Memphis may have remained unbeaten Thursday, outlasting American Athletic Conference counterpart Cincinnati in a 53-46 shootout, but the story coming out of the Liberty Bowl was Bearcats quarterback Hayden Moore.
The freshman Moore came on in relief for Gunner Kiel for the second time in as many weeks, each time after Kiel sustained a shot to the helmet. Hayden Moore’s Week 3 performance in a 37-33 win over Miami (OH) was wholly unspectacular, going 7-of-14 with no scores and two touchdowns.
The circumstances forcing Moore into the lineup Thursday were far more dire than a week ago, as Kiel was taken away from the Liberty Bowl in an ambulance.
His health is first and foremost in any conversation immediately following Thursday’s contest. From a purely football perspective, however, Hayden Moore stole the show.
Moore’s final line: 31-of-53, four touchdowns and 557 yards. 557!
Those 557 yards set a Cincinnati single-game record, a remarkable feat given his teammate, Kiel winged the ball all over the field in 2014. Cincinnati also featured one of the most potent offenses in college football during Brian Kelly’s tenure as head coach in the late 2000s, so Hayden Moore reached no insignificant milestone.
Moore’s performance was thoroughly impressive, beyond the numbers. Standing tall in the pocket, he delivered balls with pinpoint accuracy all over the field: long, short, intermediate.
Hayden Moore on the money to Max https://t.co/efOC3Piz0N
— Bearcats Blog (@BearcatsBlog) September 25, 2015
He looked very much like a veteran: confident and savvy, seeing the gaps in the Memphis defense, which were plentiful, particularly in the secondary.
Only under duress in the final possession did Moore look like a freshman. His final interception ended a terrific night with a thud, but that shouldn’t detract from a wildly impressive debut on the national stage.
And early returns suggest it didn’t. On the contrary, commentators picked up on Hayden Moore coming to Cincinnati from head coach Tommy Tuberville’s old stomping grounds of Alabama.
With quarterback controversies afoot at both Alabama and Auburn, Moore’s stellar showing begs a question: How might he have done had the local schools pursued him out of Clay-Chalkville?
557 yards! Hayden Moore, Cincy QB from Alabama, could have helped some SEC team. #recruitingfail
— Brian Hodges (@brihodges) September 25, 2015
Fun fact: Alabama and Auburn didn't offer Hayden Moore. Per Rivals: Auburn wasn't interested, Alabama offered Blake Barnett instead.
— Chris Renkel (@Chris_Renkel) September 25, 2015
Freshman UC QB Hayden Moore has thrown for nearly 500 yards in relief tonight. He played HS ball in Alabama. Nick Saban couldn't use him?
— Richard Eng (@RichEng4ProPick) September 25, 2015
The easy response is that Nick Saban and Gus Malzahn missed on a stud in their own backyard. As a 3-star prospect, however, Moore landing at Cincinnati is quite a bit different than the former 5-star recruit Gunner Kiel becoming a Bearcat.
Both Alabama and Auburn feature depth charts of 4-and-5-star quarterback prospects. As noted above, Saban offered the scholarship Moore might have received to Blake Barnett, a remarkable talent from Southern California who could be the future of the Crimson Tide offense.
I personally won’t heap too much blame on Saban and Malzahn, especially after just one game — though if Moore’s record-setting night is a prelude to a tremendous career, Tigers and elephants will be left kicking themselves.