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When Oregon hired Willie Taggart this past offseason, the plan was to get this program back on track to its winning ways. After appearing in the National Championship Game two years ago, the ensuing seasons have been horrible by the program’s standards. Going 4-8 this past year called for a change.
In comes coach Taggart, a disciplined coach who wins and wants to change the culture but not completely. He still wants his team to be fast and put up video game numbers but still be able to slow the clock down and pick apart teams as well. Luckily for the Oregon coach, he has some upper and underclassmen to get the job done.
This Duck team is clearly led by senior running back Royce Freeman. Freeman has done nothing but lead in these past three games. Freeman ranks second all-time in rushing, touchdowns and total yards from scrimmage behind LaMicheal James. By next week, he will rewrite some Oregon history. This team is built around the senior rusher. His presence allows a star in the making to blossom in the process with sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert.
Herbert is an Oregon Native who took his lumps last year as a freshman. This year he looks much better running this offense. Coach Taggart has done a good job of allowing his quarterback to develop and letting him manage the game versus putting it all on him to win it. Taggart told his starting quarterback this spring, that the job was not his and he had to earn it. Herbert did just that. That’s how this coach is building a culture of competition.
The Ducks start conference play not ranked in the top 25. That won’t be for long. Oregon opens up conference play against Arizona State on the road this weekend. Expect this Duck team to pick things up. For once, the spotlight isn’t on Oregon to win the Pac-12 even though they have the talent to do so.
Coach Taggart needs to use these next two games to get his team on point before hosting Washington State followed by going on the road to play Stanford. By then they should be in the top 25 and climbing.
Two back to back wins against quality opponents should get them in the talks for the playoffs. Still, its PAC-12 champs or bust if this team wants to play for a national title. The big test will be Washington. If they can beat the Huskies, watch out. Beating Washington on the road late in the season will be big for the chances of this program to earn a playoff spot.
The x-factor will be this defense. If the Oregon Defense can somehow play above their 32nd total defensive rank, I like their chances. Oregon has never been known for shutdown defense, but they have always had guys that could make plays on the other side of the ball.
The Ducks are full of potential but can they put it together and keep it together in the begging of the Willie Taggart era?