Oregon Ducks

Oregon's defense faltering in Pac-12 play

Oregon's defense faltering in Pac-12 play

EUGENE - Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt was all smiles when he met with the media on Wednesday outside of the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. He was also very anxious to get out to the practice field. About 90 seconds into the interview session, Leavitt moved one foot toward exiting while asking, "Anything else?"

Well, yeah. Can't get away that easily when we get you once a week and the defense is getting lit up as of late. The Ducks (4-3, 1-2 Pac-12) have given up 143 points (35.6 per game) in four Pac-12 games after allowing just 69 in three non-conference games. So, who could blame Leavitt for wanting to get the practice. Like the Ducks' offense - 17 points in the last two games - the defense has plenty of work to do.

But unlike the offense, which is operating without quarterback Justin Herbert, the Ducks' defense doesn't have an obvious excuse to lean on. The main 11 starters have remained mostly the same with a few depth chart changes and a couple of players missing games here and there. Only inside linebacker Kaulana Apelu has been lost for the season. 

What's happened to the defense is simple. It went from playing very average offenses to facing quarterbacks that can put points on the board. UO has allowed 12 touchdown passes in four Pac-12 games and now faces the challenge of contending with UCLA's Josh Rosen, who has thrown for 17 scoring passes this year. UCLA hosts Oregon at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Rose Bowl. 

It's bad enough giving up touchdown passes. But Oregon isn't even intercepting any to balance things out a bit. After intercepting six passes in non-conference play, the Ducks have picked off just one pass in conference. 

"We do it all of the time in practice, we've just got to translate it into the games," Robinson said.

Getting interceptions against scout team quarterbacks is not the same as facing Pac-12 starters. The quarterback foursome of Arizona State's Manny Wilkins, California's Ross Bowers, Washington State's Luke Falk and Stanford's Keller Christ have given the Ducks problems. Even Bowers, sacked seven times, managed to throw for three touchdowns with no interceptions. The one interception for UO in conference came at Stanford on a dropped and tipped slant pass in the end zone that landed in the arms of freshman cornerback Deommodore Lenoir.

Maybe the most concerning problem is that those same quarterbacks have had poor games against other teams. Falk threw five interceptions in last week's 37-3 loss at Cal. Bowers threw four in a loss to USC. Wilkins threw two at Stanford. Chryst had two picked off at San Diego State. So, they've given up the ball. Just not to Oregon. 

Back to Rosen. He threw for three interceptions and zero touchdowns in a 47-30 loss last week at Arizona. He now has eight on the season, tied for the second most among conference starting quarterbacks.

He is a bit of a gunslinger that likes to take chances. So, if Oregon is going to pull off the upset, the Ducks must find a way to pluck a few of his passes out of the air. 

"We're always focused on turnovers whether that's stripping the ball out, punching it our, quarterback throwing it and get it," UO safeties coach Keith Heyward said. "We just haven't made plays."

Leavitt pointed out that the Ducks have had chances at intercepting a few more during conference play, but failed to catch the ball. 

"Those are missed opportunities," he said. 

With the offense struggling so badly, the defense can't afford to not force turnovers. The mediocre play of backup quarterback Braxton Burmeister, a true freshman, has resulted in too many short drives that result in no points. Oregon's defense was on the field for 37 minutes during its 49-7 loss at Stanford. That's too much pressure to put on a young and rebuilding defense. 

"Obvious we feel like we have to stop the opponent no matter whether the offense is playing like it was before or playing like we are now," Heyward said. "We just have to take care of our own side of the ball and get stops."

Part of the problem is some of the youth of the secondary. The Ducks are have started safety Nick Pickett and cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. Lenoir has seen his playing time increase. They represent the future of the Ducks' secondary. Sometimes growing pains can be tough. 

"They're trying," Leavitt said. "They're doing the best they can. They are going to be great players. I'm really excited about them."

