Photo via Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard
Despite the Oregon Ducks being a dominating force for a good number of years, only missing out on one bowl game since 1997, they have not been good at football recently.
Rather, their basketball team is the talk of the town.
Ducks’ football went 4-8 this season with a conference record of 2-7, a stark contrast to the program’s history.
Going into the 2016 season, the hope was high that Oregon would be more than just competitive. They won their first two games and were ranked no. 22 by Week 3 and it seemed former Ducks coach Mark Helfrich had proved he could further the program’s domination.
However, that was far from the truth.
The Ducks’ defense could not stop anyone. For example, the Washington Huskies mopped the floor with them in a 70-21 win, and the Stanford Cardinal defeated them 52-27.
A surprise win over no. 11 Utah looked promising, but they never recovered from a slew of injuries that started the year.
The lack of success has cost Oregon seven committed players and Helfrich’s job.
What should we expect of the Ducks going forward?
The Ducks will rebound with the hiring of former South Florida coach Willie Taggart, who has a record of turning programs around.
Taggart revitalized the USF program turning them into a 10-win football team.
At his previous job, he was able to turn a two-win Western Kentucky team into a bowl eligible team in just one season.
Clearly, Taggart has mastered the art of rebuilding. He has also surrounded himself with capable assistant coaches and coordinators that will make the transition for the program much easier.
One promising hire is former defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt from Colorado.
Leavitt has already had to rehabilitate another program, the Colorado Buffaloes. When he first arrived, Colorado had the no. 109 ranked defense. After last season, they were ranked as the no. 12 defense, per Football Outsiders.
He switched the defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4, allowing the players more independence and flexibility. The defense included all sorts of tricks, and surprising blitz packages, but now teams should know what is coming.
It will be much more difficult now, but if anyone can do it, it is him.
This might prove to be the most important decision Taggart has made for the program. The Ducks desperately need veteran leadership to lead a new and improved defense.
The Ducks have had some luck with recruiting in the past couple months, and although the results won’t show immediately, the future is bright.
Most impressively, Oregon landed former Clemson graduate defensive linemen Scott Pagano. He’s a 6-foot-4, 295-pound giant out of Clemson. Despite limited time on the field, he should be a powerful force for the Ducks’ D.
He had 93 tackles, eight for a loss, and 2.5 sacks in his 705 career snaps. In Oregon he’ll serve as a defensive anchor and will be a headache for opponents who rely on the run.
In the 2016 season, the Ducks only had one player to have more than 10 tackles for loss (Troy Dye), and they’re in sore need of more depth. Dye also had the most sacks with 5.5.
Also, the team was only able to force three fumbles all season.
The Ducks also snagged four-star cornerback Thomas Graham. Graham is ranked no. 6 in the nation at his position and no. 49 overall, according to the ESPN 300 rankings. He will provide help in the secondary, which Oregon desperately needs.
As a senior, Graham chalked up two interceptions (returned one for a touchdown), made 45 tackles, and had seven pass break-ups. The Under Armor All-American athlete also caught six touchdowns on 39 receptions for 490 yards in his last year.
As a team, the Ducks only had 10 interceptions during the entire 2016 season.
Three-star recruit Jordon Scott many also bolster the Ducks’ defensive. He is a 345-pound defensive tackle from Florida. Scott was ranked 51st in the nation at his position, per ESPN. During his senior season, he recorded 40 tackles with nine for loss and three sacks.
Oregon is looking for players with size, good instincts, and ability to put pressure on the quarterback. It seems Taggart may have found a few to help improve his new Oregon defense.
Four-star cornerbacks Deommodore Lenoir and Jaylon Redd will make good compliments to the rest of the defense heavy recruiting class.
Lenoir had previously decommitted from Oregon, but Taggart was able to woo him back upon being hired. The 191-pound cornerback had 52 tackles and one interception in his 2016 season earning a no. 15 ranking at his position by ESPN.
However, Rivals has him ranked as the number one cornerback.
Jaylon Redd, who can also play wide receiver, adds a whole new element to an increasingly dynamic Ducks team. Rivals rates him as the no. 8 at his position (classifying him as an ‘athlete’).
These new hires and recruits should be enough to alter Oregon’s crash course to the bottom. However, it remains to be seen how Taggart will handle the pressure of being the man at Oregon.
A version of this article was posted to the JR report in December, entitled “What’s Wrong with the Oregon Ducks?” It was posted right before the 2016 bowl season, in which Oregon was painfully absent. Now, it is updated with additional information and thoughts.