Stop us if you’ve heard this one before:
“I honestly think this is one of our best weeks of practice.”
Common refrain, right? Every week is the best week of practice ever for the Oregon football team. Head coach Chip Kelly has never admitted having a bad week of practice to the media. He prides his team on its performance when the spotlights grow dim.
Still, hear Bryson Littlejohn out. The senior middle linebacker from Elk Grove, Calif. believes in the effort expended behind his words.
“Everybody’s working extra hard. They know it’s the last week,” Littlejohn said. “It’s the Super Bowl. It’s the last week we have. You have the whole winter to rest your body.”
The Ducks defense enters the Tostitos BCS National Championship game motivated. Motivated by the annual challenge of playing the best football on the biggest stage. Motivated by a sense of unfinished business that left a sour taste in their mouths following the Rose Bowl last year.
Motivated – whether the players will say it or not – by the inescapable perception that the Oregon defense will take the field as the 11 dwarves to Cam Newton and the Auburn offense.
“I think he’s probably one of the number-one overall guys in the world. I think he does a great job with everything. I don’t know. I’ve heard a million questions and it doesn’t really matter,” defensive tackle Brandon Bair said. “He’s a great quarterback. They’re obviously here when we’re here – they’re both in the national championship. I’m sure he’s just as sick of hearing about LaMichael (James) and things like that.”
Gee, Brandon, tell us how you really feel.
“He’s one of those guys that’s really mobile, and he can throw the ball well, so we’ve got to keep him in the pocket,” Bair said.
True. That may be the simplest way to describe the head-spinning skill set Newton possesses. Outside linebacker Josh Kaddu characterized Newton as “a freak” and admitted to feeling intimidation when watching film on the Auburn offense.
However, Kaddu said, “When you get in the game all that leaves your mind and you can do what you need to do to win.”
In many ways, Oregon has already done what it needs to. The defensive unit that prides itself on keeping pace with the fastest offensive unit in the nation – we said nothing about stopping them – claims to have maintained its conditioning level over the past four weeks.
“Coach Rad has us in tip-top shape. We’re ready to go,” Littlejohn said of the Ducks’ strength and conditioning coach, Jim Radcliffe. “I don’t think you can be in any better shape than we are right now.”
“We keep in shape with our high-tempo practice and we do conditioning here and there,” Kaddu said. “I think being in shape is not going to be a problem for us.”
As Oregon players continue to be peppered with questions about stopping Newton, practice time is spent fine-tuning a plan of attack long since decided.
“That game plan’s been in place since two days after the Oregon State game,” defensive tackle Zac Clark said. “We really got into the film room and just studied our opponents. We’ve known what we have to do for a long time. We don’t feel the need to adjust to accommodate them. We play our game plan.”
They are aware of the challenge before them.
“They’re number one in the nation. If you’re number one in the nation, that means you have the best everything,” Clark said. “Best O-line, best D-line, best of everything. It’ll be a battle.”
A battle the defense can win. That, the players believe.