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Duck Talk: Willie Taggart challenges Oregon to play best game of season vs Oregon State

UO looks to erase memory of 2016’s Civil War in Corvallis

NCAA Football: Arizona at Oregon Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon football is coming off their most-complete victory of the season vs Arizona. Nevertheless, 13 penalties for a total loss of 127 yards spoiled the celebration. On a week centered around being thankful, these two teams are anything but for one another.

Head coach Willie Taggart is not seeking revenge against in-state rival Oregon State, but he is looking for the Ducks’ best effort of 2017. Regardless, last year is not a distant memory for some players on the current UO roster.

“I didn’t hear anyone talk about revenge,” Taggart replied. “I heard about the dislike for the schools. I asked them what it was like in the locker room last year or when those guys see you out in public. They’re always on you about it.”

Taggart has been like this for his entire coaching career. He does not get caught up in the ‘revenge’ aspect of the game. Instead, he uses certain losses at teachable moments.

“It’s not about revenge. It’s about us going out and doing the things we intend to do from the beginning of the year. We said we wanted to win the first game of the year and the last game of the season. We got an opportunity to do that in our home.”

NCAA Football: Arizona at Oregon
Head coach Willie Taggart has the Ducks at 6-5 in his first season with the program. He can finish his first campaign in the Pac-12 at 4-5 with a victory against the Beavers in Eugene.
Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

As far as motivation for the upcoming game, Oregon’s lead man does things a bit differently. If you walked by the practice facility this week, you may have been confused by the ‘highlights’ being show on the big screens in the Casanova Center.

“We show them the low-lights, yeah. We just show ‘em and remind them what that looked like. Just try to remind them of that taste they had in their mouths.”

As far as his current roster, Taggart is beyond impressed by the recent play of Justin Hollins on the defense.

Hollins is now third on the team in tackles for loss (9.0), fourth in tackles (50), and fifth in sacks (3.5). Not to mention, he has forced two key fumbles, alongside providing consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Last weekend, Hollins amassed four tackles and a TFL in the win against the Wildcats.

“I like how Hollins has been coming along the last couple games,” stated the head coach. “Like the rest of our guys, improving. And that’s what’s good to see with our guys. The improvement through these games. He was really consistent in the game to contain Khalil.”

Taggart believes he and La’Mar Winston Jr. have contributed heavily to the recent turnaround on the defensive side.

Winston is sixth on the defense in tackles (42), but he’s really come on strong over the last month. He recorded 11 tackles, plus a TFL and a sack vs UCLA. Against Utah, Winston registered four tackles and a TFL. Last week vs U of A, he secured eight tackles.

“The same thing with La’Mar,” Taggart replied. “Since, I want to say the UCLA game, he’s just been totally different. Communicating. Playing with fanatical effort. Making plays out there. He’s been stepping his game up and special teams-wise he was all over the place.”

NCAA Football: Arizona at Oregon
Quarterback Khalil Tate is pressured by linebacker La'Mar Winston Jr. and defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux during the second half of Oregon’s manhandling of the second-place Wildcats.
Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Against the No. 106 ranked offense and the 119th ranked defense in the land, Oregon simply needs to play their game without allowing their emotions to take over.

“We got to come out ready to roll,” Taggart stated. “You could throw the records out in a ballgame like this. You got to come ready to play. The team that plays the best will win.”

The Beavers haven’t won since their second game of the season against Portland State, 35-32. They barely escaped that affair, regardless the Ducks will be looking to extend OSU’s losing-streak to 10 straight games.

As the Beavers head toward a long offseason, Oregon football is just finding their stride. For the Ducks and their first-year coach, going 6-1 from Autzen Stadium would be a major accomplishment.

“We wanted to win all our games at home, but we stubbed our toe on one,” Taggart said without hesitation. “We got an opportunity to finish this thing the right way against our rival football team.”

The Beavers have yet to win a conference game this season. They currently reside in the Pac-12 North basement at 0-8 in conference. OSU hasn’t scored more than 27 points in a game over the last month and 33 is their season-high in a non-victory.

With that said, everyone knows you can toss the stats and records out entering The Civil War. That 34-24 loss in Corvallis last season is the best reminder that anything can happen in this rivalry.

Coach Taggart is challenging his team, the 25-point favorites, to play their best game of the season.

“We got to go out and play our best football game. I’ve been challenging our guys all year to play our best ballgame. We know if we play our best, we can beat anybody.”

Entering Saturday, UO has the No. 35 ranked offense in the country, while they boast the 50th ranked defense nationally. Yet, nobody around campus is satisfied. This team wants more and that begins with ending the season on a 3-game winning streak.

“We haven’t played our best, yet,” said Taggart. “I thought last week was close. But then you put in the penalties (13) and it takes away from what we did. We got another opportunity to see if we can put it all together. I challenged our guys and I look forward to them doing it.”

Next up for Oregon (6-5, 3-5) is their final regular season game of the 2017 campaign. The Ducks will be looking to avenge last years 34-24 loss to the Beavers (1-10, 0-8). Kickoff is slated for 4:00 p.m. PT at Autzen. You can watch The Civil War on ESPN2.

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