Mississippi’s Masoli adjusts to life under center for the Rebels quicklyBy David Brandt, AP
Friday, September 17, 2010
After 2 games, little question Masoli’s the man
OXFORD, Miss. — When Mississippi coach Houston Nutt considered taking transfer Jeremiah Masoli, the film showed a quarterback who was impressive in almost every facet of the game.
He’s even better in person.
In just two games, Masoli has established himself as the Rebels’ starter after completing 14 of 20 passes for 281 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a 27-14 win over Tulane last week.
Nutt said the 5-foot-11, 220-pound senior has assimilated quickly, absorbing most of the playbook in little more than a month.
Now Masoli leads Ole Miss (1-1) into Southeastern Conference play on Saturday when the Rebels host Vanderbilt (0-2) at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Commodores lost 27-3 to LSU in their SEC opener last weekend.
“I have a lot of respect for him — much further ahead than I ever thought,” Nutt said. “But I didn’t know that much about it. You see a few highlights, but you don’t know how a guy is going to respond to a different offense and different teammates. You just don’t know. But he’s been an awesome teammate and done a great job.”
Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell said Masoli’s versatility and intelligence make him tough to game plan, because there’s no single strategy that can stop him.
“He has the ability to run like a tailback, yet he can throw the ball,” Caldwell said. “He seems like he knows the offense really well for being there such a short time.”
Masoli’s highly publicized journey from Oregon to Ole Miss hasn’t been easy. He accounted for 51 touchdowns over two seasons with the Ducks, leading them to the Rose Bowl in 2009, but was kicked off the team in June by coach Chip Kelly after two run-ins with police in a six-month span.
His courtship with the Rebels was followed every step of the way by the national media, with both Nutt and Masoli receiving criticism. Even when Masoli finally arrived in Oxford in early August, the drama wasn’t finished. The NCAA ruled him ineligible less than a week before the season opener before an appeals panel reversed the decision three days later.
Masoli never was discouraged. Considering the Deep South is a huge change from his West Coast roots, he said he was surprised by the easy transition.
“Coach Nutt told me I was going to fit in great with these guys. And I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah I’ll fit in anywhere,’ but here it’s happened so fast,” he said.
Sophomore Nathan Stanley began the season as the starter, but had to miss a few practices before the Tulane game because of a sore throwing shoulder. That was the window Masoli needed to seize the starting job — and his steady influence on the field will likely keep him there.
“When you go out and put eight, nine, ten plays together and then put the ball in the end zone — that’s what a quarterback is supposed to do,” Nutt said.
Masoli’s built a good relationship with receiver Markeith Summers, who had the best game of his career against Tulane, catching five passes for 165 yards and touchdown.
Summers said he watched some YouTube clips of Masoli when he heard the quarterback was coming to Oxford, but the computer screen couldn’t convey just how impressive he was in person.
“His ability to run scares people more than his throwing,” Summers said. “But he throws a perfect ball.”
The Tulane victory gave Ole Miss some optimism after a disastrous start to the season, when the Rebels lost to Jacksonville State 49-48 in double overtime. It was the program’s first loss to a Football Championship Subdivision team.
Masoli said the sting of that loss will be with the team for “as long as we live,” but the Rebels had moved past that embarrassment to get ready for the SEC.
Vanderbilt has lost 10 conference games in a row dating back to 2008, but as the Jacksonville State painfully proved, no opponent should be taken for granted.
“It’s an SEC opener and that’s got my blood pumping a little bit,” Masoli said. “That’s one of the reasons I came to Ole Miss was to play in the SEC and Vanderbilt’s no letdown at all. They’re a good team.”
AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report
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