Oregon Ducks

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 7 - NT Gary Baker

Ten Ducks that must rise in 2017: No. 7 - NT Gary Baker

Oregon's quest to improve greatly over last season's 4-8 record will depend on the rapid development of several young and/or previously little-used players. Here is a look at ten most likely to rise to the occasion in 2017.

Updated: Information added regarding Rex Manu being done for the season.

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No. 7: Redshirt sophomore nose tackle Gary Baker. 

The middle of UO's defense needs to be completely remade if Oregon is to improve at all on that side of the ball and while freshman Jordon Scott has a chance to contribute the Ducks must receive increased production from Gary Baker. 

The 6-foot-4, 306-pound Baker was set to compete with junior Rex Manu and others for the starting job. Now Baker appears to be the frontrunner to start after Manu was ruled out for the season with an injury he suffered during a car accident in April.

Baker was thrust into action earlier than expected last year after the middle of the 4-3 defense fell to pieces for a variety of reasons. Baker started four games and had a career-high five tackles at USC. He finished the season with 14 tackles in seven games.

The development of Baker would make life a lot easier for the Ducks' defense. Scott won't be ready to carry a heavy workload as a freshman. Clemson transfer Scott Pagano would be best served playing at defensive end opposite senior Henry Mondeaux. But, if needed, Pagano could play inside and likely will on obvious passing downs, as he did for the Tigers. 

Getting production from Baker inside could allow the rest of the defensive line dominos to fall into place. 

The working list

No. 1: Cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. 

No. 2: Wide receiver Dillon Mitchell.

No. 3: Nose tackle Jordon Scott

No. 4: Freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister

No. 5: Sophomore tight end Jacob Breeland

No. 6: Sophomore linebacker La'Mar Winston.

No. 7: Redshirt sophomore nose tackle Gary Baker. 

No. 8: Wide receivers Ofodile, Lovette and McNeal.

No. 9: Safeties Brady Breeze and Billy Gibson

No. 10: Several freshman must deliver

A healthy Pagano will help UO in Pac-12 play, beginning with ASU

A healthy Pagano will help UO in Pac-12 play, beginning with ASU

Oregon graduate transfer Scott Pagano has returned to action just in time to help the No. 24 Ducks take on the high-scoring teams in the Pac-12 Conference. 

Pagano, who missed the first two games after undergoing foot surgery to repair a broken bone, saw minimal playing time on Saturday during Oregon's 49-13 win at Wisconsin. He did not record a tackle. 

“He did alright the times that I did see him," UO coach Willie Taggart said following the game. "We knew there was going to be some rust to get off. But it’s good to get him to get some game experience before we get into Pac-12 play.”

Oregon's defense is off to a strong start. But the addition of Pagano as a graduate transfer from Clemson, which won last season's national title, was met with glee for a reason. He is the best defensive lineman on the team. Having him healthy for Pac-12 play will be a must if the Ducks' defense is going to stand up to the test of facing strong offenses on a weekly basis. 

A fully healthy Pagano, however, could be weeks away for Oregon (3-0).

“I’m still not where I want to be right now,” Pagano said following Saturday's game.

Pagano estimated that is foot was at about 75 to 80 percent healthy. The plan is for him to play as much as he can without hindering the healing progress. When his foot begins to bother him, Pagano said, he would scale back his reps. 

Senior safety Tyree Robinson said Pagano's mere presence has been a boost to the team given that all of the Ducks players know where he has been and what he can do. Taggart said that Pagano still must get into football shape and that UO hopes to increase his repetitions each week.

For Pagano, transferring from Clemson to Oregon, which played so poorly on defense last season, was helped along by the presence of the new coaching staff under Taggart. He called Joe Salave'a the best defensive line coach in the country and said that he saw signs of things looking up while watching a spring practice. Pagano said he could tell that the team was buying into what new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt was selling.

The Duck are allowing just 23 points per game after surrendering 41.7 last year. 

