Mark Helfrich, Urban Meyer address media before 2015 CFP National Championship
DALLAS, Texas -- A few minutes into Sunday's joint press conference for the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich perked up at a question posed to Ohio State's Urban Meyer.
"Urban," the reporter asked, "what specific changes have you guys made in your preparation to prepare for Oregon's tempo?"
Helfrich broke into a smile before looking towards Meyer and said, "Be specific, please."
Not to be outdone, Meyer answered, "Without getting into too much detail ... next question."
The competitive juices never stop flowing for these two coaches. For Helfrich, it's been quite the ride for him in his first two seasons with the Ducks. Oregon has gone 24-3 with Helfrich at the helm, and now he has them on the doorstep of the first-ever CFP title. For Meyer, this is his third trip to college football's grandest stage, as he won a pair of championships with the University of Florida following the 2006 and 2008 seasons.
But after about 10 days of answering questions ad nauseam, it's clear these two coaches are ready to get on the sidelines at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
"Enough talking and questions and answers and flashbulbs," Helfrich said. "Our guys are excited and ready to compete."
"Ditto," Meyer followed up.
Path to the 'Ship
Back on Oct. 2, Oregon suffered its lone loss of the season to Arizona in front of a stunned crowd at Autzen Stadium. But the Ducks didn't dwell on the defeat. Instead, it appears to have been a turning point for the team, which was eager to get back to action.
"You learn a lot about people," Helfrich said. "After our loss - and I've told this story many times - I was out there 25 minutes early and I was the last person out to practice. The entire coaching staff, every single player, and they were out there together."
Like Helfrich, Meyer can point to a key moment in time that helped shape his team. Two years ago, after serving as an ESPN analyst for the BCS National Championship game between Notre Dame and Alabama, Meyer sent out a text to every player and member of the coaching staff to say that "the chase is on." It's one thing to verbalize it, but now Meyer is back for a chance at a third title.
"It's everybody's dream and goal," Meyer said of reaching the championship game, "but it's very complicated and everything has to align perfectly for this to happen," Meyer said. "So no, it never really crossed my mind."
If there's one thing that these two teams have in common, it's that they've had to deal with a lot of adversity on their respective paths to the championship. While Oregon has suffered injuries to playmakers like cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, tight end Pharaoh Brown and receiver Devon Allen, Ohio State's top two quarterbacks are out with season-ending injuries.
"If you can hit the storm and come out the other end stronger," Meyer said, "that's called a real, real team, and how many of those are out there? I've done this 30 years and probably can count them on one hand. Some people might think it's the luck of the draw. I think it's leadership and training. We certainly had that this year."
"Just to echo some of that and agree, obviously, with everything Coach has said," Helfrich followed up, "I learned a lot about our team last spring and early summer just of getting to see how much these guys truly cared about each other was rare."
So, Coach Meyer, are you more concerned about your young players on the big stage or the fatigue of a 15-game season?
"I think both," Meyer said, "but our number one concern is their quarterback. I mean, it is what it is. That's true, and those are all addressed - but those aren't quite as serious as that kid behind center for Oregon."
Ah, that "kid behind center for Oregon," AKA The Hawaiian Heisman winner Marcus Mariota. After piling up nearly 5,000 yards of offense and 56 touchdowns, it's no wonder why Mariota has Meyer worried.
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The Buckeyes, meanwhile, will be leaning on third-string quarterback Cardale Jones. Two-time reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller was lost with a shoulder injury before the season and backup J.T. Barrett suffered a season-ending knee injury in the regular season finale.
That leaves Jones to take the controls of the offense. While Meyer said Jones used to be inconsistent during practice, the coach said something has clicked for his quarterback lately.
"Everybody in life has a chance to push restart," Meyer said. "Not many people on a grand stage like Cardale has, and he pushed restart and he hit the right button, and that's called selfless approach and a serious approach to how he handles his business, on and off the field. That's one of the great stories in college football and one of the great stories I've witnessed."
Helfrich and Meyer will try to out master each other on Monday, but there was a clear sense of mutual admiration on display between the two coaches on Sunday.
"Very excited, obviously, to be a part of college football history and representing the University of Oregon, the Pac-12 Conference, and certainly kind of West Coast football in a lot of ways," Helfrich said. "A tremendous honor to be up here with Coach Meyer, a legend in our game, a guy that's done it many times and had a tremendous amount of success and congratulations to Ohio State and everything they've accomplished. And we're ready to go."
Meyer also had some kind words for his counterpart and Oregon's program.
"I do want to recognize Mark and the job that Oregon, a program that I know very well, studied them for many years, have tremendous respect for, "Meyer said. "This is a great match up. It's college football history. It's a game that I've devoted a good portion of my life to, same with our players, and now our players can say they played in the first College Football Playoff national title."