors and speculation that Florida plans to pluck coach Willie Taggart from Oregon's nest won't go away.

Not even after Taggart said Monday that he is committed to Oregon and is focused solely on preparing to face No. 12 Washington on Saturday in Seattle. Nor did the chatter die down after players revealed that Taggart told the team during dinner later that evening that those linking his name to Florida were in error. That discussion came about after Taggart's oldest son, Willie Jr., sent him a text from Sheldon High School asking if the family would be moving yet again. 

Willie Jr.'s instincts to check in were correct. Eventually, the Taggart family will leave Eugene. The question is when, not if. And it doesn't matter what Taggart says publicly. Name me a coach that ever responded to rumors that he would be leaving by coming out in the middle of a season and saying, "yep, I'm leaving. See ya."  It simply doesn't work that way. 

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If you didn't like the Taggart hire last December on the heels of firing Mark Helfrich and his entire staff then you couldn't care less if Taggart were to pack up and leave tomorrow. In fact, you might be willing to help him box up some items and load furniture onto a moving truck. Maybe he would dump some used Oregon gear on you. 

If you did like the hire and have been inspired by the staff's energy and impressed by the bountiful recruiting class that's on the way, then you should be nervous. Very nervous. Not necessarily because he might leave this year, but because the speculation about him leaving is going to become an annual thing, especially if he succeeds in returning the Ducks to national prominence.

According to Sources, Taggart is not a prime candidate to replace the fired Jim McElwain despite the rampant rumors that say otherwise. In fact, former Oregon offensive coordinator and Central Florida coach Scott Frost is said to be a far more desired replacement to coach the Gators. That's good news for Oregon because I will go on record right now and state that if Florida, Florida State or Miami came after Taggart he would be gone. It would be very difficult for him to say no. His mother, Gloria, still resides in his hometown of Palmetto, Fla.  One has to imagine that Taggart would prefer to live and work closer to his mother, especially after his father, John Taggart, sadly passed away last summer. 

So if you like Taggart, pray that Florida gets its first choice and doesn't come after Taggart just as Oregon did during its search, which, coincidentally included McElwain at the top of the list of desired replacements for Helfrich. 

Taggart leaving right now would be devastating for the Oregon program. Remember, Taggart was Oregon's fifth or sixth choice depending on which reports from the time of the search you choose believe. The Ducks lured him away from South Florida after others had already rebuffed Oregon's interest. Personally, I think UO lucked out by landing and up-and-coming coaching star who is an elite recruiter from an area rich with talent. 

Taggart would most certainly raid UO's recruiting class, currently ranked No. 5 on Rivals.com and No. 6 on 247Sports. The class includes four players from Florida, two from Texas, one from Georgia and one from North Carolina. Those guys would likely follow Taggart to Florida, which is closer to home for all eight. And given that Taggart has been able to get players from the south to commit to Eugene he certainly would be able to convince players from Arizona and California to head to Florida. 

That would leave Oregon scrambling to find a suitable replacement that could possibly save as much of the recruiting class as possible. A positive for UO in this scenario is that Florida's class is ranked No. 7 on 247Sports, so maybe Taggart wouldn't want many of UO's current commits. 

One of the potential pitfalls of firing Helfrich is ending up in a situation where a new coach views Oregon as a stepping-stone to a better job. Chances were that Helfrich, born and raised on Coos Bay, would have never left Oregon. Taggart, on the other hand, likely won't finish out his five-year, $17 million contract if he is able to get the Ducks back into national contention. 

It would be the third program he would have reinvented, following his stints at Western Kentucky and South Florida. Certainly, higher-profile programs in far better recruiting areas would pursue Taggart if he brings the Ducks back to prominence. 

Would Oregon circle back to McElwain? That certainly wouldn't fire up the Oregon fan base. 

The best game plan for Oregon should Taggart bolt would be to keep a high-end assistant in the fold to hopefully maintain some level of continuity. The Ducks would be wise to elevate defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt or co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal to head coach. 

Leavitt, who coached South Florida before Taggart did, is rumored to be waiting to take over Kansas State once Billy Snyder retires. Cristobal, once the head coach at Florida International, would likely take the Oregon job tomorrow. 

On one hand, Oregon is in a good situation with a seemingly hot commodity at head coach. On the other hand, that's not always good if that coach has other plans elsewhere in the back of his mind. Those plans would certainly involve a major program from his home state. 

Get used to it Oregon fans. Taggart's status with UO could become an annual concern.

Taggart continues playing coy about Herbert's return

usatsi_103021501.jpg
USA Today

Taggart continues playing coy about Herbert's return

Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert is closer to returning. At least, that's what the Ducks' depth chart indicates. 