“I knew we were going to have a great defense,” Pagano said. “I knew I wanted to play with a team like this."

Next up for Oregon is Arizona State (1-2). The Sun Devils are off to a slow start but have far more speed and weapons on offense than every opponent Oregon has faced this season. 

"This is going to be the most athletic team we've faced so far, by far," Taggart said. 

Here is a quick look at the matchup:

Oregon at Arizona State

When: 7 p.m., Saturday, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz. 

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: Oregon minus 14 1/2.

Records: Oregon (3-0), Arizona State (1-2).

Last week: The Sun Devils lost 52-45 at Texas Tech. Oregon won 49-13 at Wyoming. 

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (43-45, 3-0 at Oregon); Sun Devils' Todd Graham (89-57, 40-28 at ASU).

Sun Devils' impact players: Quarterback Manny Wilkins is off to a pretty hot start, averaging 308 yards passing with seven touchdown tosses and has yet to throw an interception. He has completed 68.3 percent of his passes. Wilkins, a redshirt junior, was the No. 6-rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation when he came out of high school in 2014.

"This will be the first time we've had a good mobile quarterback that we've had to go against," Taggart said. 

Senior running back Kalen Ballage has rushed for 179 yards and four touchdowns but is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. 

Sophomore wide receiver N'Keal Harry is Wilkins' top target. The 6-foot-4 Harry has caught 24 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns. 

ASU's defense is led statistically by two freshmen. Defensive end Jojo Wicker has three sacks on the season and linebacker D.J. Calhoun is averaging 10.3 tackles per game. 

Fear factor (five-point scale): 3.5.  It's a road game. It's a conference game. It's against what will be by far the best offense the Ducks have faced this season. There's a lot to be worried about for Oregon. However, ASU is about as bad on defense as the Ducks were last season. If the Ducks take care of the football they would once again surpass 40 points. We will know after this game if UO's defense truly has bite if it can keep the Sun Devils in check. 

Early pick: Oregon, 47-33. Oregon's defense will be challenged but it won't give up enough points to waste what should be a strong showing by the Ducks' offense. 

Ducks' defense excelling with greater challenges ahead

Ducks' defense excelling with greater challenges ahead

LARAMIE, Wyo. - Whenever the down marker flips to "3" on opposing offenses, Oregon's punt return team jumps to attention and the offense becomes antsy. It's becoming a pavlovian response.

That's because 79 percent of the time this season, the Ducks' defense has stopped opposing teams from converting on third down, a dramatic shift from last season. And it all starts with attitude and desire. Oregon senior safety Tyree Robinson said he urges the defense on every third down to dig deep for that extra burst of energy that allows them to play harder so they can get off the field. 

“I think guys have really bought into that , which kind of makes us a special defense right now,” Robinson said. 

According to Oregon sophomore linebacker Troy Dye, defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt tirelessly preaches the importance of making plays on third down, or, the "money down," as he calls it. 

“We have to go out there and make that money,” Dye said. 

Right now, the No. 24 Ducks (3-0) are filthy rich. Opposing offenses have converted just 21.3 percent of the time on third downs, best in the Pac-12 Conference. Last year Oregon allowed a 48.5 percent conversion rate, 11th in the Pac-12. 

The Ducks' defense has shown dramatic improvement over last season in every category imaginable. A low third down conversion rate for opponents and eight turnovers forced have been two of the most important areas of improvement. They lead directly to the team allowing 23 points per game, down from 41.7 a year go. 

Wyoming (1-2) on Saturday managed to convert just 4 of 15 third down attempts during Oregon's 49-13 victory. Two Saturdays ago, Nebraska converted just 2 of 14 attempts during a 42-35 loss at Autzen Stadium. 

"It's great to see those guys get off the field on third down and get the ball back to our offense,” UO coach Willie Taggart said. 

He credits the success to the defense doing a great job of studying opponents and having an idea of what they like to do on third down. Also, they have done a great job of pressuring quarterbacks. Oregon already has 10 sacks after getting just 25 last season. The Ducks sacked Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen twice on Saturday while pressuring him all evening. A projected first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Allen managed just 64 yards passing against Oregon. 

