UO stars are questionable for Saturday's game vs. Chip Kelly's UCLA Bruins
Significant injury concerns were added to the insult of Oregon’s lopsided loss at Arizona.
Justin Herbert, a potential first-round NFL draft pick, and Dillon Mitchell, the Pac-12's leading wide receiver, are in concussion protocol after taking hard hits on Saturday night during a 44-15 drubbing in Tucson, Ariz.
Herbert was stuffed at the goal line in the final minute, but coach Mario Cristobal wasn’t sure if the star quarterback was injured in the fourth quarter or earlier in the game.
During a somber Monday press conference at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex, Oregon’s first-year coach was asked to explain why Herbert was put at risk during garbage time.
“We were not having much offensive success and we wanted to end the game on some type of positive note offensively,” Cristobal explained. “We wanted to be able to move the ball and get out of there having at least some sort of confidence in moving and potentially scoring.”
Herbert completed only 24 of 48 passes for 48 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. The 6-foot-6, 237-pound junior was sacked once, dove for a two-point conversion and had six carries for 31 yards.
“It might have been at the end, it looks like that might have been the point,” Cristobal said when asked if Herbert’s injury occurred on the final possession. “Not being a doctor, I can never comment on exactly when. Anytime someone seems to have taken on a hit, we’re always going to take on the highest-level standard in terms of assessing guys to make sure that safety is at the forefront and the priority.
“But in terms of when, (that’s) hard to say.”
Backups Braxton Burmeister and Tyler Shough will get extra reps with the first-team this week in case Herbert is not cleared to play against Chip Kelly and UCLA on Saturday at Autzen Stadium (4:30 p.m., Fox).
Burmeister started against the Bruins last season when Herbert was out with a fractured collarbone. The true freshman was 8-for-15 passing for 74 yards with no touchdowns and an interception during the Ducks’ 31-14 loss at the Rose Bowl.
Shough is a true freshman who was No. 2 on the depth chart while Burmeister was recovering from knee surgery earlier this season.
“Should the case be where it’s something where they have to play right away, absolutely, those guys will be taking a bunch of reps,” Cristobal said.
In five Pac-12 games this season, Herbert has completed 42 passes to Mitchell for 579 yards and three touchdowns. Oregon’s other wide receivers have combined for 31 receptions for 305 yards and two touchdowns in conference play.
“If we need somebody to make plays, I got no problem being that person,” Jaylon Redd said after filling in for Mitchell after Herbert’s go-to-target was belted by Arizona safety Tristan Cooper in the third quarter.
Cristobal, unlike Kelly, the former Oregon coach, has been transparent about injuries since becoming the Ducks’ head coach. He noted that the status of Herbert and Mitchell for Saturday’s key home game will be left up to the medical staff.
“Anytime that the doctors choose to put someone in concussion protocol, we just leave it in the hands of them,” Cristobal said. “And they let us know exactly what goes on to determine if and how extensive that injury should be.”
Cristobal said starting defensive lineman Austin Faoliu, starting linebacker Kaulana Apelu, starting right guard Dallas Warmack and backup tight end Kano Dillon should all be back from injuries this week.
Since upsetting then-No. 7 Washington on Oct. 13, the Ducks (5-3, 2-3) have fallen from No. 12 in the Associated Poll to out of the rankings. Oregon is currently closer to last-place Oregon State (2-6, 1-4) than first-place Washington State (7-1, 4-1) in the North Division standings.
But Kelly and the struggling Bruins (2-6, 2-3) won’t be feeling sorry for Oregon, even if Herbert and Mitchell don’t play.
“We did not start the game well and we did not respond well when we got hit in the mouth. I think that’s obvious,” said Cristobal, whose team trailed 23-8 at halftime to Arizona after tailing 27-0 the week before at Washington State. “And that’s an aspect of our team that I have to do a better job coaching to get a better response. Because in this conference, in any conference play, you’re going to encounter that.
“You’re going to encounter a really stiff and hard shot from your opponent, especially when you’re on the road.”