UO's quarterback chart reads: "Braxton Burmeister or Justin Herbert."  This is the first time that Herbert has appeared on the depth chart since breaking his collarbone on Sept. 30 during a win over California.  Saturday's win over Utah saw the first time Herbert has suited up for a game since getting injured. 

Taggart said after the 41-20 win over the Utes at Autzen Stadium that team doctors didn't tell him that Herbert could not play. However, that doesn't mean they told Taggart that Herbert could play.

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That said, Taggart did indicate that Herbert might have played if the team "needed" him. But one can't be sure if Taggart was serious or is simply playing mind games with opponents, namely No. 12 Washington.

The Ducks (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) play at the Huskies (7-1, 4-1) at 7 p.m. on Saturday. It would be wise to make Washington at least believe that Herbert could return if he is not going to play. If Herbert were going to play, then it would make more sense to not list him on the depth chart.

The difference between the play of Herbert and that of freshman Braxton Burmeister is so vast that the Huskies must prepare for Herbert's potential return. But it doesn't appear to create much of a competitive advantage to have Washington focus on Herbert if he isn't going to play. Does anyone truly believe that the Huskies are too concerned about Burmeister beating them? 

The bottom line is that Herbert will only return when he is completely healed. 

"We're going to put Justin out there when we fell like he's ready to go," Taggart said on Monday. "We're not going to do anything to jeopardize him. If he's ready this week, we will play him. If not, then we won't."

According to a source, Burmeister took first-team reps on Tuesday but Herbert did participate in team sessions. That indicates that Herbert is not ready to return this week. Oregon has a bye next week before hosing red-hot No. 22 Arizona on Nov. 11. 

Taggart said that his team's play against the Utes following three blowout should have boosted his team's confidence. 

"It showed that we could win against a good football team even without our best quarterback," Taggart said. 

Probably, but likely not against a team the caliber of Washington. 

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Oregon vs. Washington

When: 7 p.m., Saturday, Husky Stadium, Seattle, Wash.  

T.V.: FS1. 

Betting line: Washington minus 21.

Records: Ducks (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12), Washington (7-1, 4-1).

Last week: Washington won 44-23 over UCLA (4-4, 2-3). Oregon defeated Utah.  

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (45-49, 5-4 at Oregon); Washington's Chris Petersen (126-27, 20-12 at Washington).

Fear factor (five-point scale): 10. Washington is allowing 12.1 points per game while scoring 38.6. Somehow the Huskies lost 13-7 at Arizona State a couple of weeks ago, which means they can be vulnerable at times. But likely not at home against a Burmeister-led Oregon team. 

If Herbert starts, then the Ducks would have a puncher's chance to win. But even then, it's clear that Oregon is not on Washington's level. 

Preliminary pick: Washington 47-13 (with Burmeister). Washington 47-27 (with Herbert).

SOURCES: Taggart not headed to Florida but Frost very well could be

SOURCES: Taggart not headed to Florida but Frost very well could be

UPDATED: Taggart commented on the rumors during his noon press conference.

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Oregon coach Willie Taggart is not going to become the new coach at Florida, according to multiple sources.

So we can squash any speculation on that front right away.  But No. 15 Central Florida coach Scott Frost, a former UO assistant, very well could become the Gator's new coach, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. 

During his noon press conference, Taggart said that he hasn't been contacted by Florida.

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"I have not been contacted by anyone," he said. "The only AD I've been contacted by is Rob Mullens, and I love that guy. I'm committed to the University of Oregon and focused on Washington, a big time game for us this week."

Florida fired Jim McElwain over the weekend leading to the usual widespread rumors about who will replace him and Taggart's name has surfaced. It's only logical that his name is being thrown around given that he is from Palmetto, Fla., and he rebuilt South Florida before becoming Oregon's head coach last December. 

However, according to sources, Taggart has no plans to leave Oregon and has not been offered the Florida
job. But, Frost is certainly a top target of the Gators.

Frost was Oregon's offensive coordinator at Oregon from 2013 through 2015 and helped coach quarterback Marcus Mariota during his Heisman Trophy season (2014). He took over Central Florida in the winter of 2015 after the Knights went 0-12. Frost got UCF to 6-7 last year and now has it at 7-0 and 4-0 in the American Athletic Conference.

It would be a big leap for Frost to go from UCF to Florida after just two seasons as a head coach in a non-Power Five conference. One would think that on paper, Taggart would be the much more desired candidate given that he also rebuilt Western Kentucky before moving on to USF.  

Then again, the college football coaching world very rarely makes sense. Remember that McElwain was a top target of Oregon's before he declined the Ducks' offer leading to UO ultimately hiring Taggart. Frost Frost was never a candidate for the UO job.

