Through it all this season, Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has put his head down and gone to work.
EUGENE — Through it all this season, Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has put his head down and gone to work.
The loss to Boise State, the suspension of pal LeGarrette Blount, the boos, an injury, the Ducks' return to the rankings. Masoli has seen it all in the season's first seven games.
And on Saturday night he'll see USC.
As usual, Masoli isn't ruffled by the Halloween clash between the No. 10 Ducks (6-1, 4-0 Pac-10) and the fourth-ranked Trojans (6-1, 3-1) at Autzen Stadium.
"There's a lot of headlines for this game and a lot of things to be looking at, but a lot of that stuff has nothing to do with the actual football game," he said.
Masoli's stats don't put him atop the league's statistical categories. He's passed for 905 yards and five touchdowns, with just two interceptions. Known more for his scrambling ability, he's rushed for 272 yards and seven TDS.
But coach Chip Kelly said that intangibles make Masoli a success.
"I think first and foremost Jeremiah is just a winner. His record, I think he's only lost three games once in the Coliseum last year at 'SC and then on the road at Boise State and on the road at Cal last year, but besides that he's won every game," Kelly said.
Masoli is 9-2 as a starter in Pac-10 games, and he's 5-0 at Autzen.
The junior college transfer was Oregon's fifth-string quarterback heading into fall camp last season. But injuries and inexperience bumped him up the ladder, and he went on to start 10 games for the Ducks.
He capped his Pac-10 debut season with four touchdowns — one in the air and three on the ground — in Oregon's 42-31 victory over Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl.
He was hailed as one of the nation's best returning quarterbacks for his junior year this season. But he and the Ducks got off to a rocky start with a humbling 19-8 loss on the blue turf at Boise State in front of a national television audience.
It went from bad to worse after the game when Blount punched Broncos defensive end Byron Hout. The next day Blount — the Ducks' top returning running back — was suspended for the season.
The Ducks rebounded with a 38-36 victory over Purdue, then beat then-No. 18 Utah 31-24 to snap the Utes' 16-game winning streak. But Masoli completed just four of 16 passes for 95 yards.
Despite the victory — and Oregon's return to the rankings — Masoli was roundly criticized by Ducks fans on Internet message boards and on sports radio shows. Detractors called for his benching in favor of backup Nate Costa, who is more of a traditional passing quarterback.
Masoli admitted later that there was no way he could avoid hearing all the haters. So he came back the next week and threw for 253 yards and three touchdowns in Oregon's 42-3 upset of then-No. 6 California.
The next game Masoli was challenged again, injuring his knee in the first half of the Ducks' 52-6 victory over Washington State. He sat out of Oregon's next game, a 24-10 victory at UCLA, before resting over a bye week.
Masoli returned last Saturday for a 43-19 victory at Washington. He passed for 157 yards and a touchdown, and ran for two more scores, but said afterward he was only about "70 to 75 percent." He said this week at practice he felt fine.
Plus, there was nothing that was going to keep him away from Southern California.
"Definitely a little more heightened," Masoli said about the emotion surrounding the game. "We're not doing nothing too different, but it is 'SC week and that is a big game this week, a lot of things on the line. We understand that and we're a mature team and all we have to do is go in and execute."
The Ducks remain the only undefeated team in the Pac-10, and a win on Saturday could point the way to the conference championship.
USC coach Pete Carroll said Masoli is different from the quarterbacks the Trojans have faced because of his size — he's a compact 5-foot-11 and 214 solid pounds. Probably the closest has been Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
"They both run tough, and they are hard to tackle and effective. They are not the guys that you are going to see dropping back and living in the pocket throwing the football," Carroll said.