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Duck Talk: Willie Taggart Addresses Fires, Hurricane Irma and Oregon Freshmen

Oregon’s head coach has many concerns besides Saturday

Southern Utah v Oregon Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

The Ducks took to the coast on Tuesday in hopes of escaping the air and ash from the Oregon fires. Head coach Willie Taggart addressed the media with a host of concerns this week, many away from the football field.

Every Wednesday, we will post Taggart’s quotes of the week as he prepares for an upcoming opponent and looks back at the previous week. As we draw closer to Game 2, the coach has his attention on many items besides Nebraska on Saturday.

Due to the air quality, Oregon moved practice to the coast at Siuslaw Middle School in Florence on Tuesday.

“It was nice, it was nice” Taggart restated. “Got some work in, in a different environment. It was productive and no one got hurt so it was awesome.”

At the end of the day, Taggart is not going to place his team in harm's way. He understands better than most that some things in life are more important than football.

“We’re always going to look for what’s best for our players,” said Taggart. “Safety comes first. We keep in touch with our medical staff on how it’s going to be.”

Southern Utah v Oregon
Coach Taggart made quite the first impression on Saturday vs Southern Utah. The Oregon head coach led his Ducks past the Thunderbirds 77-21 and secured two UO scoring records along the way. He also introduced Autzen Stadium to swag surfing.
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

From one coast to the other, Taggart is also keeping his eyes on Hurricane Irma. Not only does Taggart have his entire family in Florida, but a handful of Ducks are from the Sunshine State. It has been an ever-evolving situation for players and staff.

“All my family is back in Florida,” Taggart said with a pause. “We have some kids on our team that are from Florida and their family is back there. We’re monitoring that often and we want to make sure everybody is safe and they prepare like they should.”

My thoughts and concerns are with the people of Oregon, Florida and Texas.

Let’s shift our focus to the football field. After being encouraged by the play of his team on Saturday, Taggart addressed Oregon’s “swag surfing” from the Duck sideline.

It’s something I encourage. I believe in it. Like you heard me say before, enthusiasm is contagious. Just watch the sideline and you can see some of the fans talking about it. You can see how contagious it is. I want our guys to have fun.

Taggart is a hard-worker who has great attention to all details. However, he consistently reinforces that fun is essential for his players to bring the juice and energy. If it’s all work and no enjoyment, the energy would suffer.

“I want them to enjoy it. Have fun and be respectful to our opponents,” said Taggart. “We want to enjoy this. This game is too tough not to enjoy. So, when you get a chance to enjoy it, enjoy it. As a coach, it’s what you want to build here. Have fun and a lot of energy.”

Placing unnecessary pressure on oneself is something this coach wants to avoid. He knows the game of football is difficult enough already, so why complicate it?

Sometimes coaches learn the most valuable lessons when their team is NOT involved. UCLA erasing a 34-point deficit to beat Texas A&M 45-44 certainly opened the eyes of a nation on Sunday. Yet, Taggart has seen it before from the losing end.

“I’ve been on the other side of that. Anything can happen in college football,” Taggart said with a smile. “It’s one of the greatest sports in the world. Anybody can be beaten. Anybody can come back. Anybody can a lose a game.”

That is a lesson Oregon players didn’t have to participate in personally to understand.

With an improvement in the air quality over the last few hours, Taggart is excited about the opportunity his team has on Saturday.

Nebraska does a great job of protecting the football, but I think our guys will be up for it.

Against a balanced team from the B1G 10, the loser may be the first team that makes a mistake. Taggart understands creating turnovers could be the key to victory vs the Huskers.

“We constantly talk about turnovers,” Taggart replied. “In practice, our guys always count them out when they get them. We constantly talk about getting takeaways. Get the ball back to our offense.”

He transitioned from turnovers to the players that create them, like his freshmen defenders. Taggart, Jim Leavitt and the rest of the coaching staff have been impressed by the play of their kids since they arrived on campus.

Southern Utah v Oregon
Jacob Breeland goes up for a catch on Saturday against Southern Utah. The sophomore starting tight end secured two grabs for 45 yards and a touchdown during his 2017 debut.
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Everything Taggart places on his freshmen, they have been able to carry thus far. Yet, the weight will start to add up in the next few weeks against better competition than Southern Utah.

“They went out and did what we asked them to do,” said Taggart in reference to his two freshmen defensive nose tackles. “Jordon (Scott) and Austin (Faoliu) are going to be some big time players for us. It was good for them to get their first collegiate game in and get some reps. We’re impressed by what they did.”

Another freshman that sparkled on Saturday was safety Billy Gibson. Once Khalil Oliver exited the game, Gibson entered the fold. He had certain moments that made Taggart believe his time could arrive sooner rather than later.

Him (Billy Gibson) and Nick Pickett both, I was really impressed with those guys. Billy was very instinctive out there and just playing football.

The much-heralded true freshman cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. continued to impress. He was aggressive and intelligent on Saturday, exhibiting signs of maturity you don’t normally see in an 18-year-old.

“Thomas did what we expected Thomas to do,” Taggart said. “We expect for him to continue to get better.”

Even after a pass interference call that saw both players holding one another, Graham never lost his cool. That may have been more impressive than his actual play on the field.

As we draw closer to Saturday and the air quality continues to improve, Taggart has a great deal on his plate. Nevertheless, winning solves a lot of issues and the head coach is fighting to bring back that culture to this football program.

“Winning is living and it’s fun when you win,” Taggart said without hesitation. “I expect for those guys to feel that way when you win a football game. Again, we want to have fun and losing is not fun.”

That’s simply an Oregon mentality.

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