Writing about the offense of the Cincinnati Bearcats the past two years has involved a healthy dose of apologizing for bad quarterbacking. The offensive line wasn’t good enough. The play calling was non creative. There has been no consistency. Tommy Tuberville was the head coach. Those are just some of the gems that have been pulled out. But at some point, the finger has to be pointed at the man under center. For as valid as some of those above excuses are, the problem with the quarterback spot can’t be blamed entirely on everyone but the man slinging the rock.
Hayden Moore is the current starting quarterback and the most utilized option over these past pair of seasons. He has been the beneficiary of some of the quarterback apologizing but also the target of ire surrounding the position. Its time to begin pulling back on the leeway and actually wondering if Moore is any good.
The former three-star recruit won the starting job over Gunner Kiel and Ross Trail last summer and he got the job again this year with Kiel gone and Luke Fickell and a whole new staff in place on the sidelines. Through two games, he has looked pretty terrible. He threw for only 151 yards against Austin Peay in the opener and then looked completely overmatched against Michigan, completing only 15-of-40 pass attempts while being intercepted twice. Here’s where you might want to say “But Michigan is really good at defense!” That’s true. There’s no denying that. But just because that’s true doesn’t mean its not also true that Moore is a bad quarterback.
Game after game for the last two years, we’ve waited for him to step up and be a quarterback that an offense can thrive with. This year, he has a solid group of receivers, led by Devin Gray and Kahlil Lewis, and he even has a new offensive system that should give him room to grow and improve. Two games may not be a sample size that proves everything, but it does prove something. That something is that Moore just isn’t the answer.
But that brings about the problem. There may not be a superior answer on the roster. Ross Trail is the only other quarterback with any experience and his resume isn’t exactly star studded. He was a more heralded recruit, and I have been vocal in saying he should be given the shot to run the offense, but he was not good in 2016, throwing just one touchdown pass compared to six interceptions. Despite that, Trail has what insiders like to call “upside.” He has a bigger arm than Moore and has shown more courage when it comes to throwing down field. With Lewis, as well as speedsters like Thomas Geddis and Jerron Rollins, the Bearcats would be better off trying to make the passing game more vertical. Moore is most comfortable with short throws and dump-offs. He has not shown enough to make it believable that he can lead the aerial revolution. Trail might be that guy.
Redshirt freshman Jake Sopko and true freshman Desmond Ridder are also on the roster, but neither is ready to start right now. Sopko is a three-star quarterback who fits in the pro-style mold. He might be a wild card option in the years to come as he can throw it long fairly well. Ridder brings the most mobile ability to the position, which could be a welcome wrinkle for the offense, especially as offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock has had success with quarterbacks that can move the ball themselves. But, again, he’s just not ready.
Even if there are options, there isn’t really a clear answer to the question poised in the headline of this article. That is going to hurt UC in the short term for sure, and until Fickell can find the right fit, it will be a long term issue as well.