Justin Herbert provides hope for the Ducks vs Arizona State
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) With a five-game losing streak, Oregon is in danger of missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 2004. Yet the Ducks are looking for positives, and they've found one in the emergence of quarterback Justin Herbert.
The 6-foot-6 freshman has thrown for 507 yards and eight touchdowns in two starts for the Ducks (2-5, 0-4), taking over for graduate transfer Dakota Prukop. A local kid out of Eugene's Sheldon High School, he is the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Oregon since 1983.
In last weekend's 52-49 overtime loss at Cal, Herbert tied the Oregon single-game record for TD passes with six. But the game ended on a disappointing note when he was intercepted by Jordan Kunaszyk on the final play of the game.
''He's still going through growing pains. He's just got to learn through games like that but I still trust him with everything in me,'' Oregon running back Tony Brooks-James said.
Coach Mark Helfrich even found himself addressing comparisons between Herbert and former Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota this week.
''I think he's a highly competitive, highly productive guy that's really quiet. I think they're similar that way,'' Helfrich said. ''Certainly their freshman years - just of how they present themselves - are remarkably similar. But I think it's very unfair to make that comparison on the field yet.''
Helfrich went on to add that Herbert has earned the respect of his teammates.
''I think you saw how much guys respect him and how guys rallied around him in these last couple games, I think that's telling,'' the coach said.
Oregon must win four of its last five to be bowl eligible. They're favored at home on Saturday against Arizona State (5-3, 2-3), which has lost three of its last four games after a 4-0 start.
WHO WILL START FOR ASU? The Sun Devils also have a young quarterback in Dillon Sterling-Cole, who could start against the Ducks. The freshman was pressed into service in last weekend's 37-32 loss to Washington State after Manny Wilkins was injured and Sterling-Cole completed 7 of 16 passes for 86 yards. Earlier this week, Sterling-Cole was taking snaps with the first team, although Wilkins was back at practice and could return against the Ducks.
NO QUIT: There was talk after the Ducks fell 70-21 at home to rival Washington that some of Oregon's players had quit on the team. But the team's spirited game against Cal quieted the critics.
''Everyone who says we quit are just liars. We gave it all. We gave it everything we had,'' Brooks-James said after the game.
STEALING SIGNS? Last year the Ducks turned heads when they used large white sheets on the sideline at Sun Devil Stadium to hide signals. Helfrich would not comment this week about whether the team would use them again. Washington also used sheets last year against Arizona State.
Then Washington State's Mike Leach was reprimanded and fined $10,000 for comments he made about Arizona State ''stealing'' signs, in advance of the Cougars' victory over the Sun Devils last weekend.
''I think they still steal signs, and we'll have to keep an eye on that,'' Leach said. ''That is a very unsavory practice they have, so we'll have to do what we can to defend against it.''
After the game, ASU coach Todd Graham confronted Leach using an expletive that was caught by television cameras.
YIKES!: The five-game losing streak is Oregon's longest since 1996. The Ducks haven't lost six in a row since 1991 when Rich Brooks was head coach.
THE SERIES: Oregon has won nine straight against Arizona State, averaging 44.3 points per game. The Ducks also lead the all-time series with the Sun Devils 18-16 and have won the last three in Eugene. The last ASU win was in 2004 at Autzen Stadium.