EUGENE, Oregon — Game week preparation is officially underway for Southern Utah at Autzen Stadium. Monday opened the week with head coach Willie Taggart’s press conference from the Casanova Center.
“It’s time to see what you’re about Willie Taggart!” exclaimed...Taggart on Monday morning. He knows what everyone wants to see and made light of it as he sat down at the podium.
The coach didn’t need to be told it was game week by the media, he could tell from the look in his players faces.
“The energy in the guys, the way they practiced,” said Taggart. “We’re just excited it’s game week now. We get to go out and play someone else. It’s go time.”
A consistent trend throughout camp has been the play of Oregon’s freshmen. It continued early-on Monday with the release of Taggart’s daily depth chart.
“They play consistently and they make plays consistently,” Taggart said. “They can play at this level. Surely they could help our defense. I think that’s the most important thing. Now, we can see if they can play in front of a lot of people. We hope and think they can.”
Clemson transfer Scott Pagano is progressing and it’s certainly refreshing to hear the head coach continually talk about injuries, although briefly.
“He’s getting better. He’s out of the boot and walking now. He’s getting better every day.”
For now, freshman defensive tackle Jordon Scott will remain atop the depth chart. Jim Leavitt has him starting at the nose of his 3-4 defense. The newest addition to the d-line, Malik Young is currently getting adjusted to his new lifestyle with the Ducks.
“He’s got to get into football shape,” the head coach explained. “Malik is a strong kid. Really strong kid, but he’s got to get into football shape. He’s got to learn the defense. Once he does those things, we’ll put him out there and see if he can help our football team.”
And yet again, freshman wide receiver Johnny Johnson III was a major topic of conversation. My favorite to be the next great wide receiver at Oregon was broken down last week.
After taking a few weeks to get his proverbial feet wet, Johnson has been opening the eyes of everyone who steps foot into the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex or Autzen. His head coach loves what JJ3 brings to the table.
He started catching footballs. Early on in preseason camp he was dropping passes. But these last two weeks he’s been on fire. He’s been different. He’s like, ‘okay, I know the plays now, I can go out and just play football.’ He’s been playing like a veteran making some big time catches for us and doing a great job of blocking. He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. Hopefully that will continue.
After discussing the major theme of camp, the freshmen, Taggart targeted his game prep for Saturday’s opening contest.
“Southern Utah is a feisty group. A team that plays hard,” Oregon’s head man stated. “They have guys that can play on both sides of the ball.”
Taggart recently watched film from Southern Utah’s games against similar-sized D-1 opponents last season. He came away very impressed with their size and physicality.
They showed that they can play with Utah and BYU last year. They play with a lot of energy. They play physical. It’s going to be fun.
As with anything new, it’s going to take some time. The head coach understands this as his Ducks enter a new era of football at the University of Oregon.
“There are going to be some tough times,” said Taggart calmly. “There are going to be some tough moments, and a lot of times they come up in that first game. I’m excited to see how our guys are going to respond to adversity.”
People overcome tough times with a tough mentality and Oregon’s leader has one in spades. As he battles the loss of his father, alongside starting a new job with the highest expectations, Willie Taggart can still acknowledge that he gets nervous before a game.
“Yeah, probably a little too much,” said Taggart. “I get fired up, too. A chance to go out and compete. I think every competitive player out there get nervous at some point, but you’re also excited about it. It’s game time. All the work is put in, now it’s time to go let loose.”
Just five days from kickoff, Oregon football is set to begin a new era. The excitement around the football team is palpable. The players are ready to rebuild the reputation of this great program, but they understand it begins with one step.