Turning around Ducks football not a breeze
During his redshirt season, when his teammates went 4-8 in 2016, Brady Breeze often talked about helping the Oregon Ducks regain their standing as one of the Pac-12's best programs. About helping make the losses stop. Helping make Autzen Stadium a feared place to play.
Playing this year for the Ducks, first on special teams and now as a regular contributor in the defensive backfield, Breeze has first-hand knowledge that turning things around isn't easy.
Although the Ducks have made progress in some ways as they rebuild under first-year coach Willie Taggart, they are 5-5 (2-5 Pac-12) with two games to play.
A big part of Oregon wallowing in mediocrity has to do with quarterback Justin Herbert's broken collarbone. But that doesn't make losing any easier to take, given that the Ducks still need a win to make a bowl game. The Ducks, coming off a 38-3 loss at Washington, will play host to Arizona at Autzen on Nov. 18 and Oregon State on Nov. 25.
The defense has improved under the guidance of coordinator Jim Leavitt. It gave up big plays at Washington but made a fourth-quarter stop that provided them with confidence moving forward. UW was trying to run out the clock, but stopping a ballcarrier on fourth down inside the UO 5 has to be turned into a positive.
"Our defense fought really hard, especially on that last drive in the fourth quarter," Breeze says. "We showed we weren't trying to give up. We just need to work hard this next week and see what we can do against Arizona."
The Ducks led 3-0. They had hopes of upsetting Washington.
"Before the game, we were ready to play," Breeze says. "We had all this energy and momentum and couldn't keep it."
The week before, freshman Breeze had a good game against Utah, in a 41-20 win, and then made his first career interception at Washington.
"That was pretty cool, like a dream come true," he says. "But I have a lot more I've got to try to get. I'll work harder and, obviously, it wasn't enough after this loss."
While former Central Catholic teammate La'Mar Winston played last year on special teams, Breeze had an injury in training camp that kept him off the field, and then he redshirted. After another training camp injury, a sprained knee, kept him out of action for the first two games, Breeze returned and played mostly special teams. He has now seen increased action at safety. And, Winston has been playing at linebacker.
"It's been pretty cool, getting more reps at safety," Breeze says. "I feel like I've been able to make a little impact, feel like I'm getting some trust in teammates. That's important. Obviously, we've got to get a lot better."
It was weird suffering injuries in consecutive training camps. This year, "I went down and really had to work my way back up through special teams," the 6-foot, 195-pound Breeze says. "Coach T kept coming up to me, making sure I was working on special teams, making plays there. Once I started making plays there, they understood they needed to start giving me reps at safety."