Whether it’s because he’s had to adjust to being on a new team, or he’s facing better defenses, Ole Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli hasn’t played like the Heisman Trophy contender many thought he would be had he remained at Oregon.
Still, he’s been pretty good, and he’s the biggest concern for Mississippi State’s defense when the teams meet Saturday in Oxford for the annual Egg Bowl game.
Masoli has passed for 1,778 yards and 13 touchdowns with 12 interceptions; he’s rushed for 532 yards, second on the team, and six scores.
“You just have to play very sound football, and you can’t give up on the play, because he is very, very creative,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “He keeps a lot of plays alive with his feet, but not only does that with his feet, but can beat you with his arm. As he scrambles around to keep a play alive, he makes big plays down the field.
“He can create outside of what their offense is and what they’re trying to do. He kind of freelances and can create on his own, and that makes him a dangerous player.”
For MSU’s defenders, especially the defensive backs, the key is to be patient and stay on their assignments. There have been defensive lapses the past couple of weeks, so that’s already something that’s being addressed.
Junior safety Charles Mitchell thinks staying disciplined is all it takes to slow down Masoli.
“I feel like from what I’ve seen, when he’s scrambling, if he gets pressure, he’s just going to throw it in the air,” Mitchell said. “That’ll give us a chance to make a play on the ball.”
It’s not that simple, of course. Masoli brings not only great ability to the table, he brings a wealth of experience from his Oregon days.
He directed one of the nation’s most prolific offenses for two years and led the Ducks to the Rose Bowl last season.
Asked to compare Masoli to other mobile quarterbacks MSU has faced this year, Mullen had trouble coming up with an answer.
“The challenge that he brings to the table is a guy that has played a lot of football,” he said. “Being the Pac-10 player of the year last season, has played in a Rose Bowl, has won a conference championship, knows how to win big games. Seems to play his best in the biggest of games.
“That is the challenge that he brings, because he’s a player that can carry a team, and he’s shown that throughout his career.”
‘The wild card’
That experience is what makes him so tough to scheme against, according to first-year MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
“He’s the wild card, realistically,” Diaz said. “Because No. 1, you’re not going to trick him, you’re not going to fool him. He’s seen everything imaginable that a defense can throw at him.”
Diaz later added, “From an assignment standpoint, the No. 1 thing is that we’re sound when the ball is snapped. Then when the ball’s snapped, now it gives the problem you’re speaking of in terms of Masoli and being able to extend plays. … He can turn a bad down for them into a positive down.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal