It might as well be Christmas Eve for Ducks Football fans.
After a devastating 2016 season and a long off-season, the Ducks will enter Autzen Stadium under new leadership. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock the past few months, you are well aware that the keys to the Ferrari been passed on to new Head Coach, Willie Taggart, who brought with him an entirely new coaching staff.
Out with the old. In with the new.
I confess the changes were tough for this girl to accept but now that the dust has settled, as a writer and as a fan, I cannot be more excited. The change has been exciting to watch and it seems the team has undergone a much-needed revamp. Players and coaches seem energetic, happy and engaged. Now it’s time to see how all of the hype will translate into X’s and O’s.
In honor of Oregon’s newly embraced Taggartism, “Do Something,” here are 5 “Somethings” Oregon must “Do” against Southern Utah. . .
“Just don’t get me any penalties,” Coach Taggart said this week when talking about his expectations of the team this weekend. “Do not get me any penalties,” he reiterated with a smile.
Got it! Coach.
Shaking of the dust from a rough 2016 season and adjusting to all the off-season changes in the program could translate into some close games this season. In short, the Ducks will be able to afford giving yards away. Penalties plagued the team last year, making an ugly year even uglier. Clearly Taggart knows history cannot repeat itself if his team wants to go the distance.
Get Young Receivers Reps
It’s no secret that Oregon’s run game will likely be its shining star this season. The passing game, however, remains a huge question mark, especially with the departure of veteran (and clutch) wide receiver, Darren Carrington to Pac-12 rival, Utah this Summer.
Yes, several receiver playmakers remain, including Charles Nelson, who will be returning to the position after playing defense last season, and Sophomore, Dillon Mitchell. Joining them in the two-deep depth chart will be a pair of freshman, Johnny Johnson III and Darrian McNeal, a Florida Native who has definitely caught my eye during Spring Practice and Fall Camp. He also scored points (from me) by flipping from the Arizona Wildcats. If you’ve been following me for the past few years, you definitely know why that warmed my heart).
In Oregon’s Spring Game, McNeal logged the second most receiving yards on his team. (An added bonus? Charles Nelson told gridirongirl this Summer that McNeal reminds him a lot of himself).
Watch for McNeal and Johnson III to develop into a top targets this season.
If all goes as expected, the Ducks should have some wiggle room on the scoreboard to work on getting their young receivers some reps- something they will definitely need heading into next week’s huge game against Nebraska.
Last year’s players and coaches often attributed much of their woes to a lack of communication and “missed assignments” on the field. This should be less of a problem this season as the team has worked extensively on “coming together”. Players have gotten to know each other better and team chemistry seems to be much more developed. Hopefully this will translate on the field. Having a more vocal Justin Herbert back at the helm and a number of returning offensive lineman should definitely help things along.
One of the problems that plagued the team last season was their inability to bounce back when hit with adversity. When things took a turn for the worst, it seemed the team imploded instead of rallying together to fight back. Much of this was likely due to the team being very young and having a lack of chemistry.
As the team adjusts to a new coaching staff, who will also be getting used to working together in a live game, there are sure to be some kinks. The team will inevitably face some set-backs and their ability to bounce back and fight for each other may be one of the biggest X-factors this season.
Let Justin Lead
From day one, Coach Taggart has been very clear about what he expects out of a quarterback. Talent alone will not cut it. At the end (and even before) of the Spring, he insisted that Justin Herbert, who may even be shier than a young Marcus Mariota, step out of his comfort zone and become a more vocal leader. Herbert seems to have heeded the call and the progress has been evident. He presents as more commanding and confident, something he credits, at least partially, to time spent at the Manning Passing Academy this Summer.
Tomorrow’s game will be the perfect opportunity for Herbert to develop his new leadership role even more before the season really heats up. It will be important for the team to let Herbert settle in and take charge.
There you have it! The long wait is over. Let’s see what Taggart and Co. can DO.
See ya at Autzen!
Follow Nichole Brown on Twitter @UOgridirongirl