As the Oregon Ducks entered October, they seemed to be in a fairly good place. They were sitting at 4-1, coming off a 45-24 win over Cal, and very easily could have been 5-0, having lost to Arizona State by just two points.
But then, the Ducks saw the impact of losing quarterback Justin Herbert, who broke his collarbone in the win over Cal. The following week against Washington State, freshman Braxton Burmeister completed 15-of-27 passes for just one touchdown with two interceptions as the Ducks lost 33-10. Those 10 points all came in the first quarter.
Then, against Stanford, Burmeister looked as if Willie Taggart had just turned to the stands, picked a fan, and told him to suit up and lead the offense. In Oregon’s 49-7 loss to the Cardinal, Burmeister completed 3-of-8 passes for 23 yards with no touchdowns, two interceptions. His longest pass was eight yards. He ran the ball more times than he threw, with nine carries for 31 yards and rushed for Oregon’s only touchdown of the night.
23 yards. Twenty. Three. God. Damn. Yards. I’ve been watching Oregon football since 2009, and this was the worst offensive performance I’ve seen since the Boise State game that year when the Ducks scored just eight points with 152 yards of offense.
Willie Taggart has a problem here, and the Ducks have reached a fork in the road. They have two quarterbacks in Burmeister and Taylor Allie who have no clue how to run the offense. Against Stanford, 25 percent of Burmeister’s passes ended up in the hands of a Stanford defender. Allie has never looked much better. You can't give Freeman the ball 30 times a game as he’s struggled to stay healthy recently. So what happens next?
From here, the Ducks face UCLA, Utah, Washington, Arizona and Oregon State. The UCLA game should be winnable, but it’s a toss-up in my opinion. Utah started strong, but has lost two straight games. Washington just got tripped up by Arizona State. Arizona has won two straight games, so that could be a tougher matchup than anticipated. And Oregon State, well, they are who we thought they were.
We all knew this was going to be a rebuilding year. So with Herbert out until at least mid-November, it’s time to throw Braxton Burmeister into the fire, and shape him into a reliable backup to Herbert for the next couple of seasons. We saw the ugly beginning of that project in the loss to Stanford. In my optimistic opinion, it can only go up from here, because I sure as hell don't want to see how it could possibly get any worse.
We know that the Ducks probably won't go to a respectable bowl game. But they only need to go 2-3 to make a bowl game. They should be able to get those two wins against UCLA and Oregon State. I think best case scenario, they also get wins against Utah and either a big upset over Washington or a win against Arizona, but not both. So that would put them at 7-5, a big improvement from last year.
This will be the point in the season where we truly find out what kind of coach Willie Taggart is and how well he can lead his troops. The Ducks could easily collapse and miss a bowl game entirely, or turn it around and finish strong. Both are equally likely in my eyes. It’s time for the Ducks to cowboy up and earn their stripes.
What will Oregon’s record be at the end of the regular season?
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