Former Stanford running back coach and current Oregon head coach Willie Taggart has a great deal on his plate this week. Not only is he facing his former team, but the Cardinal possess an elite Pac-12 artillery, including RB Bryce Love.
Without his star quarterback Justin Herbert, Taggart will be relying on the run game no matter who is taking snaps on Saturday. Nevertheless, you can’t run the ball efficiently when you’re going backward with false start penalties.
Oregon is leading the nation in penalties. The Ducks have claimed 10 penalties or more in every game but one this season. Coach Tag and his staff have been working overtime this week to clean up the mistakes.
“When you have double-digit penalties, it’s always a concern. We work on it. We can’t continue to get false starts. Those are things that we can control. We can’t continue to get those.”
Without question, Oregon’s 12-percent success rate on third down did not help vs WSU. However, you can’t register first downs when you’re constantly fighting yourselves for field position with an inexperienced quarterback.
The officiating was egregious toward Oregon on Saturday, especially in the second half. So, you can’t blame everything on the team and their head coach.
“Some of those calls are judgemental and that’s just the way it goes. And some of them are the right calls,” Taggart acknowledged. “Those are things we deal with. We’re working on them. We’re working to get better.”
All penalties are NOT created equal. Some must be taken. For example, when a receiver has a clear path to the end zone, a cornerback must interfere to prevent further damage. Yet, false starts are controllable. They’re about focus and attention to detail. It’s about being disciplined and controlling excitement before the snap of the ball.
“That’s the one that gets to you, the ones (penalties) you can control,” said UO’s head coach with a sigh. “That’s on us to make sure we work on that every single day to try and get better.”
Not all the blame can be attributed to the penalties. Having a true freshman QB creates havoc, especially when they were the third-stringer the previous week.
Braxton Burmeister didn’t receive nearly as many reps as Justin Herbert throughout camp. Not to mention, senior Taylor Alie has received valuable experience with pockets of opportunity throughout his collegiate career.
“Justin has been around,” stated Taggart. “He’s been there to talk to Braxton and if Braxton has any questions he can ask. He was good for me on Saturday throwing out suggestions. That’s great to see. For a guy to be injured and still locked into the game, it’s very impressive.”
Third down efficiency reared its ugly head for the Ducks on Saturday. Oregon was 2-for-17 on third down and 0-for-3 on fourth down, but that will happen with a true freshman making his first collegiate start.
“The big thing is understanding the speed of the game,” Taggart replied. “There is a kid that hasn’t been getting a lot of reps. At the beginning of the year, he was third for the most part.”
Most importantly, the first start is now over. The “deer in headlights” look usually doesn’t last longer than the first 60 minutes. Burmeister wants start No. 2 but has been splitting reps with Alie, as both prepare to be the starter from the Bay Area.
“Taylor is back and they’re both getting reps,” Taggart said. “We’ll let it go through the week and make sure the guy who gives us the best chance to win is in there to play. We’ll see.”
Nevertheless, Coach Tag liked we saw out of his true freshman from La Jolla. He believes there is room to improve, but also wants his team to help him out more. Burmeister’s second opportunity could arise this weekend vs another ranked opponent.
“Being his first week (last week) with a lot of reps, he got better,” said Taggart. “He learned a lot. He had a good week of practice but it’s a little different when you get in the game. The more experience you have, the better you’ll get with it. I think guys around him have to play better. To reach his potential, he’s going to need guys around him to step up more.”
Stanford and Washington are the two best teams Oregon will face this campaign. Unfortunately for the Ducks, both contests occur on the road. Whoever starts at quarterback for Oregon will be tested from the outset.
If UO’s defense continues to shut down opposing run offenses, while the offense dismisses the false starts from their arsenal, it will be a close game from Stanford Stadium. Anything better than 12 percent on third down would go a long way, as well.
Oregon (4-2, 1-2) now hits the road for back-to-back Pac-12 showdowns. First up, the Ducks will meet with No. 23 Stanford (4-2, 3-1) in the Bay Area on Saturday. UO was pummeled by Christian McCaffrey and the Cardinal 52-27 at Autzen in 2016. Kickoff is slated for 8:00 p.m. PT from Stanford Stadium via FS1.