Oregon defense embraces late season grind

Eugene, Ore. --  Oregon head football coach Mario Cristobal doesn't see the season as a grind. Instead, he sees it as a part of life, from the time he was a child to the position he has found himself in now: coaching a Duck team very much in the College Football Playoff discussion for the first time in 5 years. 

This time in the year, just about every player is dealing with some measure of injury. The days grow shorter, the days grow colder, and yet you couldn't find Cristobal doing anything other than what he does each and every day at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. 

"I don't think it's a grind," he jokes. "What else would I be doing? A grind is getting in traffic and having to fight that or standing in line to get a double cheeseburger and wait 30 minutes. This is the best stuff in the world. Our guys have developed a DNA that every single bit of this stuff is really really important and our blueprint is designed to help you get stronger as the season goes on."

The rest of the team, from players to coaches, has similarly adapted the '1-0' mindset. It doesn't just apply to the next game, but to the next rep, next practice, next workout session. Staying grounded in that present tense has helped players feel a little less taxed by a long season, but winning has also helped as well. 

"When you look at it big picture like that, it can wear on you a little bit," says defensive end Drayton Carlberg. "But when you look at it week-by-week it sort of breaks it up and it can be more refreshing."

"I think winning does a good job of keeping the energy up," linebacker Troy Dye continues. "I look back to my freshman year to now, it's two different teams. Guys want to show up to the building in the morning, guys want to go to practice, guys want to put in the work, guys want to put in the time."

Oregon's matchup on Saturday against Arizona State (4:30 p.m., ABC-KEZI) will be one of the last two games before the Pac-12 conference championship, and getting wins that impress the College Football Playoff selection committee is more important than ever. In the last two iterations of the poll, the Ducks have been rated sixth, the highest Pac-12 team but sitting behind the University of Georgia and Alabama at 4 and 5, respectively. Even with Coach Cristobal hopping on ESPN in successive weeks to get some exposure for the program, players aren't all that distracted by the goings-on at the national level. 

"I'm watching Disney+ now," jokes Carlberg. "We don't focus on the ESPN stuff, we focus on our practice or our meetings tonight. We acknowledge it and move on."

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