His starting quarterback this week will be either a former walk-on with only 21 career completions or a true freshman who’s thrown just one collegiate pass.
As first-year Oregon coach Willie Taggart was discussing this seemingly worrisome situation in a news conference this week, he abruptly broke into a smile and assumed the perspective of one of these quarterbacks.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said. “I get to come to college? I get a chance to help a big-time program win some games? You gotta love it, baby.”
Which probably says more about Taggart than it does his quarterbacks.
The Ducks (4-1, 1-1) bring momentum, a stubborn optimism and a battered roster into a Pac-12 game Saturday (5 p.m., FOX) at Eugene against No. 11 Washington State (5-0, 2-0).
Justin Herbert, who’d been emerging as a major talent as a sophomore, suffered a collarbone fracture last week in the Ducks’ 45-24 win over California and is sidelined at least three to four weeks. His backup, senior Taylor Alie, also went down in that game, with a concussion, forcing Taggart to burn the redshirt status of his Parade All-American true freshman, Braxton Burmeister.
Alie seems to be recovering quickly but Taggart isn’t saying who will start against the Cougars. So the pregame outlook is similar to that of a 2015 game in Eugene between these teams, when starter Vernon Adams Jr. was sidelined and the Ducks mulled whether to start Alie or Jeff Lockie. They went with the latter and wound up losing a double-overtime thriller.
In this case, they must choose between a local hero and a talented greenhorn. Alie starred for Sheldon High in Eugene and enrolled at UO as a walk-on, eventually landing a scholarship last season. Burmeister needed to learn the Ducks’ system from scratch last spring after graduating early from his high school in La Jolla, Calif.
“They both are smart guys,” Taggart said. “They both are guys that the entire team loves to be around. They’re both athletic.”
The Ducks, as they’ve blossomed into a nationally high-profile program in recent decades, have hired a succession of intriguing coaches, each of them strikingly different from the last, and they’ve done it again with Taggart, a keen offensive mind who last year led South Florida to a 10-2 record in his fourth year there.
In his news conferences, he'll interrupt a string of coaching bromides with a disarming flash of sly charm, which helps explain his effectiveness as a recruiter. Asked if he expects Herbert to return to the field this season, he said, “Absolutely. We heal differently around here. We’re not like the normal Joe. We’re a little different.”
One player they hope is healing quickly is tremendous tailback Royce Freeman, who leads the nation with 10 rushing touchdowns but sustained a shoulder injury against Cal. Another is savvy receiver Charles Nelson, who has missed two games with an ankle injury. Out for the season, though, is linebacker Kaulana Apelu with a broken ankle.
On the plus side, the Ducks are playing at their Autzen Stadium, where they’ve won 81 percent of their games this century (“I think that will help us big-time,” Taggart said) and where they hung tough against Cal despite the rash of injuries.
Alie passed 9-for-13 and Burmeister was 1-of-1, but the Ducks mostly tabled their passing game and racked up 328 rushing yards. Even after Herbert’s injury, the Ducks outscored the Bears 28-24.
“I think you saw a football team that realized everybody has got to give a little more,” Taggart said. “And that’s what we got, is a little more out of everyone.”
WSU DISMISSES TWO
Zaire Webb and Anthony White Jr. have been dismissed from WSU’s football team.
Webb, a freshman defensive back, and White Jr., a freshman wide receiver, were arrested by Pullman Police for alleged theft at Walmart around 10 p.m. on Wednesday, according to the police department’s activity log.
Pullman Radio News reported that the players went through Walmart checkout without paying for all of the items in their cart. Webb and White allegedly tried to steal $225 worth of merchandise and were arrested, cited and released for misdemeanor 3rd degree theft, according to Pullman Radio News.
Webb has registered one tackle in five games this season as a defensive back. White Jr. hasn’t appeared in a game this season and likely would’ve redshirted.