Best supporting actor
It’s easy for Oregon fans to imagine what might have been had Justin Herbert not been injured this season.
The Ducks were 4-1 and averaging 49.6 points per game with Herbert starting at quarterback and are 1-4 and averaging 15 points per game since the sophomore star went down with a fractured collarbone.
But what if Taylor Alie didn’t also suffer an injury on Sept. 30 against California?
It’s a question the fifth-year senior tries not to dwell on entering his final two games at Autzen Stadium.
“There’s always that thought, but you can’t change that,” Alie said. “I’m just glad that I’m OK and didn’t get seriously injured.”
After Herbert was injured on a seven-yard touchdown in the first quarter, Alie came in and led the offense on three more scoring drives during the 45-24 victory over Cal before suffering a concussion in the fourth quarter.
Losing both Herbert and Alie in the same game forced the coaching staff to burn Braxton Burmeister’s redshirt. The true freshman has started the past five games for the Ducks, completing 43 of 76 passes (56.6 percent) for 324 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions.
“Yes and no,” Alie said when asked if it was frustrating not being the starter while Herbert has been healing. “Obviously, I wish that even when Justin is the quarterback. You don’t come to college football and want to sit on the sideline.
“It’s frustrating, but at the same time we’re a team. When Braxton was playing well I was excited, and when he wasn’t I was trying to get him on the right track.”
Herbert’s recovery, described as a six-to-eight week process by coach Willie Taggart, appears to be on track as the seven-week anniversary of the injury approaches.
During the portion of Tuesday’s practice open to the media, Herbert took some of the first-team snaps during fundamental drills, just as he did before the Washington game.
Quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo said even if Herbert is cleared to play against Arizona on Saturday he will have to knock some rust off before returning to his September form.
“I don’t think there’s any comparison with a guy who went through training camp and spring ball and had no issues and now had a little injury, a little setback and has been off for seven weeks,” Arroyo said. “He’s just got to go out there and do his best, and I’m confident he will.”
Coaches and players say Burmeister’s confidence hasn’t been shaken by the poor performances in the passing game.
Herbert passed for more yards (365) and touchdowns (three) against Nebraska than Burmeister has totaled in five starts.
“Braxton has been great as far as confidence goes,” Arroyo said. “Every week we’ve gone back and re-evaluated. We haven’t just gone and beat ourselves up completely. We’ve found a lot of the good of what we’ve tried to do and some things we can get better at.”
Despite the ups and downs, the Ducks (5-5, 2-5) still have chance to double last year’s win total by beating Arizona and Oregon State and winning a bowl game.
“The vibe is good,” Alie said. “I think the bye week helped us realign and refocus. It’s a two-game season for us now. Being 5-5 is never really fun, but we have a chance to make it 7-5.”
Although it’s a tough position to be in, Alie has handled the role of backing up both Herbert and Burmeister as only a loyal program player could.
“The seniors of this group have been awesome. I think that’s a tribute to the guys we’ve got that are on this team and the guys that have contributed to the morale of the team,” Arroyo said. “Taylor is a perfect example. His attitude has been great, he’s ready every week, and I really appreciate the way he’s prepared.”