“When you can get to the quarterback, and he didn’t have time to pass the ball, that’s what usually happens," Taggart said. "And if you can get to him early, he will start looking at the rush and I thought that’s what he did.”

Dye said the defense entered this season with something to prove and a chip on its collective shoulders following such a poor season in 2016 when the Ducks ranked 128th in total defense. Robinson said the experience gained last year by so many young players forced into action has paid off this season. 

“It’s awesome to have a defense that we have so much confidence in," UO quarterback Justin Herbert said.

But will it last? Oregon hasn't exactly faced quality offenses to date. Wyoming's 14.3 points per game ranks 120th in the nation. Nebraska ranks 63rd at 31.7 points per game. Oregon won 42-35 over Nebraska on Sept. 9. The Cornhuskers (1-2) lost 21-17 to Northern Illinois on Saturday. 

The Ducks begin Pac-12 Conference play this Saturday at Arizona State (1-2). There are 11 teams in the conference averaging better than 31 points per game, including the Sun Devils. Most teams have great passing offenses that will challenge the Ducks' Pac-12 leading 89.7 passing defense efficiency rating. 

ASU junior quarterback Manny Wilkins is averaging 308 passing yards per game with seven touchdown passes and zero interceptions. 

The Pac-12 is going to be a challenge, one the UO defense is looking forward to facing. 

“Oregon is not just an offensive school anymore," Dye said. "We play defense, too.”

Royce Freeman record watch 2017: One away from setting TD mark

Royce Freeman record watch 2017: One away from setting TD mark

Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman rushed for 157 yards on 30 carries during a 49-13 win Saturday at Wyoming to move to within less than 500 yards of breaking the Ducks' career rushing record held by LaMichael James.

Freeman entered the season with 4,146 career rushing yards and needing 937 to break LaMichael James' record of 5,082 (2009-2011). Freeman ranks second in the Pac-12 in rushing at 153.3 yards per game, trailing Stanford's Bryce Love (174.7). His 460 rushing yards rank third in the nation. 

Enjoying watching Freeman's hot start is the man who hands him the ball, sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert.

“It’s really fun to watch," he said. "Sometimes I hand the ball off and don’t carry out my fake and just watch.”

 

Here is a quick look at where Freeman's chase stands:

RUSHING YARDAGE

James' record: 5,082 yards.

Last week: Freeman rushed for 157 yards on 30 carries and scored three touchdowns at Wyoming (1-2).  

Previous games: Freeman rushed for 153 yards against Nebraska and 150 against Southern Utah. 

2017 total: Freeman now has has rushed for 460 yards rushing in three games.  

Career total: Freeman has 4,606 yards career rushing yards. 

Freeman needs: He is 477 yards away from breaking James' record. 

RUSHING TOUCHDOWNS

James' record: 53.

Last week: Freeman rushed for three touchdowns.   

2017 total: Nine.

Career total: Freeman has 53 rushing touchdowns for his career. 

Freeman needs: He is tied with James and needs one more rushing touchdown to sit alone atop the career mark. 

Next up: The Ducks play at Arizona State (1-2) Saturday in Tempe, Ariz. 

Ducks No. 24 in both AP and Coaches polls

Ducks No. 24 in both AP and Coaches polls

The Oregon Ducks entered both the Associated Press Top 25 and the Amway Coaches polls for the first time this season at No. 24 following a 49-13 win at Wyoming on Saturday. 

Oregon (3-0) sat just outside of the top 25 in both polls last week. 

Five Pac-12 teams reside in the AP Poll: No. 5 USC (3-0), No. 7 Washington (3-0), No. 18 Washington State (3-0), No. 23 Utah (3-0) and Oregon. 

Five Pac-12 teams are ranked in the Coaches Poll: No. 5 USC, No. 6 Washington, No. 18 WSU, No. 21 Utah and Oregon. 

