Herbert, Ducks look to keep streak alive
EUGENE — Rich Brooks is active on Twitter.
So the former Oregon coach, now 75, understands that the administration and fans won’t be as patient with Mark Helfrich in a culture of “instant gratification” that’s different from the time when Brooks roamed the sideline at Autzen Stadium from 1977-94.
“When you get used to that success, one bad season can jump up and bite you pretty fast. It’s obvious that that’s happened,” Brooks said on The Register-Guard podcast. “I think Mark Helfrich is a great guy and he has embraced the university, he’s embraced the fans. I think he’s done a good job of trying to represent the university. It’s just tough. Certainly with some of the issues on the Oregon team this year, it’s been a difficult season.
“It’s obvious that they have one great young quarterback. That’s something to build off of.”
The $11.6 million question, whether Helfrich will return for the 2017 season, can only be answered by athletic director Rob Mullens after the Ducks finish the regular season against Oregon State on Saturday at Reser Stadium.
As Brooks noted, it appears Oregon’s offense will be in the capable hands of Justin Herbert for years to come as the true freshman quarterback prepares for his first Civil War.
Since taking the reins for a fourth-quarter drive on Oct. 1 at Washington State and starting the last six games, Herbert has completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 1,756 yards with 18 touchdowns and four interceptions.
The local Sheldon High product led the Ducks to a 30-28 comeback victory at Utah last week, throwing a perfect fade pass in the back of the end zone, where Darren Carrington made a brilliant catch with two seconds on the clock.
Now Herbert will try to calm another storm on Saturday in Corvallis.
“I don’t think any other emotions than a regular week,” Herbert said of facing the rival Beavers. “It’s a big game and we’ve just got to prepare like it’s any other game.”
Oregon hasn’t lost a Civil War since Herbert was in the fourth grade. If the Ducks are able to win for the ninth consecutive time over the Beavers, it will be the longest streak by either side in the series history, which dates back to 1894.
A win would be a nice sendoff for Oregon’s senior class and would give the returning players — including the 14 freshmen and six sophomores listed on this week’s two-deep —some momentum heading into the offseason.
The young core plans to follow Herbert’s lead into winter workouts and spring practice.
Senior linebacker Johnny Ragin remembered the first pass Herbert threw during 7-on-7 workouts over the summer.
“He slung the ball way down the field. I was like, ‘OK, this kid is not afraid to play,’ ” Ragin recalled. “I have full confidence in him. He’s a great guy on and off the field, reminds me of Marcus (Mariota) in a lot of ways. I’m just excited to see his future.”
Veteran skill players like Carrington and tight end Pharaoh Brown were raving about Herbert during fall camp.
If there’s a silver lining playbook for the program in a 4-7 season, it’s that the frustrating campaign led to Herbert accruing some invaluable experience in the spotlight after Dakota Prukop exited stage left.
“Justin is an outstanding player,” freshman tight end Jacob Breeland said. “Coming in as a true freshman with all the confidence he has and the right reads he makes, we’re just like, ‘Wow.’”
Herbert tied the program’s single-game record for touchdown passes (five) at California, matched Bill Musgrave’s single-game passing yards record (489) and set the single-game record for total yards (512) against Arizona State.
The first freshman to start at quarterback for Oregon since Chris Miller in 1983 wears a poker face to his interview sessions. But a safe assumption to make is that all Herbert really cares about entering the Civil War is ending the regular season on a two-game winning streak and keeping the Ducks’ faint postseason hopes alive.
“He’s a tough one to read because he’s pretty calm and collected. He never really shows his emotion,” offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said. “He’s a fierce competitor. I’ve been amazed as a freshman, it shows a lot of composure that he can just focus on that play and not worry about all the other stuff.
“I thought he showed that last week at a crucial time. The last two-minute drive is as good as I’ve been around, as far as a guy having composure when there is a lot of outside stuff going on.”