EUGENE -- The Ducks' final day of preparation provided them with their "best mental day of the year" according to head coach Mark Helfrich. Pretty high praise from the head man, who pointed specifically to minimizing mental errors and making the right assignment checks in Thursday's walk-thru.
That's got to be great news with Tennessee coming to town for what should be the team's greatest test to date.
"They're going to be by far the [best] team we've played so far," said linebacker Boseko Lokombo following the day's practice. "So we've just got to play like we've been playing, do our assignments and make sure we take care of each other."
The last two days were a good response to Tuesday, which Helfrich described as "an up-and-down day". Not that that should have worried anyone, as the Ducks have played excellent football on Saturdays. To which Helfrich credited the team's prep and consistency.
"Our guys are working their tails off and three weeks in a row at an up-tick in work load, which is what you want to see. We've got some ways to talk to our guys scientifically and show them all of that stuff. Today we needed to come back and have a great mental day and that's what they did. To their credit, any time you work as hard and as long as our guys do, it's not going to be clean and perfect. It's how you respond to that and fix those things mentally. Our effort has been outstanding all along."
Oregon defeated Tennessee 48-13 in Knoxville in front of 102,035 Vols fans in 2010. Wide receiver Josh Huff and Lokombo were both freshman playing in just their second contest with the Ducks and according to Lokombo the 2013 Volunteer team should be better than the one they decimated in 2010.
"I just remember them being big and having a good offense," Lokombo said. "They're just a lot bigger and a lot more experienced [now]. I know their OL is really good. We're going to have to sit the edges and make sure that on defense we play the way we've been playing."
Preparing for Tennessee creates some challenges for Helfrich and staff, although he says he tries to make a conscious effort not to prepare for them any differently than he would for say a conference rival.
"You try not to sway to much from your normal rhythm as a coach. Part of that is certainly… looking at the what-if game. You watch the Cincinnati film, they're lining up in a formation that you're never going to line up in and it's a defense that you haven't seen this year and it's 'Oh my gosh, what if they do this, that and the other thing.' That's when you're just chasing ghosts. We try as much as possible to never be in that mode," he said.
The biggest concern for the Oregon offense might be Tennessee's size, a staple of SEC play, where girth often takes precedence over quickness and speed.
"Any SEC team is going to have size. With size it's easier to wear them down with our tempo and that's what we're going to aim to do," Huff said.
"Of course any defense is going to challenge us by trying to stop our tempo. We still have to impose that tempo and play that ball that we know how to play. As long as we do that, I don't see them stopping us," he said. "As long as we impose our will and run our tempo there are going to be mismatches all over the field."