Now, McElwain is out at Florida and Frost could be the guy to replace him.

Taggart has a 45-49 lifetime record that is somewhat deciding. WKU had lost 21-straight games before he took over the program in 2010. He went 2-10 that first season before going 7-5 in each of the next two seasons before going to USF in 2013. Western Kentucky has continued to flourish since he departed.

At USF, Taggart inherited a 3-9 team and went 2-10 then 4-8. Along the way he switched to the spread offense and it finally took in year three when the Bulls went 8-5. Last year USF went 10-2 leading to Taggart being offered the Oregon job. 

Oregon, 4-8 last season, will be Taggart's third rebuilding project. It got off to a strong start before quarterback Justin Herbert went down with a collarbone injury against California on Sept. 30. The Ducks were 4-1 after that night but lost three straight without Herbert before ending the losing streak with a 41-20 win over Utah on Saturday. 

Oregon (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) plays at No. 12 Washington (7-1, 4-1) on Saturday. 

Ducks must grow up in a hurry to avoid disaster

Ducks must grow up in a hurry to avoid disaster

Pick a disaster movie, any disaster movie.

Now picture the Oregon football team as a band of humans scrambling to figure out how to prevent the earth from coming to an end an extinction level event. Maybe it's a massive meteor hurtling toward earth. Maybe the mother of all earthquakes is about to strike. The specific disaster doesn't really matter. All that matters is that if the Ducks don’t do something drastic in a hurry, all will be lost. 

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Now downsize that hypothetical and fit it into the real world of the Ducks' football program. Oregon (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12) is three losses away from not reaching a bowl game for the second consecutive season and have three very losable games hurtling their way against Utah, Washington and Arizona. Failing to reach the postseason for the second consecutive season would be a disaster for Oregon.

Missing a bowl game means that a young roster doensn't get a few extra weeks of work and that the team can't end the season on a high note against a formidable non-conference opponent, something that could help propel the team into a strong offseason. 

To help avoid this diappointment, the Ducks must grow up in a hurry and find a way to defeat Utah (4-2, 1-3) on Saturday rather than once again forcing coach Willie Taggart to take the podium following a loss to lament all of the frustrating mistakes his young team made to lose the game. That’s become old and predictable.

The Ducks have played horrible football as of late, losing their last three games by a combined score of
113-31. Yes, Oregon has been without its star quarterback, Justin Herbert (collarbone), and freshman Braxton Burmeister is struggling with the entire concept of the forward pass. But that doesn't fully explain the lopsided defeats the team has suffered at the hands of three good, but hardly great, teams in Washington State (33-10 loss), Stanford (49-7) and UCLA (31-14).

The entire Oregon team, Taggart said, is making its share of mistakes, as well. It’s just that those made by the quarterback are always the most magnified. 

To drive this point home to his team, Taggart had the Ducks watch its latest debacle - that loss at the
mediocre Bruins - as a full unit on Sunday rather than practice. Every player sat in the theater room and watched every play of what was a winnable game that went south in the second half. 

“They saw a lot of people making mistakes," Taggart said of the film session. “Even guys that were getting credit for having good games were making critical mistakes."

The goal:  “So everyone could see everybody’s mistakes and not just hear about the mistakes Braxton is making...When you hear so much that we can’t win because Justin is not here I want our guys to see that that’s not the case. We're not winning because everybody else is not doing their job."

Maybe so, but going from nearly 300 yards passing per game with Herbert to 80 places an enormous
amount of pressure on the entire team to compensate for the lack of production from the quarterback
position.”

Taggart has emphasized over and over that he just needs Burmeister to not hurt the team with turnovers. However, when running an up-tempo, no-huddle offense one had better get major production from the quarterback, otherwise the entire team will suffer. 

That all said, if the rest of the team plays better that might also help Burmeister elevate his game. He can't carry the team. The team must carry him. 

A major positive is that Taggart said he hasn't seen evidence of the team faltering psychologically, but
instead they are fighting through the storm.

“Our guys have been able to bounce back and keep a good attitude," he said. "That's been gratifying for
myself. They are looking to find a way to get back into the win column."

Taggart said that the Ducks try to battle through four points of emphasis: 1) public perception, 2), fatigue, 3) division from within and 4) us versus them.

"We just have to fight these things little harder when faced with adversity," he said.

If they don’t start winning some of those fights on Saturday, the Ducks could be home for the holidays and that wouldn't be good for anyone within the program.

