EUGENE — Demetri Burch didn’t play in the game but was rewarded with a game ball by coach Willie Taggart inside a boisterous locker room after Oregon’s 48-28 victory over Arizona on Saturday.
The true freshman from Apopka, Florida., helped prepare Jim Leavitt’s defense for the challenge by simulating star quarterback Khalil Tate on the scout team.
So if Burch possesses a dynamic dual-threat skill set like Tate, did Taggart ever consider playing him at quarterback once Justin Herbert suffered a fractured collarbone in a Sept. 30 home win over California?
“After seeing him going against our defense this past week I was like, ‘Geez, if I would have known that, maybe we could have,’” Taggart said during his Monday news conference at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex.
“At that time, Demetri hadn’t been playing any quarterback, he had been with the receivers down on the scout team giving our defense a look.”
Senior Taylor Alie, who suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter against California after Herbert went down in the first quarter, was also unavailable for the Oct. 7 game against Washington State.
The coaching staff went all-in on true freshman Braxton Burmeister as Herbert’s placeholder, but Burch was a primary backup option against the Cougars.
“He was probably one guy (going) down from getting in,” Taggart said.
Burch, still projected as a wide receiver, is redshirting this season. The secret is out entering 2018 as Oregon looks to find a replacement for versatile senior Charles Nelson.
“We have a spot for him on this football team. He’s going to be pretty good for us,” Taggart said. “He’s one of those guys we have to find a way to put the ball in his hands because he’s special with it. He’s shown us.
“There’s no hiding him on this football team. They all know he can play now.”
HERBERT NOT RUSTY: Last week quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo anticipated that Herbert would have some rust to knock off when he returned to the lineup after a seven-week absence.
The sophomore signal-caller seemed to pick up where he left off in September, passing for 235 yards and a touchdown and rushing for a 40-yard touchdown against Arizona.
“There were a couple reads I think he’ll take back after seeing the game, simple things he could have done to help us out,” Taggart said after reviewing the film of Herbert’s performance. “But for the most part I thought he was on. It started with that run for the first touchdown.
“That was crazy for him to just take off and run for 40 yards and score. That was big for our entire football team.”
The Ducks are 5-1 in games Herbert has started this season and 1-4 without him. Taggart was asked if Oregon is the best 6-5 team in the country.
“You can’t put those two together — best and 6-5,” Taggart said. “I think we can be a good football team when we’re completely healthy. We can be a really good team and we can compete with the best of them when we have everybody.
“Unfortunately we didn’t and those things happen. That’s part of the growth.”
CHASING DANA: The Oregon men’s basketball program has the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class in the 2018 cycle after signing 7-foot-1 Bol Bol on Monday.
Taggart has watched Dana Altman take his program to an elite level this year with a Final Four appearance and then signing a historic class.
“We’re trying to get on their level,” Taggart said. “We’re getting close. Maybe (Altman) can give me some tips to take us over the top as we try to finish this recruiting class.
“He’s a damn good coach, a damn good recruiter, and it’s paying off for us.”
Oregon received a verbal commitment from four-star wide receiver Michael Ezeike on Monday.
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound prospect from Ontario, California, is the 24th nonbinding commitment in the Ducks’ 2018 football class, which is ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 and No. 6 nationally by 247Sports.
DYE HONORORED: Linebacker Troy Dye is the Pac-12 defensive player of the week after finishing with a team-high 11 tackles against Arizona.
Dye is the first Oregon player to earn a weekly award from the conference this season. The sophomore was also the Pac-12 defensive player of the week after finishing with 11 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and a sack in his first game with the Ducks last year against UC Davis.