Commentary

When Masoli starts, Ducks win

Originally Published: December 29, 2009
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- There is nothing about Jeremiah Masoli that says quarterback, nothing except his record.

[+] EnlargeJeremiah Masoli
Kyle Terada/US PresswireMasoli is ranked eighth in the country in rushing among quarterbacks.

With his 220 pounds packed into the 5-11 frame and his oversized brown eyes beneath long, wavy black hair pulled back by a band, Masoli doesn't need a bobblehead made in his image. Just take an old troll doll and slap a green No. 8 jersey on it.

Masoli is too short to play quarterback, until you see that he has thrown for 3,810 yards and 28 touchdowns in his two seasons with the Ducks. He is definitely untroll-like as a runner, gaining 1,377 yards and 22 touchdowns.

It's a funny thing about Masoli. Where he plays quarterback, teams win. In 2007, he led City College of San Francisco to the junior college national championship.

"We have a terrible habit of recruiting people based on [looks] and not necessarily recruiting football players," Oregon wide receivers coach Scott Frost said. "We recruit guys who fit the exact stereotype of what they're supposed to look like. At the end of the day, Masoli is a really good athlete. We're just lucky we're the ones who gave him the chance to prove his talent."

Frost might coach receivers, but he knows something about quarterbacks. He played that position for the 1997 Nebraska team that shared the national championship.

"The play that defines him to me this year," Frost said, "is the Oregon State game where he ran that kid over on that fourth down."

With the Ducks protecting a 37-33 lead over archrival Oregon State, Masoli converted a fourth-and-3 at the Beaver 33 by posterizing Beavers safety Lance Mitchell. Oregon State never got the ball back.

You have to wrap up and bring everything you've got. You don't want to be that guy that's posterized.

-- Ohio State SS Kurt Coleman on Masoli

"We called a pass play, and the pass play broke down," Frost said. "There are hardly any other quarterbacks in the country who could do that. He's tough and he's competitive and he was gonna get the first down. You have a guy like that at the controls of your team and your offense, you've got a really good chance of being successful."

The play caught the eye of Ohio State All-Big Ten safety Kurt Coleman.

"His center of gravity is very low," Coleman said. "You have to get low but he has those thick legs. You have to wrap up and bring everything you've got. You don't want to be that guy that's posterized."

Masoli doesn't slide as much as his coaches would like. But what running quarterback does?

"That's definitely the competitor in me," he said. "There's no better feeling than that. I've been doing that since I was a little kid. I don't see that changing anytime soon. … You have to ask yourself if it's worth it. I don't want to be running into any big dudes. I definitely size guys up. You have to start being smart."

That statement, with its mixture of physicality tempered by reason, captures the essence of what makes Masoli such an effective quarterback and leader. Oregon athletic director Mike Bellotti, the head coach in 2008, called Masoli "unflappable."

Masoli arrived in Eugene as a juco transfer in August 2008, so far down the depth chart you needed sonar to find him. He had a hole in his right wrist from surgery that had yet to heal. He barely participated in preseason drills. He began his career as a fifth-stringer.

[+] EnlargeJeremiah Masoli
Kirby Lee/US PresswireJeremiah Masoli is 16-5 in his two years as a starter at Oregon.

All of which made him too inexperienced to play quarterback. Yet because of injuries, he got a chance to play. He ended up starting 10 games a year ago for a team that finished 10-3 and second in the Pac-10. He is 16-5 as a starter. His next start will be in the Rose Bowl, Oregon's first in 15 years.

That non-quarterback body to the contrary, Masoli's physical gifts are considerable. His ball fakes, essential to the misdirection that fuels the Oregon offense, are worthy of a Vegas magic act.

"That's one of our goals in the film room, to get the cameraman confused," Masoli said. "When we do that, we know we're doing something right."

Masoli finished 2008 with outstanding performances in victories over Arizona, Oregon State and, in the Holiday Bowl, Oklahoma State. He began the season as a magazine cover boy. And, like the rest of the Ducks, he laid an egg in the opener, the infamous 19-8 loss at Boise State.

"I think Jeremiah early was just trying to force and do everything himself," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "When he finally let the game come to him, like in the Cal game, he's 21-of-26."

Actually, Masoli went 21-of-25 for 253 yards and three touchdowns. The Ducks stunned the No. 6 Bears, 42-3, a performance that turned their season around. Oregon won the Pac-10 by two games. Masoli appeared to become a more confident leader. Kelly said it's not that simple.

"His leadership was tremendous," Kelly said. "But they make it seem like we were void of his leadership early. And we weren't. He didn't really change much. The other guys got better. The receivers caught the ball better. The offensive line protected better. We ran the ball better. It was a combination of areas. It wasn't just one guy started playing better and everything flipped into place."

Funny thing, though. Masoli started and his team won. Some things never change.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com