CORVALLIS — Braxton Burmeister tried to ignore the criticism from Oregon fans during his bumpy ride as a true freshman.
But when one of the few remaining Oregon State diehards started heckling him as the Ducks were putting the finishing touches on a 55-15 victory at Reser Stadium, the much-maligned backup quarterback’s ears perked up.
“That was kind of funny,” Burmeister said after the visitors piled up 392 net yards rushing while avenging the 2016 loss here. “I don’t know what he said, but I was like, ‘Dude, you’re down by a lot right now, so I don’t know why you’re talking to me.’”
Oregon walked the walk after starter Justin Herbert was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with an apparent shoulder injury.
Travis Dye finished with 199 yards rushing, and CJ Verdell added 187 yards rushing. The two freshmen running backs combined for seven total touchdowns (six rushing, one receiving).
Burmeister was only 1-for-2 passing for 16 yards and ran three times for 11 net yards, but the offensive linemen felt like carrying him off the field after outscoring the hapless Oregon State 34-12 in the second half without Herbert.
During the 2017 season, Oregon went 1-4 in Burmeister’s starts when Herbert was recovering from a fractured collarbone. He was just 44-for-77 passing with two touchdowns and six interceptions during the stretch against the meat of the Pac-12 schedule.
“No one really saw how much it hurt him last year,” left guard Shane Lemieux said of Burmeister. “That’s a really unfortunate situation to go in as a freshman. I couldn’t even imagine how much he had to step up. This offseason he’s really just developed as a leader and a football player.”
First-year coach Mario Cristobal did his best to boost Burmeister’s confidence after taking over the program last December.
“He was thrown to the wolves now, that’s a tough situation,” Cristobal said leading up to the UCLA game when Burmeister was getting some first-team snaps in practice while Herbert was in concussion protocol. “He’s got a lot of confidence. It shows the way he’s practicing. He’s done a really good job, and so has Tyler (Shough).”
Shough was initially behind center after Herbert was unable to continue in the Civil War, but at halftime the staff decided Burmeister was the best option to secure the rainy rivalry road win.
"The way the weather was, I prefer a guy with experience. That was it,” Cristobal explained. “Either one of those guys could've gone in. Tyler and Braxton have really played themselves into an even competition. So it certainly wasn't a matter of this guy is more ready than the other guy. (Burmeister) has had experience and he's also had experience running with the football as well.
“If the weather was going to be as it was and we were going to have to pound the football, you certainly want to add the dimension of a quarterback that has run it and could give the defense the issue of having to deal with the extra runner and fill an extra gap. That's what went behind that decision."
Cristobal said he wouldn’t have an update on Herbert’s status for the bowl game until the 6-foot-6, 237-pound junior was medically evaluated in Eugene.
So there is a chance Burmeister could be a headliner again in his native San Diego, if the Ducks are selected for the Holiday Bowl.
“Braxton came in there and he didn’t flinch,” Verdell said. “He did what he was supposed to do as the second guy up. He came in there and handled business. I’m proud of him. …
“I have confidence in everybody on this team, both (backup) quarterbacks. I know if Herbert falls, Braxton will step up and not miss a beat.”
Herbert and the rest of the Ducks will have some time to heal before learning their bowl fate next Sunday.
Burmeister, who was still mocked by a reporter on social media for his wobbly 2-point conversion pass that fell short, proved to his teammates that he’s not afraid to rally them.
“When Justin went down he came over to the line and said, ‘Let’s go!’” Lemieux said. “I like to see that, man. That’s a really big sign of him just growing up.”