It was hard not to notice Oregon Athletic Director, Rob Mullen’s almost continuous smile after last night’s game against Southern Utah. As he stood against the press room wall waiting for Coach Taggart’s post game presser, Mullens stared out and smiled to himself. Not once, but several times.
And he should have.
Sure, the Ducks hung up 77 points against Southern Utah, a far cry from the Power 5 opponents soon to come, starting with Nebraska next Saturday. Still, the takeaways from Taggart’s Oregon debut are incredibly promising and could, dare I say it, signal this team could go the distance.
When people have asked me over the past couple of months how many wins I think Oregon will get this season, I’ve been quick to boldly say “10 or more.” Generally, the response is usually met with “Seriously? Are you crazy?”
Maybe. Maybe not.
Let’s face it, last year’s woes were not due to a lack of talent. A lack of experience? Yes. There was also a lack of chemistry, energy and of course, leadership. Together, we witnessed a perfect and very ugly storm.
Coach Taggart and his staff seem to have calmed the storm. Not only have they clearly fine-tuned fundamentals, they have further developed the already solid playmakers like Justin Herbert, who was commanding and crisp, and Royce Freeman, who at times looked like a monster truck plowing over the SUU defense. Add to this the fact that several of Taggart’s top recruits were ready to contribute immediately and the youth already on both lines last season have had another year to develop.
Perhaps the most notable change, however, was the energy seen on the sideline- the “juice,” as coach Taggart likes to call it. As players sang danced in unison, Autzen lit up, perhaps in ways it hasn’t in years. Players jokingly coined their dance moves, “Swag Surfin’, ” something they attributed to Coach Taggart who has insisted they have fun (while winning of course). What is “Swag Surfin’” you ask? Good question. It was apparently the name of the song the team was “Swag Surfin’” to.
It may be a good idea to get familiar with it here. RB Royce Freeman told reporters last night he hoped the crowd would get in on the action too.
Clearly there are holes to be fixed but even the deepest one (defense) showed some promise, shutting out SUU completely in the second half. As the Ducks turn the page and look ahead to Nebraska, it’s hard to argue that many of last season’s missing pieces have been found. How Oregon’s puzzle compares to the rest of the conference (and the top 25) is the million dollar question. Perhaps quite literally.
For now, it’s time to celebrate. Coach Taggart promised to “do something” and so far he certainly has.
Final Score: Oregon 77 Southern Utah 21
Follow Nichole Brown on Twitter @UOgridirongirl