Hayden Moore is going to enter his third-straight season as the starting quarterback for the Cincinnati Bearcats. At least that’s how it seems. It’s not an entirely surprising development. It also isn’t a development that should cause much celebration or, alternatively, consternation. The Bearcats have not had great QB play the last few years and although they have used the recruiting trail to address that need, there still isn’t a clear replacement or upgrade for Moore.
In his first season with Mike Denbrock as offensive coordinator, Moore had his most productive year as a collegiate signal caller. He set personal-bests in completions (239), attempts (424), passing yards (2,562) and touchdowns (20). He showed durability by starting all 12 games as well. In a few games there were even flashes of the greatness that has always been lurking under the surface but just out of reach. Moore threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns on 28-of-46 passing against Navy and he also threw for 248 yards and had a 156.0 rating in the win over Tulane. In addition to those individual games, he cut down on his interceptions, with only nine total (0.75 per game) compared to the 18 combined he had in 2015 and 2016 (1.2 per game).
Another fun development for Moore in 2017 was an increasing use of his legs to pick up yards. Denbrock’s most successful offenses in the past have had passers who can also move. Perhaps not in the same way that guys like Cam Newton, Mike Vick or Tim Tebow could, but having at least some elusiveness has always made things better. Moore isn’t your traditional mobile quarterback by any means, but he still managed to run for 312 yards and four touchdowns. That was quite the jump from the 67 yards he had across his first two seasons. He did the most damage on the ground against UCF and Temple, rushing for 75 yards in both games. He rushed for at least 30 yards five times, plus a 29-yard effort against Michigan. Due to his own limitations and the fact that the Bearcats have plenty of running back talent, Moore doesn’t need to be looking to run very often, but adding 30-50 yards per game gives the offense some added versatility.
I hope you were taking all the stuff above with a grain of salt. There were clearly reasons to feel good about Moore last year, but there were a lot of parts of his game that led to letdowns. If you parse through the statement that he set a bunch of a career-highs, you can easily point to the fact that quantity does not always mean quality. Yes, Moore did throw for more than 2,500 yards for the first time in his career, but he also played 12 games for the first time. Before that he had played in 15 games total.
On top of that, even with all those passing yards and touchdowns, Moore actually set a career-low in completion percentage (56.4), yards per attempt (6.0) and adjusted yards per attempt (6.0). Taking special notice of that last number, Moore really struggled with throwing the ball deeper down field. With Moore making all the throws, the Bearcats ranked last in the American Athletic Conference in passes of 30 or more yards. It’s too bad because guys like Khalil Lewis and Thomas Geddis have big-play potential but were utilized more in shorter passing situations.
It’s probably too late for Moore, now a senior, to turn into an all-conference caliber signal caller. He is going to be working with a largely new offensive line and the offense may turn more toward its talented and youthful backfield. That could mean Moore will just be asked to game manage as a placeholder for the future guys like Desmond Ridder and Ben Bryant. Right now that role comes along with the starting designation, but we’ll see just how long that lasts. In 2018, it ran for the whole season, despite Ross Trail waiting in the wings. Trail is now gone and Ridder and Bryant both need some more seasoning, so Moore is going to start, for better or worse.