Coach Willie Taggart said the Ducks do not have their starting quarterback healthy enough to play in a game, even though Justin Herbert was on the field throwing passes during Sunday’s practice.
“I said stop teasing me, but he’s not ready,” Taggart said during his Monday press conference at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. “I know he’s been drinking his milk. I’m sure he’ll get back quicker than we think.”
While Herbert continues to double-fist liquid protein and rehab his fractured collarbone this week, Braxton Burmeister will be getting more reps in practice as the coaching staff works to get the true freshman up to speed after two shaky Pac-12 starts.
Burmeister, a touted high school prospect growing up in La Jolla, California, will try to get the Ducks back on track against UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
“Everyone loves to play at the Rose Bowl. I’m sure him growing up in Southern Cal, he’s probably always thought about doing that someday,” Taggart said. “I’m sure he’ll be fired up to get down there and play.
“We just want Braxton to have fun. That’s part of it, too. I told him the other night, ‘You don’t look like you’re having fun.’”
Burmeister’s chin was understandably down after he completed three passes and committed three turnovers during the 49-7 loss at Stanford.
Oregon is 0-2 with a total of 17 points scored in the past two games after going 4-1 and averaging 49.6 points in the five games Herbert started.
“I don’t think we have to put confidence in him,” Taggart said of Burmeister, one of 13 true freshmen thrust into playing time for Oregon this season. “He has to play better and that confidence will come.
“We’ve got to make sure from a practice standpoint we put him in those situations more often than what we do so he can be sure about what he’s doing, where he’s going and where he needs to look.”
UCLA’s defense could be an elixir for Oregon’s struggles without Herbert. The Bruins (3-3, 1-2) are ranked 124th in points allowed per game (40.5) and 126th in yards allowed (523.0) out of 129 FBS teams.
The Ducks will continue to lean on the running game after finishing with 276 yards on the ground, including 31 yards and a touchdown by Burmeister, at Stanford Stadium.
Taggart and his staff will also have to design a game plan in which the young signal-caller can make some easy throws to get wide receivers Charles Nelson and Dillon Mitchell and tight end Jacob Breeland involved.
None of Herbert’s favorite targets had a reception against the Cardinal.
“Calm down and just play,” Taggart said of the approach he wants Burmeister to take against the Bruins. “You don’t have to win the game; you don’t have to make all the plays, just make the right play for us. When he gets a good understanding of that, I think things will be better. But we’ve got to help him with that.”