PHOENIX (AP) — The lineman-sized guy with the long shorts and “O’’ on his hat gave the first indication of the frenetic pace behind the gate.
“You better hurry — you’ve got 10 minutes,” he said. “The clock is ticking.”
He wasn’t kidding.
With Wolfmother’s “Joker And The Thief” blaring from massive speakers near midfield, Oregon’s players opened Tuesday’s practice by forming lines and clapping to the beat. About the time the song hit the first chorus, the second-ranked Ducks sprinted to every corner of the field, breaking into positional groups for a series of quick-hitting drills, bodies and balls flying all over the north Phoenix high school field.
Even in practice, a month after their last game, no less, these Ducks can fly.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Oregon defensive tackle Brandon Bair said. “We haven’t missed a beat.”
At a Scottsdale community college nearly 20 miles away, Auburn (13-0) was going through its first practice in the desert before Monday’s BCS national title game at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The soundtrack was different, the intensity the same.
Playing to the rhythm of crunching pads and yelling coaches instead of music, the top-ranked Tigers shook off the rust with a two-hour-or-so practice that left them looking focused and relaxed after being greeted by dozens of fans at the team hotel the night before.
“Hopefully, we can create our own soundtrack,” said Cam Newton, Auburn’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. “But it depends on who’s doing the playlist; hopefully it’s not coach (Gene) Chizik.”
They’ve been waiting a long time to start up the band.
Auburn hasn’t won a national title since 1957 and got stiff-armed out of the championship game after the 2004 season, when USC and Oklahoma got the nod over the unbeaten Tigers.
Auburn wrapped up its season on Nov. 26 with a 56-17 paddling of No. 18 South Carolina that all but locked up the Heisman for Newton after his six-TD performance. Since then, the Tigers have had plenty of time to watch film of Oregon’s offense leaving opponents gasping, even faking injuries.
Between the Ducks’ speed and the five-week break between games, yeah, conditioning will be a primary focus this week.
“We’re doing a lot of conditioning with everybody,” Chizik said. “Obviously, our whole football team has been off for a long time, so it’s not just the defense; we’ve done extra lifting and conditioning with the whole team.”
The Tigers aren’t exactly slow — both teams are top 10 in scoring and total offense — and Oregon’s last game was on Dec. 4, so the Ducks need to get their feathers loose, so to speak, as well.
Based on a glimpse of desert practice No. 2 — Auburn’s was closed — they seem to already be in high gear.
Racing around to an eclectic playlist that included “Eye of the Tiger” and Elvis Crespo’s “Suavemente,” Oregon (12-0) turned the practice field into a beehive of organized commotion.
The quarterbacks loosened up with some long-arm throws over the top to receivers who looked even faster with their neon-green cleats and shoelaces, then worked on footwork for on-the-run throws to the right. The running backs fought off hard shots with thick, handheld pads after taking handoffs and the linemen pounded the blocking sleds with a familiar clunk-clunk sound from their hit-and-releases.
The entire operation was orchestrated to the second, the scoreboard counting down every three minutes or so to a horn that signifies it’s time to switch drills.
After about the fifth toot, a guy in dark sunglasses and a black windbreaker started stalking the sideline, letting everyone know this window into practice was over — right now.
“Time’s up — we’ve got a schedule to keep!” he said. “Gotta go! Gotta go! Gotta go!”
And with that, everyone did, some of them peeking over their shoulders to get one last photo or glimpse of the Ducks in flight.