Does Oregon Have a Quarterback Problem?

Steven Smith Editorials

In football, the quarterback is far and away the most important position on the team. His performance is pivotal to success. Oregon has a quarterback who should hear his name called early on the first day of the 2020 NFL Draft. So, what’s the problem?

As much potential as Justin Herbert has, he hasn’t necessarily lived up to the mounting hype that he’s generating. Will that change in 2019?

What Makes a Great Quarterback?

A previous article breaks down the attributes of elite quarterbacks in detail. Here are the cliff notes:

Physical Attributes: Size, athleticism and arm strength.

Mental Acumen: Football IQ, processing speed, film study, etc.

Durability: Yes, even physical specimens get nicked up, causing limited performance. Serious injuries negate the ability to play from a few games all the way to full seasons.

Time to Develop and Great Coaching

Does Herbert check off the boxes?

The “IT” factor: Great players have this: self worth, confidence, a killer instinct and a “No-Mr-Nice-Guy” attitude (on the field). An on-field assassin is critical to winning.

Force multiplier: The best quarterbacks make everyone around them better by being inspiring, period. Both to the offense and defense. For example during a tight contest, the superb QB will go to the defense and say, “Get this stop, and we’ll go down and score and finish this game.” Then they all do it!

And of course, as for any position, Lady Luck plays a part.

Does Oregon’s QB Fit the Bill?

Many consider Herbert an elite quarterback, and it’s easy to see why; he has some of the best physical gifts in the country. But does he meet the other criteria?

For all of his size, athleticism and arm talent, the following are Herbert’s win-loss records out of conference, in Pac-12 play and in bowl games: 6-0 out of conference (only faced one Power 5 opponent), 10-10 in Pac-12 games and 1-1 in bowl games. These less-than-stellar results beg the question: does Oregon have a great QB, or merely a smart, nice, good guy, with loads of potential but a pedestrian record?

As mentioned above, great QBs have the “IT” factor, which helps them deliver on the biggest stages in the biggest moments. Who could forget Deshaun Watson’s clutch game-winning touchdown pass in the National Championship Game, or Marcus Mariota’s dazzling Houdini act against Michigan State in 2014? For Herbert, those moments have been far and few between. In three seasons, he has just a few late-game wins, the most notable being one against Utah and the other against Washington. That’s it for memorable, transcendent moments to date.

Mariota definitely had the “IT” factor.

The Ducks have improved each season under Herbert, but only by a single victory this past season. With this in mind, answer this. Would you be satisfied with a 9-3 season and a win in a bowl game as Herbert’s lasting memory? 

Joey Harrington, Dennis Dixon, Darron Thomas and Mariota took us so close to the pinnacle. Are we confident that Herbert can do the same? The hype machine will start up in earnest in a month or so to sell tickets and raise interest, but the jury’s still out on Herbert’s ability to lead a championship team. I would love to be proven wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.

So, why is it that one of the most gifted passers to ever play for the Ducks is entering his senior year with so many question marks and unknowns? Coaching changes, crummy defenses and a poor supporting cast are some of the reasons. But fans don’t care about these “excuses.” Elite players are supposed to thrive, even in adverse circumstances. He seems to be lacking some essential ingredient, preventing a breakthrough to the heights he’s surely capable of reaching. But what exactly is missing?

He hasn’t had a great mentor, and time is running out to find one.

Hopefully, something clicks between Herbert and OC Marcus Arroyo, because if No. 10 is able to put everything together, he can put all these questions to rest.

Is There a Backup Plan?

We haven’t even talked about a backup driver, should one be needed. Tyler Shough and Cale Millen are completely unproven. If the injury bug strikes again, or an underperforming funk hits our offense, are these young QBs ready? Our season of promise could quickly become a nightmare if that happens.

Is Shough ready for the spotlight?

Untested QBs are a recipe for disaster, unless one of them has that “IT” factor we have been looking for. It would be reassuring to have coaches rave about our backups as fall camp concludes. That would be a sign of stability and success for the future. Silence would not be golden there!

It seems crazy to think of the QB position as an unknown for the Ducks in 2019, with a four-year starter at the helm. But the fact remains that there’s some pressure on Herbert and his understudies. All the pieces are in place for Oregon to make a legitimate conference title, and maybe even playoff, run. If not now, when? Herbert and a veteran, skilled offensive line will be graduating and going to the pros after 2019.

Is Herbert ready to take the next step in his development and turn potential into results? Are the rest of the QBs ready to go if Herbert goes down, as has happened the past two seasons?

The train leaves the station on August 31st to destination … unknown. Are you all aboard the Herbert Hype Train?

Steven E. Smith
Powell Butte, Oregon                                                                                                                                                                 Top Photo by Kevin Cline


Natalie Liebhaber, the Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.


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