By Rob Moseley
When the Oregon Ducks entered the Moshofsky Center for practice last Monday, their first day of work for a game at Virginia this weekend, reactions to the nearly 100-degree temperatures that greeted them were varied.
Some players let out a mock moan as the heat hit them. Some, like linebacker Torrodney Prevot out of Houston, whooped with joy at the reminder of home. Most put their heads down and focused on what were certain to be two of the toughest days of practice they would endure this season, including another scheduled for the next day.
When the Ducks boarded their charter aircraft late Friday morning for a flight to Virginia, players anticipated varied ways of enduring what they thought would be close to a six-hour flight.
There was game film to watch on their iPads, television and movies available in seat-back video screens, and a never-ending parade of food, water and sports drinks to keep them occupied for the marathon flight.
When the Ducks de-planed in Richmond, Va., from which they bussed to Charlottesville, the reactions were universal.
Why did that six-hour flight take less than four-and-a-half hours? And where’s that heat and humidity we were expecting?
Score a couple for new UO coach Mark Helfrich, and the way he set the stage for the Ducks’ 16th straight win on the road, the longest streak in the nation by seven games.
“His use of reverse psychology,” UO quarterback Marcus Mariota said, “was pretty cool.”
By the time the Ducks took the field in Scott Stadium on Saturday afternoon, their late arrival in Virginia, late lights-out and late wake-up calls had their body clocks still on West Coast time. The 3:30 p.m. kickoff on the East Coast felt like 12:30 p.m. to them, the same time the No. 2 Ducks will face Tennessee at home this week.
As for that anticipated heat and humidity? “It was nice today,” UO left tackle Tyler Johnstone said after the Ducks’ 59-10 win over the Cavaliers. “It was a beautiful day for a game.”
Oregon’s ability to go on the road (the 16-game streak doesn’t account for neutral-site games) and take care of business can be chalked up to many factors. Home or away, the Ducks are immensely talented and extremely well-coached, neither of which will be affected by the venue.
But winning on the road remains supremely difficult -- particularly when it requires flying across the country. Yet on Saturday, the Ducks didn’t encounter any hurdles they hadn’t expected.
All of the external factors that might have thrown Oregon off its game had seemingly been anticipated by Helfrich, and addressed earlier in the week.
“Our practice every day is so much harder than the game,” Johnstone said. “And that’s how we always prepare. That’s with the amount of plays we get off, that’s with how we train, and then that’s also with trying to prepare for the conditions.”
Johnstone described the conditions at practice Monday and Tuesday as “miserable.” He had been savvy enough to look up the expected weather for Saturday’s game, and knew the forecast wasn’t nearly so extreme.
Far from being frustrated by that, and wondering why the Ducks thus were enduring tougher tests in practice, Johnstone welcomed it.
“We all buy in to it,” he said. “Because we know, if we make it hard on ourselves now, it’s going to pay off.”
In the post-practice huddle Thursday, Helfrich prepared the Ducks for Friday’s long day of travel by laying out the itinerary (and overstating the length of the air and bus trips, likely by design).
But he also made light of it – in consulting with Jim Radcliffe, Helfrich told the Ducks, he’d learned from the UO strength and conditioning coach the absolute best way to recover from a tough week of practice the day before a game. Would you believe it, Helfrich told the team, the best way was to be immobilized in an airplane seat for six hours, and then in a bus for another 90 minutes, relaxing and re-hydrating?
The Ducks were no longer dreading the long travel day. Now they were laughing it off.
“I didn’t mind it at all,” linebacker Rodney Hardrick said after the trip. “We just watched some film, focused. We liked it.”
Helfrich also scored points with his biggest players by filling the 24 first-class seats on the charter with offensive and defensive linemen. Typically those prime spots aren’t designated solely for the linemen, but the typical road trip isn’t nearly as long.
“Big guys, if you put them in a regular seat, it’s the worst; your knees are locking up, and it’s awful,” Johnstone said. “We really appreciated that.”
Thus, when the Ducks finally arrived in Charlottesville on Friday evening, Helfrich had a happy, healthy team. When they took the field the next afternoon, they were pleasantly surprised by the weather. At that point, it just came down to playing football, something the Ducks do oh, so well.
“There are mind games involved in that,” Helfrich conceded. “But more so than anything else it’s, ‘Hey, on Saturday at 12:35, we’re playing football. There’s a bunch of stuff going on that doesn’t matter; here’s the task at hand.’
“Our guys are very mature with that, in terms of how they dealt with it. If you fall behind, if you get up – whatever the situation is – you’re still playing.”
Still playing, and still winning. Home or away.