Ducks need to shake off doldrums in next games
EUGENE — As the Oregon Ducks debriefed after losing to Washington State, coach Willie Taggart stood up and talked with true freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister in front of teammates.
"I told him I loved him, that I believed in him, and he'll get better," said Taggart, whose team went down to defeat, 33-10, falling to 4-2 overall and 1-2 in Pac-12 heading into Saturday's 8 p.m. game at Stanford.
"It's just one of those games he'll learn a lot from. Braxton is one of those guys who'll go in and watch film and learn from it. He'll get better, as well as other freshmen playing. Veterans will help them."
Burmeister completed one pass downfield, for a touchdown, in an otherwise shaky debut in the wake of Justin Herbert's collarbone injury and Taylor Alie's concussion, which kept him from playing.
The La Jolla, California, product went 15 of 27 for 145 yards and a touchdown, with two interceptions and four sacks against. The Ducks managed only 277 yards, partly because the vertical passing game couldn't take the heat off the running game. Oregon ran for only 132 net yards on 45 carries (2.9 yards per carry).
Short fields led to both Oregon scores in the first quarter; the Ducks went the final 49:45 without scoring. They went an ugly 2 of 17 on third-down conversions and 0 of 3 on fourth downs and punted seven times, and many of their 10 penalties came on offense.
"They didn't do anything special that we weren't expecting," running back Kani Benoit says. "We just have to execute."
Would things have been markedly better with Herbert at the controls? Yes, probably. But, the worse-case scenario happened for Oregon — he got hurt, leaving the Ducks with having to play one of their backups. They have to deal with it.
Taggart says, repeatedly, that the Ducks simply didn't execute, including on the offensive line. The Ducks want and need everybody around Burmeister — or Alie, if he should be healthy and available for the Stanford game — to play better.
And, the competition won't be easy. Washington State has a good defense, as do Stanford, Utah and Washington, three of the next four opponents.
Perhaps Taggart and co-coordinators Marcus Arroyo and Mario Cristobal also should challenge themselves to put their players in better positions to be successful, along with better execution?
"We just didn't play well," Taggart says. "It was not a matter of Justin being in there or somebody else being in there. We didn't play well enough around (Burmeister). We've got a lot of weapons that aren't out there (because of injuries), and that hurts, too. We just gotta play better, especially up front."
The defense held its own, making Luke Falk & Co. work for their points — only three touchdowns, and four field goals.
It was a rare role reversal at Oregon: Defense plays well, offense stunk.
"They made plays, and we didn't capitalize off the plays when they got (the ball) back to the offense," Taggart says. "I'm really proud of how they held those guys to field goals instead of touchdowns."
Stanford (4-2, 3-1 Pac-12) has recovered from its loss to USC, and much credit for its success goes to sensational running back Bryce Love. He has 1,240 yards in six games — 10.5 per carry and 206.7 per game — with nine rushing touchdowns. So, as the UO defense will need to stop Love, the Ducks will need Burmeister (or Alie) to play efficiently at quarterback and the running game will need to get back on track.
"We need to go back and execute, know our assignments and just dominate," Benoit says. "We'll go back to the drawing board, make sure next time ... it's running on all cylinders."