Oregon faces virtual must-win against struggling Utah

Oregon faces virtual must-win against struggling Utah

Oregon reaching a bowl game appeared to be a virtual given not too long ago. Three blowout losses later and the Ducks find their postseason hopes leaning against the ropes with reality rearing back to deliver a knockout blow.

The Ducks will host Utah on Saturday in what should be considered all but a must-win for Oregon, which faces a tough schedule down the stretch.

UO coach Willie Taggart, when asked following his team's 31-14 loss at UCLA on Saturday how important it would be for these young Ducks (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12) to gain the experience that comes with playing in a bowl game, said he couldn't even consider such things at the moment. 

“We’re not thinking about bowl right now,” Taggart said. “We need to get another win...If we get another win then we’ll start thinking about those other things. But it’s really, really important now that we find a way to win a ball game.

Failing to reach a bowl game this season should be viewed as a colossal disaster. Despite Oregon going 4-8 last year, plenty of reasons existed to expect the Ducks to win at least six games in 2017. Starting out 4-1 then failing to capture two additional victories over seven remaining contests would certainly be a bad look for Taggart and the program, even when factoring in the loss of sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert (collarbone), who has missed the team's last three games. His return date is unknown. 

Surely Oregon should have been expected to scratch out two more wins with anyone at quarterback. 

Oregon's margin for error to reach 6-6 and become bowl eligible is virtually zero with Utah visiting Autzen on Saturday. As it stands right now, Oregon has one seemingly very winnable game remaining and that's the Civil War on Nov. 25 at home to close the regular season against Oregon State (1-6, 0-4). 

The Ducks also have one seemingly guaranteed loss, with or without Herbert, and that's Nov. 4 at 12 Washington (6-1, 3-1).

If those two games turn out as most of the world would expect them to, the Ducks would need to get a win against either the Utes or surging Arizona on Nov. 11 to reach six victories.

Herbert should return no later than Nov. 11. His injury was said to keep him out 4-to-6 weeks. This Saturday would be the fourth week since the injury occurred Sept. 30 against California. The Arizona game happens seven weeks out. But defeating the Wildcats would be anything but a given even with Herbert and that game looks now like a sure loss if he were not to play.

Arizona sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate has been lighting up the Pac-12 since becoming the Wildcats' starter on Oct. 7.  Tate has amassed 694 yards rushing in three starts and 468 passing with 11 total touchdowns. Arizona has won all three of his starts while averaging 46.3 points per game. 

He has had the opposite impact on his team that Oregon freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister has had on his since replacing Herbert. The Ducks have scored 31 points in three games with Burmeister at quarterback. Simply math would indicate that UO would have a tough time defeating Arizona and Tate without Herbert. 

Even with Herbert, expecting him to out-duel Tate after sitting out seven weeks would be foolish. Herbert could help UO put up numbers but Arizona should be expected to also score a lot of points making the outcome very much in doubt. 

Consequently, it's imperative that the Ducks win over Utah in order to ease the pressure of having to take down Tate and Arizona. 

Believe it or not, the Ducks have a chance to do so even if Burmeister makes his fourth start. Utah is reeling at the moment having lost three consecutive games. The Utes' offense is a mess, which is exactly what the Ducks need to see. If Utah can be held to under 27 points it is possible that Burmeister makes enough progress to lift the Ducks to a close win. 

What Oregon truly needs is for Herbert to make a miraculous recovery and play on Saturday. Either way, the Ducks had better approach this game with a do-or-die mentality.

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Oregon vs. Utah

When: 2:45 p.m., Saturday, Autzen Stadium. 

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: Utah minus 3 1/2.

Records: Ducks (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12), Utah (4-3, 1-3).

Last week: Arizona won 45-44 in overtime at California (4-4, 1-4). Oregon lost 31-14 at UCLA (4-3, 2-3). 

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (44-49, 4-4 at Oregon); Utah's Kyle Whittingham (108-53).

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. Utah has lost three consecutive games to Stanford, at USC and home against ASU. The offense has fallen on hard times while the defense went from allowing 19 points per game through the first four contests to giving up a still solid 27.0.

Oregon, these days, can accommodate such numbers with an offense that has scored 31 points over the last three games. One could very easily see Utah winning this game 24-17. 

Preliminary pick (waiting on Herbert news): Oregon 27, Utah 20. Oregon will be home against a mediocre opponent that is struggling on offense. That, and a couple more plays from Burmeister than usual, will be enough to help the Ducks get that all important fifth victory. Then Taggart can start talking about how important it would be for his team to appear in a bowl game. 

Oregon freshman QB Braxton Burmeister deserves an apology

Oregon freshman QB Braxton Burmeister deserves an apology

PASADENA, Calif. - If Oregon coach Willie Taggart allowed freshmen to speak to the media, I would consider it warranted to offer freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister an apology. 

