Taggart: 'We're not getting dominated by anybody'
Until Justin Herbert returns as Oregon quarterback, questions continue to swirl around true freshman Braxton Burmeister.
Just as Herbert was the player who couldn't get injured on the UO team, not being able to pass effectively has become the main issue with the Ducks, who have fallen to 4-4 overall and 1-4 in Pac-12 entering Saturday's 2:45 p.m. game against Utah at Autzen Stadium.
In four games, Burmeister has completed 27 of 51 passes for 246 yards and one touchdown and with five interceptions. He's run for a net of 54 yards — minus 63 yards in losses — and three touchdowns.
Coach Willie Taggart, who lost two more experienced backups (Travis Jonsen, Terry Wilson) to the transfer route in the offseason, says it'll be Burmeister at the QB position — and not Taylor Alie — until Herbert returns.
Taggart addressed Burmeister's development:
"It's what I expect from any true freshman who comes in (to play) midseason without a lot of reps. Mistakes that he would have made in spring ball and training camp, he's making in games. Just don't turn the football over. If he doesn't turn the football over, or we don't turn the football over, we give ourselves a better chance to win these games. ... Try not to do too much, more than we're asking you to do. He's a competitive guy, he wants to help this football team. And the guys around him have to step their game up and help the kid. We gotta complete some passes."
• The run game, led by Royce Freeman, now Oregon's all-time leading rusher, has been steady and good enough. The offense has stumbled because of the passing game, and penalites and other simple mistakes ("a brain fart," the coach says), some because of injuries and relying on Burmeister.
"We gotta play a complete ball game, we can't make mistakes like we do," Taggart says. "We don't have the depth or talent we need, to be able to make the mistakes we're doing."
• Needing to be cleared by doctors to play, Herbert "is so eager to get back," Taggart adds. The quarterback needs his broken left collarbone to heal so re-injuring doesn't happen, through being tackled or falling on the shoulder or another incident. He's throwing fine in practice. "It's killing him inside not being out there and helping teammates," Taggart says. "I think he'll be out there sooner rather than later."
• The Ducks have been outscored 113-31, including 58-0 in the second half, in the past three games, with losses to Washington State, Stanford and UCLA. Taggart, who leads what has been called an all-star coaching staff, added that "we're not getting dominated by anybody, we're in our own way."
• The Ducks need two wins for bowl eligibility and to prevent back-to-back losing seasons. Last year's 4-8 was the first losing season since 2004 (5-6), which came 11 years since the previous losing season in 1993 (5-6).
Taggart, on UO bouncing back: "I believe in this team. Love this team. I feel this team will get it corrected. Stay the course, stay positive and find a way."
• Taggart says the Ducks are preparing for Utah and not specifically receiver Darren Carrington, who used to play at Oregon before being kicked off the team because of transgressions.
"We're not going in saying we have to stop Darren Carrington," he says.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham knows he'll have to prepare Carrington to play against the Ducks at Autzen, however.
"Don't press, let the game come to you," says Whittingham, of his advice to the receiver. "Don't try to play outside of the framework of the offense. Just do your job."
• Utah has lost three consecutive games, but two close ones to Stanford (23-20) and USC (28-27, after a failed two-point conversion). The Utes feature QB Tyler Huntley, who returned from a shoulder injury in last weekend's 30-10 home loss to Arizona State, running back Zack Moss, Carrington, a good offensive line and another solid defense (although ASU ran on them). The defense allows just 21.4 points and 349.6 yards per game, both third in the Pac-12, and it's tied for fifth in the country in turnovers forced (18).
Taggart, on Utah: "Very stout, very good on defense, it's going to be a challenge for us. They're big, physical and fast, they play well together, well-coached. They don't do a lot (offensively), but they do it well. We have to match that offense, don't do as much, but do it well, and execute."
Whittingham has confidence that his "mature football team" will come back strong against the Ducks, calling the ASU loss "a step backward." The offense is searching for an identity, after being a run-first outfit that transitioned to passing with Huntley and new coordinator Troy Taylor.