Magic man Masoli to put Cats 'in a bind'

2009-11-19T00:00:00Z Magic man Masoli to put Cats 'in a bind' Opinion by Greg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 19, 2009 12:00 am  • 

Here comes Chip Kelly, magna cum touchdown, bringing his triple-option offense to Arizona Stadium in the type of immense, dramatic and historical football game that usually is played in Tuscaloosa or Ann Arbor.

Ordinarily, ESPN's "College GameDay" crew would be at the Big Game, Stanford vs. Cal, because the Toby Gerhart Earthmoving Machine is the best story going in college football.

But Kelly's Ducks are irresistible, maybe even sexy, and the programmers at ESPN and ABC had an easy choice: Do you want Gerhart busting up the gut for 6 yards or Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli doing his Usain Bolt impression, 65 yards in 6.5 seconds?

Oregon has lost once since Labor Day yet still scored 42 points that day, which is the fewest points it has scored in a month.

"They're going to put us in a bind," said Arizona defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. "They're going to stress you."

The Ducks don't muscle up and beat you. They make you wonder who's got the ball; it's a football version of the shell game, an extraordinary sleight-of-hand performed by Masoli.

"Last year," said UA coach Mike Stoops, "we couldn't find the ball in the first half."

Last year, at Autzen Stadium, it took the Ducks a mere 31 plays to score 42 points. It was a blur:

Play No. 3: Masoli bolts 66 yards for a touchdown.

Play No. 15: Masoli throws a 44-yard touchdown pass.

Play No. 21: Masoli runs 5 yards for a touchdown.

Play No. 28: Masoli runs 6 yards for a touchdown.

Play No. 31: Masoli throws a 65-yard touchdown pass.

"They got us moving all over the place," Mike Stoops remembers. "Masoli handles the ball very well, rides the ball in there to his running backs, and then he pulls it out. He's got very strong hands. They just get you reacting (wrong) to certain plays."

Mark Stoops nods when asked if this is the year's most difficult defensive assignment.

"Ya, I'd say," he grimaces. "You'd better have guys in the right spots or they're going to hurt you. You'll see more people doing what Oregon is doing. It's very intriguing."

Kelly's offense is productive for a lot of reasons, and not just because Masoli has become a master at disguising plays the way single-wingers of the 1940s seemed to make the football disappear. Masoli is a hybrid quarterback, 5 feet 11 inches, 215 pounds, with fullback size, tailback speed and enough accuracy and touch to pass effectively.

Masoli is such an athlete that he ran the 100, 200 and threw the shot put for his high school track team. As a prep senior, he was selected to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin's Fab 15 basketball team.

So it's a lot more than just a few tricky handoffs.

"Their quarterback does a good job of holding the ball," Mark Stoops says. "He's nice and patient. Everything looks the same. It's a much more dynamic system with a quarterback who can read things, throw and run."

With Masoli healthy, Boise State is the only defense to effectively solve and shut down Kelly's offense. The Broncos won 19-8. The Ducks were inept, start to finish.

"We had a great game plan," says Aaron Tevis, a Bronco linebacker from Canyon del Oro High School. "Our first priority was to shut off the quarterback run and their inside stuff. It wasn't easy; you have to carry out your assignments without mistakes.

"We thought that if you make them rely on the pass we could stop them. They don't want to rely on the pass."

This week's preparation, Kelly vs. Stoops, is fascinating. Kelly calls it a "chess match."

"What do they keep defensively from last year?" he asked in the league's conference call Tuesday.

Trailing 45-17 at half, Arizona ultimately lost 55-45. Whatever Stoops punched up in the second half worked. Or was it that the Ducks kicked back with a big lead and weren't as sharp or aggressive?

Part of it, Mark Stoops says, is that Arizona didn't play well in the first half.

"They threw a bubble screen to a guy for 60 yards and a touchdown. We had three guys over their two guys on that play. It should've been a 2-yard gain. Instead it went for a 60-yard touchdown."

Nine of UA's 11 defensive players who started at Oregon in '08 are expected to start Saturday. Cornerback Trevin Wade and safety Robert Golden are the only new faces. Wade's assessment of the Ducks: "Everybody's always open."

A good guess is that Stoops & Stoops will study the Boise State film all week, try to slow the game down and instruct the Wildcats to watch Masoli's hands as much as his feet. A year ago their best view of Masoli was from the rear, while in pursuit.

It has become the most common snapshot of Oregon football.

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