Not necessarily for the mostly critical remarks myself and other members of the media have hurled toward his play. That's simply part of the job and unavoidable. It also isn't personal. He has not played well during three consecutive losses for Oregon (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12), outscored 113-31 during that stretch, including a 31-14 loss Saturday at UCLA. 

Where an apology is warranted is in relation to Burmeister having been unfairly placed squarely in the crosshairs of the media and fans thanks to circumstances beyond his control resulting in mounds and mounds of criticism.  A 4-1 start for Oregon raised expectations. Sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert going down with a broken collarbone placed those expectations on the Burmeister's shoulders. Suddenly, all eyes were fixated on him, waiting to see if he could perform feats he clearly isn't ready to tackle. That is an incredibly unfair situation. 

Burmeister looked somewhat improved against the Bruins (4-3, 2-3), passing for 74 yards and rushing for two scores. All that stat line really tells anyone is that the bar was set really low following his 23-yard passing performance with two interceptions the previous week during a 49-7 loss at Stanford. 

One would expect better from a former four-star recruit rated by Rivals.com as the No. 7-rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation. But that's part of the problem. Recruiting rankings and hype fuel expectations for instant success, even at a position where patience and proper grooming usually lead to better results. 

Burmeister, who amassed more than 14,000 yards of offense at La Jolla Counry Day High School (Calif.), simply isn't prepared for this level of competition. He should be on the sideline watching, listening and learning while wearing an Oregon baseball cap and headphones. His job should be charting the action on a clipboard or waving his arms around signaling in plays. Instead, he's getting pounded on the field and ripped away from it because too many observers expected him to live up to the hype. But hype is no match for reality and expectations rarely trump logic.

Burmeister's reality thus far = 52.9 completion percentage, 82 passing yards per game, one touchdown pass and five interceptions.

That statistical line screams, "I'm not ready for this."

The fact is that Burmeister is the fourth best quarterback Oregon has had on its roster this year. However, redshirt sophomore Travis Jonsen and redshirt freshman Terry Wilson Jr. transferred to junior colleges because they couldn't beat out sophomore starter Justin Herbert. He broke his collarbone while scoring on a touchdown run against California leading to senior backup Taylor Alie taking the field. He then suffered a concussion forcing UO coach Willie Taggart to burn Burmeister's redshirt in order to finish the Cal game.  That led to Burmeister, far more talented than Alie, becoming the starter way ahead of his time.

In a perfect world where backup quarterbacks were content being backups until their time, Burmeister would be redshirting, safe from complicated game plans, snarling defenses, journalists cozy in the press box and the ire of a fan base spoiled by the play of former UO greats; Joey Harrington, Kellen Clemens, Dennis Dixon, Darron Thomas, Marcus Mariota and Vernon Adams Jr.  

But remember that none of the aforementioned former quarterbacks were asked to start as a freshman. Only Mariota, who redshirted behind Thomas in 2012, would have certainly been better as a true freshman than Burmeister is now.

They were all fortunate to be able to sit and learn. 

Then there's Herbert, another quarterback savant whose rare gifts are further illustrated by Burmeister's struggles. 

As badly as things have gone for Burmeister, there are signs of hope that he could develop into a quality quarterback down the road. He is one tough dude. In three games, Burmeister has been smacked around pretty good while being credited for 40 carries (including sacks). He also can run well. He isn't on the level of Mariota and Dixon, but he could certainly rush for 500 yards in a season providing his passing could keep defenses honest, which it isn't right now.

However, Taggart would like for him to be wise in the face of his competitiveness after taking off. 

“He’s got to be smart and throw the ball away and get down when he should...” Taggart said. "We need for him to learn that ASAP and not take a lot of those hits because some of them are unnecessary.”

As for passing, Burmeister has a live arm and displayed some budding accuracy at UCLA. It's a lot easier to be accurate when you can read defenses quickly, anticipate the throw and deliver the ball with confidence. That's tough to do for any freshman. 

On his thrown interception in the third quarter, Burmeister forced the ball deep down the right sideline after the intended receiver had run the wrong route, according to Taggart. Burmeister also tried to execute a pass play when the call was a run, resulting in him getting blasted by an unblocked pass rusher.

"Those are some of the freshman mistakes that you make and that we need for him not to make," Taggart said. 

Unfortunately, Burmeister clearly isn't ready to avoid making such mistakes. Nor is he ready to take on the Pac-12 as a true freshman. Yet, here he is, saddled with this enormous burden and facing unfair criticism. 

For that reason alone, Burmeister deserves an apology.