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Oregon at UCLA

When: 1 p.m., Saturday, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif. 

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: UCLA minus 6 1/2.

Records: Ducks (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12), Bruins (3-3, 1-2).

Last week: UCLA lost 47-30 to Arizona (4-2, 2-1). Oregon lost 49-7 at No. 22 Stanford (5-2, 4-1).

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (44-48, 4-3 at Oregon); UCLA's Jim Mora (44-27).

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. Oregon should run wild but unless the Ducks get some big plays from Burmeister they won't have much of a chance of keeping pace with Rosen and his fleet of receivers.

Redshirt sophomore tight end Caleb Wilson leads the Pac-12 with 7.6 receptions per game over five games. He has caught 38 passes for 489 yards and one touchdown. Redshirt senior wide receiver Darren Andrews is second at 7.3 receptions per game. He has made 44 receptions for 591 yards and seven touchdowns. Redshirt junior Jordan Lasley leads the conference in receiving yards per game (108.4) over five games while catching 54 passes for 543 yards and three touchdowns. 

Final pick: UCLA 44, Oregon 30.  Burmeister will improve enough to help the offense break 20 for the first time in three weeks but it won't be nearly enough. 

Oregon vs. Georgia football in the works for 2022

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Oregon vs. Georgia football in the works for 2022

There is something brewing in the Oregon football future. A potential SEC vs. PAC12 clash of two powerhouse programs. Reported this morning by 247 Sports' Jake Rowe, there is talk of the Oregon Ducks and Georgia Bulldogs facing off in a preseason game in 2022. The game is rumored to take place at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.

Article can be read here.

In the light of heavy conversation about preseason schedules, non-conference opponents, and strength of schedules, the Ducks are facing a potential "cakewalk" this season opening up with Bowling Green, Portland State, and San Jose State before starting Pac-12 conference play. 

Already in the last few weeks, Oregon has scheduled a three-year series against Boise State starting in 2024, and a home-and-home with Michigan State in 2029, 2030.

 

Taggart can shed "overrated" label by finishing the job

Taggart can shed "overrated" label by finishing the job

Former Oregon coach Willie Taggart's rapid rise through the coaching ranks that landed him at Florida State without ever having won a championship or even a bowl game appears to be the impetus behind him being voted the most "overrated" coach by some of his peers in a recent poll conducted by CBSSports.com

CBS Sports interviewed coaches anonymously for its poll and 20 percent named Taggart and Penn State coach James Franklin as the most overrated in their profession. The selection of Franklin is interesting considering that he returned the Nittany Lions to national prominence with back-to-back 11-win seasons following the program's fall following the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal that rocked Penn State only a few years ago. 

The selection of Taggart, however, appears to be a bit harsh but not completely without merit. 

Taggart has one of the most coveted and respected jobs in the country and got that position without having ever won a conference title, let alone contending for a national championship. Plus, his overall record of 47-50 compiled at Western Kentucky (16-20), South Florida (24-25) and Oregon (7-5) certainly doesn't appear to befit the coach of a such a prominent program. 

The fact of the matter is that Taggart has yet to prove that he is a championship-caliber coach. All we know is that he is one hell of a recruiter and if you have a struggling program in need of a jolt of personality, energy, swag and offensive firepower, Taggart is most certainly your guy. 

But can he secure some hardware for the trophy case? That remains to be seen.

In many ways, Taggart's overall record isn't exactly reflective of his coaching abilities. Is it fair to judge a coach's record when he takes on reclamation projects?

The combined records of WKU, USF and UO during the year prior to Taggart's arrival to the respective programs was 7-29. Western Kentucky went 0-12 before Taggart returned the Hilltoppers back to respectability with 7-5 records in years two and three of his rebuild. South Florida went 3-9 before Taggart's arrival. He got them to 8-5 in year three and 10-2 in his fourth season before departing for Oregon, which was coming off of a 4-8 season. Taggart went 7-5 with the Ducks before jetting off to FSU.

