It’s hard to believe that as nice and as happy of a person as Derrick Malone is, that come game time he’s one of the fiercest and most feared linebackers in the Pac-12. I mean, honestly, you just want to hug this guy. He’s constantly upbeat, and there is a smile on his face during every comment he makes. It’s always a little bit easier to smile when, as a fifth-year senior, you get to beat your true rival at home. I had the chance to talk with Malone at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex today in an interview for FishDuck.com.
To begin, I asked Malone what it meant to him to beat Stanford in his last year with the Ducks. Even though all the coaches and players tried to treat this game just like any other, Malone knew this one was special. He said,”Beating Stanford means a lot. They had beat us twice and we beat them twice since I’ve been here. This was the tiebreaker, so as far as my career goes, we’re up one.”
He attributed Oregon’s blowout victory against the team that gave them so much trouble in the past not to the Ducks’ desire for revenge, but instead to the Arizona game. He said, ”Every day since that game I can honestly say we’ve practiced way harder.” Malone went on to say that Oregon’s mindset now is that, “Every day something is on the line. We have to take every game like it’s a playoff game because if we overlook anyone, that’s when we slip up.” This mindset is what drove them to play the way they did against Stanford, and also the reason I expect the Ducks to make the first-ever College Football Playoff.
This weekend, Oregon plays its last true test in a road matchup against Utah. When I asked Malone what scares him most about the 6-2 Utes he said, ”Honestly their special teams. That’s a real big winning edge, so we’ve got to make sure we read our keys and execute the way we know we can.” As good as the Utes are this season, I don’t expect them to give the Ducks all that much trouble. If everything goes as planned, the Ducks should coast through these last three games and move on to the playoffs.
Finally, I asked Malone how the Ducks would stay focused if, hypothetically, they beat Utah. The remaining games are against much weaker Colorado and Oregon State teams, but Malone said, ”The easier opponents are the ones I fear the most. The character of this team is something I’ve never seen before. We really have our heads on straight, so I’m not really worried about it as long as we take care of each and every day.”
Top photo by Kevin Cline