It’s nice to have stability at the most important position in sports.
The Arizona Wildcats have it now, with Khalil Tate having taken over at quarterback and run his way into the Heisman Trophy conversation. Oregon, their opponent Saturday, is still seeking it.
The Cats can relate to the uncertainty the Ducks currently face. They are hoping to have starting quarterback Justin Herbert back this week. He has been out since Sept. 30, when he suffered a broken left (non-throwing) collarbone.
Oregon has been forced to play freshman Braxton Burmeister, a former Arizona commit, before he was ready — much in the same way the UA had to play Tate last season. It’s not an ideal scenario.
“We know with Justin he can run the entire offense. With Braxton, he’s getting there,” Oregon coach Willie Taggart told reporters Monday. “He didn’t have the luxury of going through spring ball getting all the reps, and going through training camp getting all the reps. He had to just get in midway through the season. ‘Hey, you go take care of this.’
“It’s just unfortunate that he was thrown in in that situation. But I think in the long run it’s going to help him tremendously, getting that experience in games as he continues to grow and continues to get better. He’s going to be fine.”
Oregon managed to win the game in which Herbert got hurt, beating Cal 45-24. That lifted the Ducks to 4-1. They are 1-4 since.
Oregon averaged 49.6 points in its first five games. It has averaged 15 since.
Herbert, a sophomore, was playing as well as any quarterback in the Pac-12. He had a 68.3 percent completion rate, a 9-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 172.9 efficiency rating when he went down.
Burmeister, a four-star prospect from La Jolla, California, has completed 56.6 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and six interceptions. His efficiency rating is 85.3.
Herbert has been practicing, but Taggart remained coy about his status.
“He’s getting close. He’s getting really close,” the first-year coach said. “Guess we’ll see as the week goes on and probably get another X-ray and see where he is. Hopefully, he’s completely healed and ready to roll.”
Pressed for a timeline to make a decision, Taggart pulled a page out of Rich Rodriguez’s playbook: “I’d say 3:59 on Saturday.” The game is scheduled to kick off at 4 p.m. Pacific Time.
Rodriguez played that game with the press for much of last season. Anu Solomon and Brandon Dawkins battled for the quarterback job in training camp, and Rodriguez didn’t publicly name a starter until shortly before the opener. Then Solomon got hurt, kick-starting a procession of injuries that inflicted him and Dawkins.
Rodriguez eventually had to turn to Tate, a 17-year-old freshman whom the coaching staff planned to redshirt.
He flashed the talent he has displayed this season but didn’t have the playbook knowledge or fitness that he has now.
At 7-3, 5-2 in the Pac-12, Arizona has exceeded any reasonable team timeline coming off a 3-9 season. But that can happen “when you’re getting the kind of quarterback play we’ve gotten out of Khalil,” Rodriguez said.
Despite barely playing the first four games, Tate ranks seventh in the nation in rushing (1,293 yards). He leads the conference in passing efficiency (155.5).
Asked what the Ducks need to do to defend Tate, Taggart said: “Pray. No one has stopped him yet this year. He’s a heck of a talent. Big-time football player and is really good with the ball in his hand.”
At least Oregon knows what it will be up against. Arizona will prepare to face two quarterbacks: the experienced Herbert and the youthful Burmeister.
“They probably can do more with Justin, because he’s got more experience,” Rodriguez said.
“The word is … that he’ll be ready to go.”
It would be inaccurate to call Burmeister a one-time Arizona commit. He was actually a two-time commit.
Burmeister committed to Arizona, de-committed, re-committed, then dropped the Wildcats in favor of the Ducks.
When a reporter suggested that Burmeister had left Arizona at the altar twice, Rodriguez paused before responding: “That’s an interesting way to phrase it.”
Rodriguez had nothing but positive things to say about Burmeister, in whom the UA staff invested considerable time and resources.
“Braxton’s played really well for them,” Rodriguez said. “For us it’s no surprise, because we know he’s an outstanding player. That’s why we recruited him.”
Things turned out fine for the Wildcats. Tate emerged as a star. Dawkins provides experience as his backup. Arizona added three freshmen this year in Donavan Tate, Rhett Rodriguez and K’Hari Lane. And the UA has a verbal commitment from Cienega dual-threat standout Jamarye Joiner.
“I like the quarterbacks we have,” Rich Rodriguez said. “We’ve got an outstanding group of freshman quarterbacks on our roster. Recruiting is going well in that regard. So we feel pretty good about our quarterback spot the next few years.”
- Rodriguez expects freshman safety Scottie Young Jr. to be available this week after he sat out last week’s game vs. Oregon State. Young was not listed on the injury report but was limited in practice, Rodriguez said. He returned the previous week against USC after missing time because of a knee injury. Young dressed for the OSU game, spent part of it riding a stationary back and could have played if necessary, Rodriguez said.
- Rodriguez said receiver Shawn Poindexter didn’t realize he couldn’t block a player out of bounds. Poindexter was penalized for that against Oregon State. The whistle had not yet blown on the play.
- Rodriguez was dumbfounded that center Nathan Eldridge got flagged for a low block. “He was basically doing his job, what we teach him to do,” Rodriguez said. Arizona has submitted that play to the league for clarification.
- Rodriguez said Tate got tricked by Oregon State’s Shawn Wilson on the pass that Wilson ended up intercepting. Wilson showed a man-coverage look before backing off into a zone.
- Senior Marcus Griffin was part of the rotation at defensive tackle vs. OSU. “He has earned it,” Rodriguez said. “He’s practiced really well.”
- Rodriguez said freshman defensive end My-King Johnson is among the players who have stood out on the scout team. Johnson is redshirting this season but could be a factor as a pass rusher next year with more experience and time in the weight room.
- Rodriguez expects Autzen Stadium to provide a challenging environment. “They’ve got a great crowd,” Rodriguez said, “and they’re right on top of you.” Rodriguez said the Wildcats might practice with sprinklers on, as they did a few years ago before a game at Utah, to get used to working in wet conditions.