Taggart's combined record in the final season of his respective three prior jobs is 24-12. 

Taggart has changed jobs so rapidly during his rebuilds that he has yet to taste winning a bowl game. He got the Hilltoppers to a bowl game in his third season, but he left for South Florida before Western Kentucky lost 24-21 to Central Michigan in the Little Caesar's Bowl. 

Taggart went to a bowl game following his third season at South Florida (8-5) only to lose 45-35 to - wait for it - Western Kentucky in the Miami Beach Bowl (whatever that is). The Bulls went 10-2 the following year before Taggart left for Oregon prior to the team's 46-39 win over Cincinnati in the Birmingham Bowl. 

Of course, everyone around here remembers that Taggart left Oregon 10 days before it lost 38-28 to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. 

What is evident is that whenever Taggart gets a program going in the right direction, another looks to swipe him away in order to fix their mess. That naturally leads to rebuilds that ultimately can skew a coach's won-loss record. 

If you erase Taggart's first seasons at WKU and USF where he put out dumpster fires while going a combined 4-20, Taggart is 43-30. That type of record at FSU, however, would certainly get Taggart fired.  

Now settled into his "dream job," Taggart has nowhere else to go. Bigger or better jobs do not exist on Taggart's radar. He would only leave FSU for either the NFL or if he were fired. The former won't happen unless he wins. 

Taggart has no excuse not to rack up Ws. FSU's roster is loaded, which is why the Seminoles are ranked No. 19 in the preseason AP Poll. Taggart's first recruiting class at FSU - largely neglected by the out-going Jimbo Fisher - finished ranked No. 11 on 247Sports.com. The four years prior under Fisher, FSU's classes ranked No. 6 (2017), No. 3 (2016), No. 3 (2015) and No. 4 (2014).

Unless there were a ton of wild misses in talent evaluation over the past five years, the Seminoles should be stacked with enough talent to contend in the Atlantic Coast Conference for years to come. 

It's during that time when Taggart will either shed the "overrated" tag, or prove the label to be correct.

Taggart tagged as most overrated coach in CFB

Taggart tagged as most overrated coach in CFB

College football coaches plus anonymity equals eye-catching quotes and hot takes.

A coaching panel was asked to name the most overrated coach in college football and former Oregon coach Willie Taggart topped the list.

According to a poll in which CBS Sports spoke with one-fifth of the 129 active coaches leading FBS teams entering the season, Taggart and Penn State’s James Franklin each received 20 percent of the vote.

Taggart enters his first season at Florida State, replacing Jimbo Fisher, after one year at Oregon. He is 47-50 overall as a head coach with stops at Western Kentucky and South Florida. He repeatedly called FSU his “dream job”.

A “dream job” that some FBS coaches don’t believe he had earned.

“He was only at Oregon for one year, and it’s not like he really transformed that program — and that’s a place that’s won for a long time,” one coach said of Taggart. “Not that he isn’t good — he’s won. But usually when you get a job like Florida State, it’s because you’ve won some championships or done something really amazing.”

Another coach said he voted for Taggart because “he still has a career losing record.”

Taggart is universally respected as a recruiter, but because of his losing career record and relatively short resume (plus probably some jealousy) his peers seem to question the new Seminoles head coach’s validity.

Or maybe it's his showmanship and confidence that turns off his peers. Taggart brought the "swag surf" to the Oregon student section, the "juice" to the football team and smeared the "Do Something" slogan all over Autzen stadium.

[READ: Oregon linebacker Troy Dye calls out Willie Taggart on Twitter]

It should be noted that Taggart took over three losing programs that went a combined 7-29 before his arrival and got them all to bowl games before departing for better job.  

Taggart wasn’t the only coach who was criticized. Nick Saban was labeled a “cheater” by one head coach.

