The running back depth is impressive. The tempo presents a challenge. But the catalyst behind the best offense the Buckeyes will see in twelve months is Duck quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
Though pro scouts will ultimately differ because of his Polynesian Ice Cube frame (5-11/220), he's the most dangerous quarterback Ohio State has had to gameplan for since putting together the plan to try to stop Colt McCoy.
To stop Masoli and the Ducks, Homan, Rolle, Heyward and Co. will first have to make them one dimensional by plugging the zone read rushing attack. That's easier said than done because Masoli might be the best ball-fake guy in college football and if the Buckeyes are able to stifle the Oregon running game early, he's more than capable throwing the ball.
More worrisome is the fact that during Masoli's two years as a starter, he's improved as each season has progressed. After starting the season 5th on the depth chart in '08, he eventually went on to start 10 games for the Ducks and put himself on the map with a huge game in the Holiday Bowl win over Oklahoma State. After the tough loss to Boise State to open this season, he played well for the first month and a half of the season before really exploding in Oregon's last six games.
So how did Jeremiah Masoli parylay a year at the City College of San Francisco (the JUCO that also produced Larry Grant) into becoming one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the FBS?
Masoli grew up in northern California before finishing his high school career in Hawaii. From there, he enrolled at CCSF and had immediate success as a freshman, finishing as a 3rd team All-American after throwing for 3,592 yards and 30 touchdowns to go along with 448 yards and 11 more scores on the ground. After the Ducks extended a scholarship offer to Masoli, he arrived in Eugene in the spring of 2008 as one of seven quarterbacks on the roster.
Thanks to injuries, Masoli quickly found himself in the mix for playing time and earned his first start as a Duck in the week four loss to Boise State. Though his team came up five points short, Masoli had locked down the starting job and thanks to stellar play, would not relinquish it. The sophomore would go 3-2 over his next five games with the losses coming to USC and Cal. The Trojans, with that nasty defense, were able to hold him to just 17 rushing yards on 11 attempts while the Bears went the other route, giving up nearly 100 yards rushing to Masoli, but picked him off twice.
You could sense something special was brewing after he ran for 170 yards to lead the Ducks to a 31-24 win over the Bruins in week six. Then he really broke out about a month later against Arizona, finishing 21/26 for 298 yards and two touchdowns through the air and 10/89 and three more scores on the ground as part of Oregon's 55-45 win over the Wildcats. He followed that up with a monster game in the Civil War, going 11/17 for 247 and three touchdowns and adding 53 more yards and another touchdown running the ball in the Ducks' 65-38 win. Masoli capped it all off by topping 350 yards of total offense in the Holiday Bowl win over Oklahoma State.
Aside from the opener against Boise State, he's been equally as dominant this season with another strong finish. The Broncos held him to just 121 yards passing and 14 rushing (on seven attempts), but he's punked every other team he's faced with the high point being a six touchdown performance (three rushing and passing) in the comeback win over Arizona.
The Ducks would go 1-1 against USC and Stanford, but Masoli was equally ruthless in each game. His team handed the Trojans their worst defeat since 1997 behind his 386 yards of total offense (164 on the ground!) and he put up 389 yards on Stanford (334 passing) while the Ducks were getting steamrolled by Toby Gerhart.
If you need a refresher, here's Masoli completely owning the Trojan defense:
Did I mention that Pete Carroll is a defensive coach first and foremost?
It's not often that you run into a quarterback who can throw as well as he enjoys trucking defenders (and can squat 475 lbs), so the Buckeye defense will have their work cut out for them against a guy that's averaging nearly 300 yards of total offense over the Ducks' last four games. Toss in the tempo and no-huddle aspects and this has all the makings an edge of your seat night. Which makes the potential reward that much sweeter because homer or not, I love our defense.