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Hayden Moore: An Appreciation

Moore never became the quarterback the Bearcats needed, but he stuck with the program through four years of upheaval and got to end his collegiate career on a high note.

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman - Virginia Tech v Cincinnati Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Career Numbers

  • 57.1 completion percentage
  • 6,518 passing yards
  • 42 touchdowns
  • 28 interceptions
  • 123.0 QB rating
  • 503 rushing yards
  • 10 rushing touchdowns

Hayden Moore got a bad rap. He was tasked with taking over as the starting quarterback during a time of utter turmoil for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Since he played the most high profile position, when the program took a nosedive, he was second in line to receive blame behind former head coach Tommy Tuberville. Once Tuberville was ousted, Moore became an even bigger target, especially as the team struggled through a 4-8 campaign in the initial Luke Fickell season. This article is not meant to be a retconning of Moore’s career, but there are more bright spots hidden in there than you were led to believe.

A three-star recruit from Alabama, Moore became a member of the Bearcats in 2014. The program was coming off a nine-win season and was separated by just a few years from back-to-back 10-win seasons. While the path to the starting quarterback job would be blocked by Gunner Kiel, Moore had a bright future with a stable program. That seemed even more true when the Bearcats won nine games again in 2014 with Kiel at the helm and Moore redshirting.

Once he dumped the redshirt status for 2015, things started to change. The Bearcats still put Kiel in as the starter to open the year, but he did not finish it there, both because of injuries and other reasons we may never know. That created an opportunity for Moore, who played in eight games and even started twice as a redshirt freshman. He certainly had some issues, throwing more interceptions (11) than touchdown passes (nine) while averaging just 7.0 yards per adjusted attempt. However, he completed a healthy 59.1 percent of his passes and racked up 1,885 passing yards.

A discussion about Moore’s 2015 season would be remiss without mentioning his absolutely bananas effort against Memphis. He threw for a program record 557 yards after Kiel was taken out due to an injury. He launched 53 passes, completing 31 of them, and amassed four touchdowns and two interceptions. Unfortunately, the Bearcats lost that game and that became the story of the season, with the Bearcats struggling to stay above water with Moore at the helm. Starting with Memphis, UC went 2-4 in games that Moore appeared, including a brutal loss to San Diego State in the Hawaii Bowl during which Moore was intercepted three times.

Despite some rough sledding in his first real taste of college football, Moore had, by all accounts, a great summer in 2016, ultimately winning the starting job in a competition with Kiel and upstart sophomore Ross Trail. It looked like the right decision through the first two weeks. Despite a closer than expected win against Tennessee-Martin in week one, Moore helped the Bearcats start 2-0 by throwing for 510 yards, five touchdowns and an interception on 60.6 percent passing, while also adding 71 yards and two scores on the ground.

The good times wouldn’t last, however. An injury and diminishing production lost Moore his starting job and the Bearcats lost each of the five games he did play following that 2-0 start. He still led the team in attempts (255), completions (146), passing yards (1,744) and touchdown passes (11), but threw for fewer yards per pass, with an anemic 6.5 adjusted yards per attempt, while completing throws at a worse rate than the year before. The disaster of 2016 ended with the Bearcats at 4-8 overall and Tuberville looking for a new job.

Despite that, there was still time for redemption for Moore and for the Bearcats themselves. Moore, now a redshirt junior, was given the keys to the offense by Fickell in 2017. Once again, the Bearcats struggled and so did Moore. He was far from awful, but he did not appear to be on his way to making a leap. While he set career-highs in touchdown passes (20), completions (239), attempts (424) and passing yards (2,562), he also saw his completion percentage decline for the second-straight year while becoming even more conservative with his throws, averaging just 6.0 yards per adjusted attempt. It also didn’t help that the Bearcats went 4-8.

Entering the 2018 season, Moore was once again installed as the starter, marking his third-straight campauign in that role. However, this time he wasn’t given as much leeway. In the season opener against UCLA, Moore was pulled for redshirt freshman Desmond Ridder early in the first quarter of that game and he never got his starting job back.

That wasn’t the end of Moore’s story, however. After making a few brief appearances for cleanup duty during the regular season, Moore was thrust into a big spot when Ridder was injured during the Military Bowl. Moore replaced Ridder with the game tied at 7-7 and helped lead the Bearcats to a thrilling 35-31 victory. He didn’t play the best game of his career (11-of-25, 120 yards, touchdown), but he made some plays on the ground and, in case you forgot since the last sentence, the Bearcats won. That wasn’t something that always happened when Moore was at quarterback, but it happened in his final game, making for a nice sendoff.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Best of the Best

Sept. 24, 2015 at Memphis

Five hundred and fifty seven yards. Let that sink in.

Oct. 1, 2015 vs. Miami (Florida)

A week after lighting up the Tigers, Moore came back down to earth, but he directed the Bearcats to a victory by throwing for 279 yards on 66.7 percent passing while accounting for three total touchdowns (two passing, one rushing).

Sept. 10, 2016 at Purdue

The Bearcats scored 38 points to beat the Boilermakers. Moore had a hand in 35 of those points, as he threw three touchdowns and ran for two more.

Nov. 25, 2016 at Tulsa

Despite this being a lost season, the Bearcats gave their finale everything they had. Moore was pretty exceptional, piling up a season-high 371 yards and three touchdowns while also adding his one and only career receiving touchdown on a trick play for the ages. Too bad the Bearcats lost in overtime.

Sept. 23, 2017 at Navy

This game was a bit closer than it probably should have been and Moore’s 381 yards and three touchdowns, not to mention zero interceptions, went a long way, even if one of those passing scores came in garbage time of a loss.

Oct. 7, 2017 vs. UCF

The Bearcats came nowhere near upsetting the Knights, but Moore did himself proud, throwing for 278 yards and a touchdown while escaping for 75 yards and two scores on the ground.

A Final Goodbye

Moore became a Bearcat at the wrong time. The program was going through a transitional phase as he was attempting to establish himself. That ultimately weighed down his ability to become a top flight quarterback. He certainly flashed the potential and ended his career among the top five Bearcats ever in passing attempts (929, ranked second), passing yards (6,398 ranked third) and passing touchdowns (42, ranked fourth), but too much upheaval and offensive variability didn’t make life easy for him.

Moore is not blameless in all of this. He didn’t always make the right throws and his struggles with making plays down field are well documented. However, he was a steadfast player for four years when he could have easily given up on program. He accepted his role as a starter and then accepted his role as a backup when Ridder surpassed him. Then, when his number was called one last time, he did enough to earn the Bearcats a bowl victory. All of that deserves at least some appreciation.