EUGENE — Oregon’s coaching staff will have to formulate a feasible backup plan at quarterback.
Justin Herbert suffered a broken collarbone during Saturday’s costly 45-24 Pac-12 victory over California at Autzen Stadium.
Willie Taggart is expected to provide an official update on the status of Herbert and the crowd of other damaged Ducks during a press conference on Monday.
The offense is expected to be without the nation’s eighth-most efficient passer for four to six weeks. The clavicle injury is to Herbert’s non-throwing shoulder, according to Sports Illustrated.
Herbert was injured while rushing for a 7-yard touchdown with 2:14 remaining in the first quarter against the Bears (3-2, 0-2). The sophomore signal-caller has completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 1,264 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions this season.
Taylor Alie was also injured in relief of Herbert, forcing true freshman Braxton Burmeister to burn his redshirt. Alie was 9-for-13 passing for 41 yards with an interception against Cal. Burmeister only attempted one pass in his Oregon debut, a 4-yard completion.
“Braxton has been with us for a while now, so he knows how our offense runs,” senior running back Kani Benoit said. “Out there he just needs to go and make the plays. Our receivers and running backs will carry him that way. I think he’s pretty confident in himself and his talent.”
Royce Freeman also exited the game in the first quarter with an injury, but Oregon showed off its experience and depth in the backfield.
Benoit finished with 138 yards and two touchdowns, and Tony Brooks-James had 76 yards and a touchdown. True freshman Darrian Felix added 27 yards and a touchdown in his collegiate debut.
The Ducks had 328 rushing yards while holding the Bears to 8 net yards on the ground.
“We came here to be the best running backs in the country and we showed them why we’re the best running backs in the country,” Brooks-James said. “You can load the box if you want. But if you can’t stop it, you can’t stop it.”
During last year’s 52-49 double-overtime loss in Berkeley, California, Herbert passed for 258 passing yards and a school record-tying six touchdowns. But Oregon’s defense allowed 636 total yards as Davis Webb picked the secondary apart for five touchdowns with no interceptions.
It was a different story on Saturday as the Ducks, revitalized by defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, finished with seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
Oregon, which allowed 41.4 points (126th) and 518.4 yards (126th) per game last season, is giving up 26.0 points (tied 69th) and 332.2 yards (30th) through five games.
Oregon hosts No. 11 Washington State at 5 p.m. Saturday on Fox. The Cougars (5-0, 2-0) upset Pac-12 preseason favorite and then-No. 5 USC 30-27 on Friday.
Senior quarterback Luke Falk has completed 74.5 percent of his passes for 1,718 yards with 16 touchdowns and two interceptions this season in coach Mike Leach’s “Air Raid” offense.
Moments after coming off the field in pain, Herbert told Taggart that he was fine.
“That’s what Justin always says, he’s OK,” Taggart said after improving to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in Pac-12 play in his first season as the Ducks’ coach. “Unfortunately he wasn’t. Taylor came in and did a good job for us, then he went down. Then Braxton came in and did a good job for us.”
Given Oregon’s lack of depth at quarterback, Taggart was asked about perhaps being second-guessed by Monday morning quarterbacks for running Herbert.
“That’s the easy thing for people to say,” Taggart said. “Justin could have dropped back and got sacked and got hurt and we would have found something else to blame it on.
“It’s unfortunate that he got hurt. Keep moving.”
Two touted quarterback prospects recruited by Mark Helfrich and his staff, Terry Wilson and Travis Jonsen, transferred during the spring after getting beaten out soundly by Herbert. That leaves walk-on Mike Irwin and true freshman “athlete” Demetri Burch as Oregon’s other options beyond Alie and Burmeister.