The Oregon Ducks and head coach Willie Taggart are preparing for an unbeaten, ranked Washington State team. With so many injuries in the Cal contest, UO is focusing on getting healthier over the next 72 hours.
Without question, the most discouraging news from the weekend was the loss of starting quarterback Justin Herbert. His fractured collarbone will keep him off the field, but his season is not over yet. Herbert could return sooner than expected if his rehab goes according to plan.
“It’s not his throwing shoulder,” said Taggart. “I know Justin will work his tail off in rehab and get himself back out there as soon as possible.”
Another major blow was the loss of starting linebacker and special teams ace Kaulana Apelu for the season. He was off to a great start in Jim Leavitt’s defense. After all those injuries, Apelu may be the only one lost for the remainder of 2017.
Royce Freeman’s injury was worse than expected. He exited in the first half after six carries for 51 yards on the ground.
“Royce is doing better,” said a relieved UO head coach. “He’s day-to-day. It wasn’t as serious as we thought. That’s good news for us.”
Oregon’s fear was shortlived for their workhorse back. In fact, Taggart believed Freeman could have re-entered the game vs Cal.
“I expect Royce to play whenever Royce wants to play,” Taggart said with a big grin. “Royce probably could have come back in and played on Saturday. He’s built differently. He’s getting better.”
The same can be said for backup quarterback Taylor Alie. He left the game prematurely but is said to be recovering well. Coach Taggart told ESPNU Radio and SXM his plan to stop the injuries on Saturday night.
“Taylor is one of those guys that is day to day,” Taggart said. “He got dinged up a little bit and couldn’t go back in the game. When he went down, I wanted to call a timeout and see if I could exercise some demons on that field.”
The coach has been encouraged by both Alie and freshman Braxton Burmeister in practice this week. He understands the process of naming a starting quarterback.
“We had some really good throws and not too many bad throws. It was a good day.”
As far as when we will have an answer on the starter for Saturday’s Pac-12 clash, don’t hold your breath. Taggart is going to take this decision down to the wire.
“I don’t have a point,” said Taggart in reference to a time when he will choose his starting quarterback for Saturday. “I just want to have a starter and we will. We’ll have a starter by Saturday.”
It’s never a bad idea to be coy, especially when Mike Leach and the boys are on their way to Eugene. But one thing Taggart is certain about, he will NOT rotate his quarterbacks.
“I don’t get caught up in all that,” Taggart said with a sheepish smile.
Entering his third Pac-12 game since his arrival, Taggart has been impressed by the unselfishness of his players. He believes they are starting to understand what’s being asked of them to make UO an elite program once again.
“Some of the things we’ve been doing in the offseason are really paying off, especially when it comes to playing for each other,” Taggart said. “It’s really fun to watch our guys go out and play. You can see they're trying to make plays for their teammates. To me, that’s so important in what we’re trying to build here.”
The story of the spring was the incoming freshmen. As fall training camp began, it was much of the same tale. Five games into the 2017 campaign, 12 Duck freshmen continue to make their presence felt on a weekly basis.
“All these young guys we play,” Taggart said in reference to Oregon’s newcomers. “I think we’re playing 12 freshmen already and those guys are getting an opportunity to play big-time college football. It’s so fun to watch these guys take advantage of it.”
With the No. 1 recruiting class for 2018 on the verge of arrival, Oregon’s current freshmen will provide them with valuable leadership after their experience this season.
This is a talented, young team with a desire to be better than they were yesterday. Add a coaching staff who relentlessly pushes these kids to be the best they can while having fun and you have a recipe for long-term success. It may not take long, but your patience is required.
Next up for Oregon (4-1) is a meeting with unbeaten No. 11 Washington State (5-0) at Autzen Stadium on Saturday. Kickoff is slated for 5:00 p.m. PT via Fox.