Stanford (1-2) fell out of both top 25 polls after losing 20-17 at San Diego Sate. 

 

Why not rest players earlier when games stretch long past 3 hours?

Why not rest players earlier when games stretch long past 3 hours?

A few bouquets and boos from my college football weekend:

  • I've said it frequently, but coordinators make a difference. Oregon was brutal on defense last season and then Jim Leavitt shows up as defensive coordinator. All of a sudden Oregon is bringing a crowd to the football and not missing tackles. There is organization instead of chaos. Now I understand the opposition is going to get tougher, but this is a night-and-day difference. Leavitt knows what he is doing.
  • Portland State drew only 4,442 in its home opener Saturday afternoon and sent those loyalists home with a disappointing 37-14 defeat. That program just can't seem to find a groove. I wish I had an answer. Well, I do have an answer -- winning. But I just don't know how that's going to happen.
  • Oregon State? Offense was much better at Washington State but the defense is awful. As I said, coordinators matter and you wonder if somebody is going to walk the plank on the OSU coaching staff.
  • Oregon's running game is terrific and certainly Justin Herbert is an NFL quarterback in waiting. But against better competition you have to wonder if the lack of experience at wide receiver is going to hurt.
  • What has happened to Stanford?
  • Football coaches have always bewildered me with their reluctance to remove starters -- particularly their valuable quarterbacks -- late in games. Oregon kept a good part of its offense on the field past the halfway mark of the fourth quarter with a huge lead. Washington State kept Luke Falk out there way too long in a blowout. Oregon State was still sending Jake Luton on the field long after the Beavers' chances of winning were long gone. Luton, of course, got hurt.
  • Here's my deal: these college games today are taking forever to play. Instead of looking at the game clock and making a decision about taking players out, take a look at the wristwatch once in a while. Three hours is a long time to stay on the field. I get tired just watching these games and I can't imagine what it's like to keep trudging back out on the field to take more hits as long games crawl to a finish. Resting players is not only a precaution, it's a chance to allow the backup kids who are killing themselves in practice all season to get some game time.
  • One more thought about Oregon: It was an impressive enough win at Wyoming that there was no need to go for it on fourth-and-two in the third quarter with a 42-10 lead. And there was certainly no reason to be throwing to the end zone with 11 seconds left in the game. Yeah, I know -- you want the backups to get some experience. If that's the case, put them in earlier.

Oregon winning with swag, but now things get real

Oregon winning with swag, but now things get real

LARAMIE, Wyo. - Oregon coach Willie Taggart concluded an on-field postgame interview moments after his team had easily dispatched of Wyoming, 49-13 at War Memorial Stadium and then began to jog toward the stadium exit to meet his team in its locker room. 

Taggart, however, quickly changed direction and instead headed toward the hundreds of thrilled Oregon fans still cheering from the stands near the field exit. He then ran alongside the railing, slapping hands with fans before working his way out of the stadium. His action brought about more cheers from the Oregon faithful that had made the trip to Laramie for the game. 

There is no denying that Taggart, with his charisma and engaging personality, has won over the hearts of many Oregon fans who had no idea who he was before UO hired him last December. The Ducks' 3-0 start has justified the hype he generated over the offseason by hiring a strong staff and getting out to a dizzying start as a recruiter. 

The question now is: Where is all of this leading to this season?

Could the Ducks indeed be Pac-12 Conference contenders in year-one of the Taggart rebuilding process? Or, is the quick start simply a product of a young and talented team having played a weak schedule to date? It's difficult to tell. The only thing that we can say for sure is that these Ducks have been much stronger on defense than they were last year when the team went 4-8, they remain an offensive powerhouse under Taggart's guidance (at least in the first half of games) and there is enough youth playing key roles to expect continued improvement.

Taggart acknowledges the holes in his team. The offense, for the second week in a row, struggled in the second half scoring only one touchdown after being shutout after halftime by Nebraska last week. The defense dominated, but against a team that entered the game with 30 total point over two games. 