"If you had the No. 1 recruiting class in the country every year [you'd win like Nick Saban]," one coach said. "He shows up at every single game with a better roster than the teams he's playing. … If you count cheating and getting the best players in the country as part of running a program, he's the best in the country. It's like saying an NFL coach is the best coach in the league if he gets 25 first-round picks every year."

Noteably, three of five of the most underrated coaches hail from the Pac-12 conference. Twelve percent of coaches panel voted for Stanford’s David Shaw and Washington’s Chris Peterson as the most underrated head coaches in the nation.  Utah’s Kyle Whittingham wasn’t far behind, grabbing eight percent of the votes.

Oregon ranked No. 24 in the preseason AP Poll

Oregon ranked No. 24 in the preseason AP Poll

For the first time since week four of 2017, Oregon has landed on the Associated Press Poll. The Ducks start the Mario Cristobal era ranked as No. 24 in the preseason AP Poll.

Pac-12 teams that made the cut in the AP Poll Top 25 include No. 6 Washington, No. 13 Stanford and No. 15 USC. 

Alabama is just the second team to be ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll for three straight seasons. Alabama received 42 out of 61 first-place votes.

More on the Ducks:

Which Duck linebackers will wreak havoc? The locks, contenders and longshots

Oregon releases new uniforms; internet blows up

How the new redshirt rule helps Oregon

Who will Herbert sling the ball to? The Locks, Contenders and Longshots at receiver

31 Greatest NCAAF Players in PNW history: No.12 - LaMichael James

31 Greatest NCAAF Players in PNW history: No.12 - LaMichael James

You can’t think of the modern success of the Oregon Ducks without thinking about LaMichael James. Oregon is a school with a very long history of great running backs, and James was arguably the best.

James was a two-time All-American, two-time first team all-Pac-10/Pac-12 selection, and won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best running back in 2010.

In that 2010 season, James would lead Oregon to its first appearance in the National Title Game, rushing for 1,731 yards and 21 touchdowns on the year.

When he left Eugene, James held numerous Oregon records including:

Career rushing yards (5,082), single-season rushing yards (1,805), single-game rushing yards (288), career rushing touchdowns (53), and single-season rushing touchdowns (21).

Former Ducks RB Royce Freeman scores again for Denver

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USA Today

Former Ducks RB Royce Freeman scores again for Denver

Denver rookie running back Royce Freeman scored his second touchdown of the preseason Saturday night during the Broncos' game against Chicago. 

Freeman's touchdown came from four yards out in the second quarter. The former Oregon star and third-round pick finished the night with six carries for 20 yards and caught one pass for six yards. He is in competition for the starting job with Devontae Booker, who had 17 yards on four carries and caught one pass for 10 yards. 

Chicago won 24-23. 

Freeman scored on a 23-yard run last week against Minnesota when he rushed for 38 yards on four carries. 

Which Duck linebackers will wreak havoc? The locks, contenders and longshots

Which Duck linebackers will wreak havoc? The locks, contenders and longshots

The Ducks know they have two stars at linebacker in junior Troy Dye and senior Justin Hollins. With the emergence of La’Mar Winston Jr., this position unit could be the strongest on the team.

LOCKS

Troy Dye, junior, inside linebacker: Oregon's defensive MVP for the 2017 season has generated major NFL draft buzz and has landed on three major watch lists; the Bednarik Award (nation’s top defensive player), the Butkus award (nation’s best linebacker) and the Nagurski award (nation’s best defensive player).

In his two seasons, the preseason All-American has 198 tackles with 118 solo tackles, 80 assisted tackles and 9.5 sacks.

Justin Hollins, senior, outside linebacker: The Butkus award nominee is heading into his fifth year at Oregon as the only Duck to have played on the unit that helped get Oregon into the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game in 2014.

Last season he forced three fumbles and finished third on the team in tackles for loss (11.5) behind defensive end Jalen Jelks (15) and linebacker Troy Dye (13.5).

