DUCKS AIM TO STEP UP GAME AGAINST STANFORD
EUGENE — Freshman Braxton Burmeister made his first career start against Washington State last weekend and played, for the most part and along with the rest of the offense, fairly poorly.
Will he make his second start at Stanford on Saturday? Taylor Alie, a senior walk-on from Eugene, returned to practice this week after going through concussion protocol. Coach Willie Taggart wasn't committing early in the week to Burmeister, a recruited scholarship player from La Jolla, California.
"They were both getting reps. We'll see how the week goes," Taggart said. "We'll make sure the guy that gives us the best chance to win will play. We'll see."
Taggart reiterated that the Ducks have to play better around Burmeister, including in the run game — which points to the offensive linemen, perimeter blockers and running backs.
"The more experience, the better you'll get with it," Taggart said of his first-year QB. "The guys around him have to play better in order for Braxton to play to his potential."
n It bears reminding fans and readers that we won't be hearing from Burmeister about his own performance, as Taggart doesn't allow true freshmen to speak with the media. Translation: A coach or a fellow player can say all he wants, but it doesn't mean it's how Burmeister feels or what he believes.
n As for the run game, against WSU, Royce Freeman rushed for only 62 yards on 12 carries. He has been held to fewer than 100 yards in the past three games, after exploding on three weaker defenses for 150-plus yards in the early going.
The Ducks rolled over Cal to the tune of 328 yards on 56 carries (5.9 yards per), but the Cougars proved to be much tougher with their athleticism, scheme, movement and solid tackling (allowing 132 yards on 45 carries, or 2.9 yards per carry). Kani Benoit (10 rushes, 32 yards) and Tony Brooks-James (three carries, 16 yards) couldn't get loose, either.
"When we run the ball well, usually we're doing a good job up front with the offensive line and doing a good job on the perimeter (blocking)," Taggart says.
Says offensive lineman Shane Lemieux: "We've got to put pressure on the offensive line to step up. We've got to make it easy on (Burmeister)."
n The Ducks have a low-key Heisman Trophy campaign going for Freeman, in press notes comparing his season to those of Derrick Henry, Mark Ingram and Reggie Bush the year they won Heismans.
Freeman still needs one touchdown to set UO records for total touchdowns and points scored; he and LaMichael James have 58 TDs and 348 career points.
Freeman needs 200 yards to reach 5,000 rushing yards and 283 to pass James' all-time UO mark.
And, Freeman needs 11 yards to pass Marcus Allen for fourth in Pac-12 career rushing.
n As for downfield passing, "we called some passes, we just didn't complete them" against WSU, Taggart says. "We had some guys open, didn't get it to them. We just didn't execute well overall in the pass game. Braxton is going to be better as we move forward, and young receivers will get better as well to help him out."
Not that Burmeister was going to necessarily complete passes to them, but the Ducks played without their two top receivers, Charles Nelson and Dillon Mitchell.
Mitchell sat out after suffering a concussion the previous week. Recovering from an injured ankle, Nelson went through pregame warmups before the WSU game, but he couldn't play.
Both went through practice drills this week.
"Nelson's getting better," Taggart says. "He ran around (last) week. He just wasn't ready. He's doing a good job of rehabbing, and trainers are doing a good job of working with him."
n Stanford may not be as formidable defensively as in past seasons, but the Cardinal still can contain things. They are ninth in rush defense (182 yards allowed per game) and eighth in pass defense (251.8) in the Pac-12, behind Oregon in each category.
"They're well-coached, rarely out of position," says Taggart, who coached alongside Stanford head man David Shaw when both served as assistants under Jim Harbaugh.
A standout player is safety Justin Reid, brother of Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers.
n If Stanford's Bryce Love continues to churn out yards and touchdowns, he might find himself at the Heisman Trophy award ceremony. He's on a blistering pace, clearly the Pac-12's best running back — with 10.5 yards per carry and 206.7 yards per game. The Cardinal have played different quarterbacks, including Keller Chryst, but it's mostly about Love on offense.
"It's a different style offense than we've faced — two backs, multiple tight ends," Taggart says. "They're committed to running the football, and they do a good job with playaction."
Love "doesn't need a big hole. This kid can find the smallest hole and get through it. That's a challenge for a lot of defenses."
n Oregon safety Tyree Robinson says the defense needs to continue to battle.
"This year is a different mind-set with the defense," he says. "We've got to go out there and fight, play a little bit harder," and he adds, not blame others for issues on defense.
"Last year, you could see we started pointing fingers, but this year we want to rally together and play as one."
n Taggart likes that players step up and show accountability for their mistakes and poor play.
"We just can't have any finger-pointing, that's not going to get us where we want to go," he says. "We have to all be accountable."
n Oregon has, by far, the most penalties in the FBS ranks with 62, for 562 yards. Many are of the personal foul, pass interference and false start variety.
"Some of those calls are judgmental," Taggart says. "That's just the way it goes. Some of them are the right calls."
n The combined record of the opponents that Oregon has beaten — FCS team Southern Utah, Nebraska, Wyoming and California — is 12-10. Each team has three wins.