“It’s great when you can win and there’s so much more you can improve on,” Taggart said.

Indeed. Improvement is the key. The Ducks as they sit right now are not good enough to contend regardless of their record, shared by six other Pac-12 teams, including three within the North Division. They have not played well enough to expect that they have more than one sure win on their Pac-12 schedule. Oregon State (1-3) is the only team on paper that anyone could clearly say the Ducks should easily defeat. Every other game on UO's schedule should be approached with great trepidation. 

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Oregon is certainly building toward something. You can sense that the Ducks, under Taggart, and with such a young roster led by a star sophomore quarterback in Justin Herbert, has championship potential. It just probably won’t happen this season. And that's okay. 

This is a team that is exciting, fast, fun to watch and loaded with intriguing student-athletes. Plus, they appear to be a tight-knit group, which only makes them more endearing. Taggart, who instituted several team-bonding exercises during the offseason, said that the team's camaraderie is paying off in games. 

“Now I think these guys are seeing how it can make a difference with this football team," he said. "The beauty of it, again, is that when things go bad you don’t see anyone pointing fingers or complaining or anything.”

That's good because things are about to start going badly at a much higher rate. Oregon hasn't had much go wrong this season, winning its opener 77-21 over Southern Utah and then jumping out to halftime leads of 42-14 and 42-10 in the past two weeks. The Pac-12 won't be as kind. 

Most will score more often and not be as accommodating on defense. We will see numerous games still in doubt well into the second half. Such games will truly test just how far this team has come since last season.

The Ducks next play at Arizona State (2-1), which scores points, but right now could be regarded as the second weakest game on UO's remaining schedule. Then they host California (3-0), which is playing strong defense, and then No. 21 Washington State (3-0), which is led by a future NFL quarterback in Luke Falk who just threw six touchdown passes at OSU. 

Then the Ducks play at No. 19 Stanford (1-2 and struggling), at UCLA (2-1), host Utah (3-0 and about to become ranked) and then play at No. 6 Washington (3-0). 

That's seven tough games before the Ducks host Arizona (2-1), which has scored 60-plus points twice. 

There will be enough wins found in that schedule to expect at least seven for UO. Beyond that, it's a crapshoot. How many victories UO does earn will be determined by how much Oregon's hot start is the result of its play or the soft schedule that includes a 42-35 win over Nebraska, which just lost 21-17 to Northern Illinois. 

That all said, Oregon is taking care of business, and doing so with swag and confidence. The Ducks can't help whom they have played to date. All they can do is handle their own business. 

Whatever happens the rest of the way, the Ducks are on to something. It just might take another season for it to marinate before Taggart is greeting fans following a championship victory. 

Oregon WR Charles Nelson injures ankle, status uncertain

Oregon WR Charles Nelson injures ankle, status uncertain

LARAMIE, Wyo. - Oregon senior wide receiver Charles Nelson injured his right ankle during the first half of Saturday's 49-13 win at Wyoming and didn't return to action. 

He did, however, return to the field in a walking boot and on crutches.

Oregon coach Willie Taggart said following the game that Nelson's injury wasn't as bad as he initially thought it might be when it first happened. But Taggart said he wasn't sure just how badly Nelson was injured. 

"We won’t know until we get the X-rays," Taggart said.

Nelson is by far the team's most experienced receiver. He leads the team with 13 receptions for 216 yards and one touchdown. Nelson had two receptions for 27 yards on Saturday before getting injured. 

With Nelson out, junior slot Taj Griffin saw his first action of the season since injuring his knee late last year and scored on a 20-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert. 

Redshirt junior Alex Ofodile and sophomore receiver Brenden Schooler also saw extensive action. Freshman slot Darrian McNeal struggled and failed to haul in a couple of passes. 

Losing Nelson would be costly. He gives Herbert a reliable target in the middle of the field that he can rely on in any situation. Losing him for any length of time would place more pressure on an already very young group. 

