Preview 2017: Uhhhh, Oregon. What Has Willie Taggart Won?
Okay, Oregon. What has Willie Taggart won? Can he make the Ducks a bigger winner?
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Okay, Oregon. So have you learned?
And more importantly, new head coach Willie Taggart, knowing what you now know, how can you make that one last adjustment to take the program – and your coaching career – to another level?
There’s no denying that the young rising superstar looks like he has everything in place to make Oregon a champion again, but …
He has yet to actually make anyone a champion.
He might have turned Western Kentucky football into a thing, but he didn’t win a Sun Belt title in his three years at the helm.
He might have turned South Florida back around, but after two miserable years, and a mediocre third season, he had the best team in the American Athletic Conference and didn’t get it done.
In seven years of being a head coach, he has yet to win a bowl game, or anything more than a share of one Group of Five division title.
Last season, USF didn’t play for the conference championship because Temple cranked up 319 rushing yards in a 46-30 win. The Bulls’ other loss came to Florida State – USF allowed 478 yards on the ground.
And now he’s coaching the program whose one big, giant, screaming, Achilles heel flaw is that in the highest of high-level games, its style didn’t work against the teams that could bring the hammer.
Oregon, what did you learn, and can you fix the glitch under Taggart?
What were you able to take away from everything that happened from about midway through the second half of the epic Alamo Bowl collapse to TCU, through the loss last year to Oregon State to close out the program’s worst season since 1991?
What did you learn from the national title losses to Ohio State to finish the 2014 season, and to Auburn at the end of 2010?
What did Ezekiel Elliott and Michael Dyer teach you? What does it mean that Washington was able to win the Pac-12 title, and Stanford won three times in the previous four seasons?
A great defense, occasionally, matters more than a great offense.
Power matters. Time of possession matters – sometimes. Taking control of games by hitting the other team in the mouth matters. Run defense matters.
And now you hired a head coach with a 40-45 record whose USF defense was 120th in the nation overall – allowing close to 200 rushing yards per game – on a team that finished 114th in the country in time of possession.
But there’s no denying the offense will still work, and there’s no question that Oregon got one of the hot guys in the biz.
Taggart has been amazing on the recruiting trail, his USF offense last year was outstanding, and he brought in a slew of fantastic assistants to Eugene who either were strong head coaches – like defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal – or will be soon – like co-offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo.
But Oregon has had amazing offenses before, and the style obviously turned out to be wildly successful – right up until it had to deal with the tough guy teams with nasty defensive fronts and blasting offensive lines that could wins games on sheer brute force.
Oh, sure, Oregon is going to be fantastic against a soft Nebraska team early on. It’ll probably roll by Arizona State, and overcome Cal and Washington State in shootouts. But what’s it going to do at Stanford against an improved team with another outstanding power ground game and great defense? How about at Washington, with the reigning Pac-12 champs looking like they’ll be every bit as nasty on both sides of the ball?
And that’s the point now. The 4-8 2016 season doesn’t matter any more than the 9-4 2015 season or the 11-2 2013 campaign did. Oregon has the bar set on at least winning Pac-12 titles and being in the mix for national championships, plural.
Anything less than that won’t do under Taggart, and then to do more, the program has to change its philosophical approach just a bit to handle those tough guys on the biggest stages.
This year’s team will be awfully good, though, as is.
There’s no real flaw on the offense. The Ducks have NFL starters at running back and receiver, the line is loaded with experience, and Justin Herbert would be one of the nation’s superstar quarterbacks coming into the season if he wasn’t in the same league as a few future NFL franchise-makers.
The woeful defense is at least full of veterans. There are options for Leavitt to play with on his front three, there’s more than enough speed and athleticism in the linebacking corps, and the secondary might be fine if that front seven could ever hit a quarterback on a regular basis.
Taggart is walking into a heater. He has the players in place, he has the facilities, he has the backing, he has the recruiting buzz, and he has the coaching talent to do more than just Win The Day.
Oregon has won a lot of days. It’s up to Taggart to figure out to win the biggest ones.