EUGENE — Oregon coach Willie Taggart didn’t have to think too hard about who was starting at quarterback Saturday in place of injured Justin Herbert.
The medical staff made the decision for him when they ruled senior backup Tyler Alie out on Friday as he recovers from a concussion, leaving the job to to true freshman Braxton Burmeister, who went 15-for-27 for 145 yards and a touchdown in the 33-10 loss to No. 11 Washington State at Autzen Stadium.
The 6-foot-1, 204-pounder from La Jolla, Calif., who was on schedule to redshirt before injuries decimated the Ducks’ QB depth last week against California, also threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter and lost a fumble.
"Braxton did some good things and some bad things," Taggart said. "He did some things most freshmen do. I think this is a game he can learn a lot from. He got his first game out of the way and I think he will be better as we move forward. He needs a lot more help around him to continue to progress."
Burmeister got off to a good start Saturday, completing 6 of 7 passes in the first quarter, including a 30-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jacob Breeland that put Oregon ahead 10-7.
"I thought he handled it pretty well," Breeland said. "He was confident, not nervous. There were a couple issues we had when he was not loud enough, but other than that, he did a great job."
Burmeister was not available for interviews after the game because Taggart has a policy of not allowing freshmen to talk to the media.
Taggart said he told the team in the locker room to keep believing in Burmeister with Herbert likely to miss at least another month with a fractured collarbone.
Taggart also wouldn’t commit to starting Burmeister next week at Stanford.
"We will evaluate the film and see where we go from there," Taggart said. "Braxton is going to be better and we are going to go with the guy we have."
COUGARS STEP UP ON 'D': Washington State’s win was backed by an impressive defensive performance.
The Cougars held the top-scoring team in the NCAA scoreless for the final three quarters and kept Oregon’s ground game in check.
One week after the Ducks rushed for 328 yards in their win against Cal, Royce Freeman and company were held to 132 and no touchdowns.
“A big key for our defense is we want to hold people under 100 rushing yards,” WSU safety Hunter Dale said. “We have a big thing about we want to make them pass, not make them run, and think we did a great job stopping the run tonight.”
Oregon had just 277 yards of total offense, well off its per-game average of 537.4.
“I thought we ran to the ball well, obviously we got some turnovers which helped us,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “All their skill players are really fast guys. … They have a lot of speed out there and they’re very explosive and we did a pretty good job keeping a lid on them.”
OREGON DEFENSE DOES FINE: The vastly improved Oregon defense wasn’t good enough as the Ducks lost to the Cougars for the third straight year.
Still it was an impressive performance.
Oregon, which was ranked 30th nationally in total defense at the start of the game after finishing the 2016 season ranked 115th, gave up just 282 yards through the air against Washington State’s pass-happy attack, and 369 yards overall.
The Ducks had been thriving on their big-play ability this fall, and they started the game ranked second nationally in sacks (20), fourth in tackles for loss (43), eighth in third-down defense (26 percent) and 10th with seven interceptions.
Against Washington State they had four more sacks, six tackles for a loss and held the Cougars to 2-of-13 on third down.
THE RETURN OF ROYCE: Oregon’s star running back returned to the starting lineup after missing most of last week’s game against California with an undisclosed injury.
He rushed for 62 yards and no touchdowns on Saturday and missed out on some career milestones.
The senior remains one score away from the school record for touchdowns and points scored.
He is tied with LaMichael James in career touchdowns with 28, and points scored with 348.
PLAYERS RETURN: Freeman wasn’t the only Duck to return to the lineup on Saturday.
Tight end Jacob Breeland was a late scratch last week against the Golden Bears but played against the Cougars and caught a 30-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.
Safety Tyree Robinson was back after his first-half ejection for targeting last week. He had three tackles and a fumble recovery against Washington State.
Oregon remained without starting receiver Charles Nelson (ankle) for the third straight game, as well as starting receiver Dillon Mitchell (concussion), who was injured against Cal.
Most glaring, of course, was the absence of Herbert, who is sidelined indefinitely with his shoulder injury.