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Ole Miss has lots of new faces on its offense this year. But of all the faces on the unit that lost 10 starters from last year, none is newer — or maybe more frightening —than quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
The UK defense has spent plenty of time preparing for the former second-team All Pac-10 selection this week. Players are watching film of the Oregon Ducks, where Masoli played in 2009, and film from the Rebels. The Cats have also spent extra time working on tackling this week — something they didn’t do last week.
Because so many players were banged up, the team cut back on tackling in practice. Earlier this week though, the defense worked on individual tackling drills to make sure it won’t have the same problems against Ole Miss this week. Masoli, who has been with the program since Aug. 6, leads an offense that lost almost every major contributor at the skill positions from last year.
“He’s short, stout, strong,” senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said. “He’s like a little version of Tim Tebow, and you have to stop him. That’s the heart of their team, the heart of their offense. They didn’t get him (to transfer) there for no reason, he’s there to make plays.”
Masoli, who was considered a Heisman candidate entering the season at Oregon before he was released from the program, is listed at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds. For comparison, UK’s Mike Hartline is listed at 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds.
“He’s basically like a quarterback that is another running back,” senior linebacker Jacob Dufrene said.
His body type may make him difficult to defend and tackle, but Dufrene said the Cats are hoping to use his diminutive frame to their advantage by keeping him in the pocket. If UK can contain Masoli and force him to pass without scrambling around, he’ll have to look over several taller linemen to complete his passes.
To keep him in the pocket, Dufrene said the Cats will try to keep the defensive ends from jetting past Masoli in the pocket and try to keep a linebacker assigned to him.
“If you don’t have a specific person on him, and the play goes wrong, he takes off and runs,” Dufrene said. “You have to try and keep him inside the box and keep him behind his linemen.”
But when the Cats face Masoli, he’ll likely be better prepared than he ever has been for the Rebels. Because he joined the team less than six weeks ago, he’s still learning the system but is getting better with each passing week. Lumpkin said by the end of the season, he’ll be a force to reckon with.
“He’s getting a lot of it going, people can see he’s more comfortable with it,” Lumpkin said.
After a weekend when Florida freshman Trey Burton lined up in a Wildcat formation and ran for five touchdowns on five carries against UK, the defense has something extra to prove.
“We see the Wildcat everyday. We have a great person that runs it too, Randall Cobb. It’s nothing new to us, it’s just actually doing the fundamentals that you have to do to stop it, and we didn’t do it that game.”
Junior guard Stuart Hines, who did not travel to play Florida last week, is expected to play Ole Miss this weekend. Hines was previously listed as questionable with an ankle injury suffered during UK’s 47-10 win over Akron.
“Stuart’s moving around well,” UK head coach Joker Phillips said at practice Wednesday. “He’ll be fine.”
Follow Ben Jones on Twitter at twitter.com/BW_Jones