By Ryan Thorburn

The (Eugene) Register-Guard

Next up

Oregon at UCLA

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

TV: Pac-12 Line: Bruins by 6½

Willie Taggart strolled onto the football field two hours before kickoff, sat down on a folding chair along the visiting sideline and soaked up the moment.

Oregon’s head coach has come a long way in a short time since his days as a young Stanford assistant.

Moments later, defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt appeared out of the tunnel from the visiting locker room and began jogging laps around the field at Stanford Stadium.

Taggart and his new coaching staff still have more steps to climb together before the program contends for a Pac-12 championship again.

During Saturday night’s deflating 49-7 loss to No. 23 Stanford, the Ducks had trouble completing a forward pass on offense, were not ready to tackle in the first quarter on defense and allowed a backbreaking touchdown on special teams.

After falling to 4-3 overall and 1-3 in the Pac-12, Taggart will try to keep his first season at Oregon from unraveling as Mark Helfrich’s final season did last fall with a last-place finish in the North Division.

“We’re not going to go down the same path we went down last year,” sophomore linebacker Troy Dye vowed after Oregon’s most lopsided loss ever against the Cardinal. “Everybody’s on board; everybody trusts coach T. No one’s going to slack off like we did last year. …

“When you take losses like this it does hurt, it does sting. But we’ve just got to keep pushing forward, and everyone needs to step up in a big way and continue to push.”

Justin Herbert continues to push his rehab of a fractured collarbone, so the Ducks will likely have to rally around Braxton Burmeister, who has six turnovers in two starts, for a few more weeks.

The true freshman has completed 19 of 36 passes for 172 yards and one touchdown with four interceptions since being forced to burn his redshirt in the fourth quarter against California on Sept. 30 after both Herbert and Taylor Alie were injured.

“I think if I saw that in practice, he wouldn’t be in the game playing,” Taggart said after Burmeister completed three passes for 23 yards with two interceptions against Stanford. “The kid had a good week of practice. He just came out and didn’t have the game that we wanted to.”

Burmeister had more rushing attempts (nine) than passing attempts (eight), including a 1-yard touchdown in the first quarter. He was benched by Taggart, who gave Alie a late opportunity to spark the offense, before getting put back in the game and losing a fumble in the fourth quarter to cap a forgettable performance.

“I feel like the toughest times you go through makes you who you are,” Freeman said when asked about Burmeister, who Oregon does not make available for media interviews because he is a freshman. “We have a lot of football left to play, so I keep reminding him, you don’t have to be a hero. You don’t have to go do anything out of your element, and we’re here for him.”

Oregon still needs to find two wins on the schedule to gain bowl eligibility and avoid back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1985-86.

The Ducks play at UCLA (3-3, 1-2) on Saturday at the Rose Bowl. Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen is second in the nation in passing yards per game (392.3), but UCLA’s defense is ranked 124th in points allowed per game (40.5) and 126th in yards allowed (523.0) out of 129 FBS teams.

“We’ve got an opportunity next week going down to L.A. and try to get back in the win column,” Taggart said. “But we’ve got to play a hell of a lot better if we’re going to do that. We can’t hurt ourselves. We’ve got to be more disciplined, and we’ve got to throw the football better.”

Taggart’s team finished with nine penalties totaling 101 yards and five completed passes (Alie was 2-for-5 for 10 yards) totaling 33 yards. Oregon is worst among FBS teams in penalties, averaging 10.1 for 94.7 yards per game.

“That’s a great question,” Taggart said when asked about his plan to fix the mistakes. “We’re working on it, we’re trying to get them corrected. Just got to keep working. We’ve got to keep coaching and keep working.”

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