 

 

Watch: Rapid Reaction - Give Ducks D credit following win at Wyoming

Watch: Rapid Reaction - Give Ducks D credit following win at Wyoming

Playing at 7,200 feet of elevation the Oregon Ducks proved to be too much for Wyoming, dominating the Cowboys' offense from start to finish. Check back here and on twitter (@CSNNW) through out the night for postgame stories and videos from Wyoming. 

 

Box Score: Oregon 49, Wyoming 13

Videos:
Royce Freeman: We need to develop Mamba Mentality
Coach Taggart: 3rd downs and Freeman's 50 yard play
Justin Herbert analyzes the second half offensive struggles
Did Justin Herbert out duel Josh Allen?
Suke: It is not a stretch to call this a good defense
Sry Not Sry: Herbert vs. Allen & Royce in the Heisman hunt?

Brenden Schooler returns to Wyoming to face his friend and Doppelgänger

Brenden Schooler returns to Wyoming to face his friend and Doppelgänger

EUGENE - Had Oregon wide receiver Brenden Schooler accepted Wyoming's scholarship offer the coaching staff there might have had trouble distinguishing him from junior safety Andrew Wingard

Schooler is 6-foot-2, 195 pounds with long, flowing blonde hair that hangs from his helmet and waves when he runs. Wingard is 6-1, 209 pounds also with long, flowing, blonde hair that hangs from his helmet and waves when he runs. 

"We definitely look alike with the pads on," Schooler said. 

As it turns out, Schooler and Wingard are pals. They became friendly when Wingard showed Schooler around during a recruiting visit last year. While watching game film of Wyoming this week, Oregon wide receivers and position coach Michael Johnson noticed that Wyoming has its own version of Schooler. 

"Coach Johnson was saying it looks like there is a mini you out there,'" Schooler said. "I'm like no, he's not mini. He's a little bigger than me."

He also could be a problem for Oregon (2-0) when the Ducks play at Wyoming on Saturday (4 p.m. kickoff).

The Ducks' offense is going up against a defense that has allowed just 24 points in two games this season with all of them coming during a 24-3 loss at Iowa. The Cowboys' defense was one of the best in the nation last year and Wingard was a big reason why. The First-Team All-Mountain West selection was named a semifinalist for the Thorpe Award and ranked fifth in the conference and 22nd in the nation in tackles per game (9.4). He had 131 total tackles.

Had Schooler gone to Wyoming, he and Wingard likely would have been roaming the Cowboys' secondary together. But Schooler had other plans. 

The only FBS offer Schooler received coming out of Mission Viejo High School (Mission Viejo, Calif.) as a 2-star athlete came from Wyoming and even it didn't come his way until Jan. 29, 2016, just days before signing day.

"It was honestly a blessing to get that offer," Schooler said. "It was my first and only one."

He turned it down.

"I just felt like I always wanted to play in the Pac-12," he said. 

But an offer from a Pac-12 school didn't materialize. So, he considered going the junior college route.

"It was frustrating because I knew my ability, I knew my talent," Schooler said. 

Last summer, Oregon, in need of secondary help, came calling and then coach Mark Helfrich signed Schooler as a defensive back in July. A month later Schooler went from once being considered unworthy of receiving a scholarship from a Pac-12 program to starting for one. 

Oregon's issues in the secondary led to Schooler breaking into the starting lineup in the third game of the season at Nebraska. He never lost his job and finished the season third on the team with 73 tackles and he led the team with four interceptions. 

New Oregon coach Willie Taggart, however, decided to move Schooler to wide receiver during fall camp. On Saturday against Nebraska, he scored his first touchdown on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Justin Herbert in the left corner of the end zone on a ball that was slightly underthrown. 

"The first thing that went through my mind was 'jump ball,' I gotta go get it," Schooler said.

He did. And it could be the first of many big plays to come for Schooler. 

"That was a great confidence booster for him," Johnson said. "He needed that to propel him to that next level of wide receiver play."