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Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010

Auburn football: Mississippi's Jeremiah Masoli gives Tigers dual-threat concern

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Rebels QB smaller version of Newton

By ANDY BITTER

abitter@ledger-enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s defense is well aware of the danger a dual-threat quarterback can present. It sees one of the best in practice every day.

That doesn’t make tonight’s matchup against Mississippi’s Jeremiah Masoli any easier.

The Tigers (8-0, 5-0 SEC) will try to keep their No. 1 Bowl Championship Series ranking at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium by corralling Masoli, a smaller but still-dangerous version of Cam Newton.

“He’s the most athletic quarterback we’ve faced,” Auburn safeties coach Tommy Thigpen said.

Although the Rebels (3-4, 1-3 SEC) have struggled to win this year, it can’t be pinned on Masoli.

The 5-foot-11, 220-pound senior has thrown for 1,260 yards and 10 touchdowns and has added another 400 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in his first year at Mississippi.

Against Vanderbilt, he ran for 104 yards and a touchdown. In a loss to Arkansas last week, he threw for 327 yards and ran for 98 more, accounting for three touchdowns.

“He is the best I’ve seen as far as a guy who can avoid the sacks, fake like he’s going to throw it and tuck it down and run it,” Thigpen said. “Believe it or not, he’s probably more accurate when he’s on the run than when he’s in the pocket.”

More dangerous on the move than in the pocket? Sounds familiar to Auburn fans, who have seen Newton go from first-time starter to Heisman Trophy frontrunner in the past eight weeks.

Their stories are more similar than just that. After attending City College of San Francisco, Masoli chose to go to Oregon in the summer of 2008, after a flirtation with Auburn.

He earned the starting job by the end of the season with the Ducks, a perfect fit for coach Chip Kelly’s up-tempo, spread offense, and starred in 2009, leading Oregon to a Pac-10 championship and Rose Bowl berth.

But he had legal problems too. Masoli was suspended from the team in March after pleading guilty to second-degree burglary charges (like Newton, a laptop was involved). He was kicked off the team for good after being cited for marijuana possession in June.

After a summer of uncertainty, he wound up with the Rebels, using an NCAA loophole to earn instant eligibility. Mississippi offers a master’s degree in parks and recreation management that was not available at Oregon.

Now, Masoli is in the unusual position of being able to help his former team. Oregon is undefeated and atop the Associated Press and coaches polls, but it is second in the BCS rankings because of lower marks in the computer ratings.

The Tigers haven’t faced many dual-threat quarterbacks, although mobile ones have given them trouble.

Kentucky’s Randall Cobb, a part-time quarterback, ran for 47 yards and two touchdowns, but much of that was out of the wildcat.

LSU’s Jordan Jefferson didn’t have the best passing day against Auburn’s secondary but managed to run 16 times for 74 yards and a touchdown last week.

“It’s like other defenses see with Cam,” Auburn linebacker Craig Stevens said. “You always have to keep in mind that this guy can run.”

That leads to other problems.

“Sometimes, just looking at it, you can get mesmerized, and, the next thing you know, there are two or three receivers behind you,” Thigpen said.

“He does a tremendous job of getting out and taking something that looks like it’s going to be a 4- or 5-yard gain, and, the next thing you know, it’s 45 yards.

“We’ve just got to try and bottle him up best way we can.”

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