La’Mar Winston Jr., junior, outside linebacker: The Len Casanova Award for leadership winner (voted on by his teammates) played in all 13 games for the Ducks in 2017, including seven starts. Five of those starts came over the final six games when he delivered 31 tackles with five for loss. He finished the season with 49 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two sacks. 

[WATCH: A SUMMER IN PARIS WITH LA'MAR WINSTON JR.]

"(La'Mar)'s put on weight and strength," Dye said. "Seeing his transition from our freshmen year until now is phenonemal."

CONTENDERS

Kaulana Apelu, senior, inside linebacker; The walk-on was placed on scholarship before the start of 2017 season. He played in five games and made three starts, totaling 20 tackles, including three for loss before suffering a season-ending injury. Apelu rehabbed and returned to the field in time for spring practice. In the spring game, he led the Ducks’ defense with nine tackles and returned a tipped pass 100 yards for a touchdown.

Isaac Slade-Matautia, redshirt freshman, inside linebacker: Last season Slade-Matautia utilized his redshirt. ESPN and Rivals ranked the four-star prospect a top two player from the state of Hawaii. He is competing to be in the mix for starting alongside Dye.

"(Isaac)'s a beast," Dye said. "He's going to surprise a lot of people. There are a lot of things that he has taught me."

Adrian Jackson, freshman, inside linebacker: A consensus four-star prospect and the state of Colorado's top player in 2017. Dye called Jackson a "phenomenal beast" a few days into fall camp. Jackson currently backs up Dye at the JACK linebacker position, but says he’d be willing to move to MIKE.

[READ: How the new redshirt rule helps Oregon]

Keith Simms, sophomore, outside linebacker: Suffered a season-ending injury last season. Played both inside and outside throughout spring practices and totaled 8 tackles and a sack during UO’s spring game. Simms could add quality depth if he can stay healthy.

LONGSHOTS

Sampson Niu, sophomore, inside linebacker: In 2017, Niu played in six games and finished with eight tackles and one tackle for loss. He missed spring drills while rehabbing an injury suffered in the Las Vegas Bowl. Four-star prospect and the top inside linebacker in the state of California by Rivals and 247Sports.

MJ Cunningham, true freshman, inside linebacker: A consensus three-star prospect by ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports. The Portland-native is another freshman that could crack the rotation.

Who will Herbert sling the ball to? The Locks, Contenders and Longshots at receiver

Oregon releases new uniforms; internet blows up

Oregon releases new uniforms; internet blows up

The Oregon Ducks have unveiled their Nike football uniforms for the upcoming season. The winged helmets are back and the jerseys feature a new large "Mighty Oregon" font. Check them out.

The jerseys are more simple than years past. Everyone (and their mother) had something to say about the reveal on Twitter. Here are some of the most sarcastic, clever, interesting and fun tweets.

Font size humor:

A cool throwback to a life before Twitter from former Duck T.J. Ward:

The team is stoked:

And so is the Oregon Duck Mascot:

Can't forget the age old joke...

Where do they rank on your all-time Oregon uniform list?

 

 

REPORT: Dallas signs former Ducks WR Darren Carrington Jr.

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USA Today

REPORT: Dallas signs former Ducks WR Darren Carrington Jr.

The Dallas Cowboys have signed former Oregon and Utah wide receiver Darren Carrington Jr., according to multiple reports.

The signing was first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Carrington, who played at Oregon from 2013 through 2016, played last season at Utah after former UO coach Willie Taggart dismissed him from the team for violating team rules.

Carrington, who was suspended for six games in 2014 after testing positive for marijuana prior to the national championship game played at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, is a talented receiver who has the skills to play in the NFL but has hobbled his career by repeatedly making poor decisions away from the field. 

Carrington went undrafted last spring even after being invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. He recently participated in a tryout with Dallas and showed enough to get signed to the team's roster. Plus, Dallas has experienced several injuries at wide receiver during training camp.