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The people’s guide to Rondale Moore

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There’s a lot more to him than just the Ohio State game. But never forget the Ohio State game.

Rondale Moore plays during Purdue vs. Ohio State. Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images. Banner Society illustration.

The first thing to know

Rondale Moore is a wide receiver for the Purdue Boilermakers. Sometimes, he returns kicks and punts.

Most kick returns are over before they begin, a matter of a quick tackle after a few seconds tick off the clock. The longer ones might take 10 or 12 seconds, depending on where the returner catches the ball and how far they have to go to the end zone. The mad epics can go 14, 15 seconds even. Classics like Joe Adams’ punt return — from catch to crossing the goal line — might even hit 18.

As a high schooler in 2017, Moore scored a touchdown on a 20-second punt return. (Begin at 2:30.)

It is, frankly, a borderline disgusting display of athleticism.

At one early point, Moore just stops around the 38-yard line, looks downfield while doing some light hopping in place, and pops through the coverage defenders like they’re leaping puppies at a dog park. He really only breaks out the quality jukes once, despite being surrounded by potential tacklers, because Moore knows there is no one on the field who can touch him.

That happens in high school, with elite athletes playing against mortals. Some high school mixtape all-stars never make it happen. (See: Sam McGuffie.) Some go on to be Rondale Moore. If you can choose between the two, then choose to be the latter, and become one of college football’s most eye-popping offensive talents and giant-slayers after just one season in the Big Ten.

If that sounds too easy, then blame Rondale Moore. He’s the one that made it look easy.

Seemingly cliché biographical details

A 5’9, 180-pound slot-type receiver who back squats 600 pounds. That’s a type, right?

Moore’s ant-grade strength is known to the point at which it’s become the shorthand note of interest for every TV announcer. It will be heard often: DID YOU KNOW HE SQUATS 600 POUNDS, HERBIE?

Like most crutch notes, everyone should make fun of it when it’s mentioned for the 800th time. (My historical favorite: Every announcer in college football mentioning that former Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler was, in fact, 6’7” inches tall.)

Unlike a lot of those notes, Moore’s mutant strength is entirely relevant on the field. As a high school recruit at The Opening in Chicago, Moore ran a 4.33 40-yard dash, put up a 42-inch vertical leap, and tacked on a 4.03 shuttle run for extra credit. He’s blazing fast for a professional player, much less a college receiver, and is more than capable of putting his foot in the ground and humiliating a defender in the open field.

Some college football players fit some of that profile. Very few have all that and are as fiendishly strong as Moore, who time and time again in 2018 slipped a less-than-locktight tackle to add three, four, or 50 yards to plays the defense took for dead. He made a few of those escapes with the full weight of a defender on his back, tugging helplessly while waiting for the whistle.

His speed and shiftiness make bad angles for would-be tacklers. His immense strength carries him through those who actually get to him. This is three, four, or possibly five missed tackles on a single play:

A defense needs to understand that the first contact with Moore is not the end of the play, but only the beginning of negotiations on when the play will end. Bring the whole team, and stick to Moore’s list of demands.

Other personal notes

Decommitted from Texas to play for Purdue, something no other recruit in the history of college football has ever done. That might not be true. It feels right, though, and that is what counts here.

Was the first true freshman to be a consensus All-American in the history of the Big Ten. Won the Paul Hornung Award for being the most versatile player in college football, the only underclassman besides a sophomore Christian McCaffrey in the award’s short history.

Had 22 receptions for 304 yards in one high school game in 2017. Was allowed to play high school football against other people, for some reason?

I assume that tackler is swatting a large bug to keep it from stinging Moore. A considerate young gentleman.

Environment

Playing an all-purpose role for a Purdue team that needs all of his talents. Moore quickly became the best receiver in the Big Ten, or at least its most productive. In 2018, he tied for the Big Ten’s receiving TDs lead with 12, led the league outright in receiving yardage, and had 12 more receptions than any other player in the country. Moore also had 213 yards rushing — averaging an outright alarming 10.1 yards per carry — and threw a modest 662 yards of kick return yardage in there, too. Moore finished No. 4 in the country in all-purpose yardage, with more per game than any freshman since Stefon Diggs in 2012.

If there is any question to why Moore turned down Texas, this is the answer: the Boilermakers told him they would use him anywhere, all the time, and then did exactly that. Expect that to continue, in ever more horrifying variations. Jeff Brohm’s offense is inventive, restlessly creative, and fearless in its aggression. In his freshman year he was as productive at receiver alone as other early bloomers at the position like Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams. When he actually knows what he’s doing, and starts to get the full playbook? Moore could approach 2005 Reggie Bush-type numbers if he stays healthy.

Comparisons

The “small but insanely jacked receiver who can destroy you” label leads to one obvious suspect.

The pugnacious attitude, strength, and 5’9 frame make him a dead ringer for Steve Smith, who ran a 4.41 at 10 pounds heavier than Moore.

There are key differences. Moore is a greater threat when he changes direction, and Smith was a better vertical route runner and more physical at the point of attack.

This comparison is not a slight against Moore. Smith was more physical than any other receiver on the planet and would be even odds in a fight. Which fight? Any of them. Name one, against any animal or person. Comparisons are approximate only, and please tell Steve Smith not to harm me for saying this. I both love him and fear him in equal measure.

Might be some Darren Sproles in there, too, but your mileage might vary.

Things that might upset you about Rondale Moore

He’s 5’9. Barring some miracle of modern science, that will not change any time soon. He is not a skyscraper to lob jump balls toward. He gets into the end zone in other ways.

After his freshman year, Moore had a ton of development to do in terms of route-running and becoming a more established downfield threat, and needing to combine improved technique with his blazing speed.

Michigan State showed that he could be shut down, or at least slowed with the right attention. To do that, the Spartans had to put a senior on him and shadow him with a spy sometimes. Even then, and despite his QB throwing three INTs on the day, Moore still caught 11 of 16 passes for 74 yards.

P.S. If you’re a Louisville fan, you won’t like that Bobby Petrino missed badly on an obvious talent in your own backyard!

Things that might delight you about Rondale Moore

Moore’s debut was hilarious. Northwestern had no Moore college game tape to study and clearly had no idea what it was dealing with. As eye-popping as his high school tape might have been, the Wildcats couldn’t have predicted 188 yards and two TDs on 13 touches in his first game.

Most of that yardage happened via simple stuff, a lot like what Moore ran in high school: screens, crossing routes, and quick touches reliant on sheer speed.

This is third and 1, just a simple handoff. Northwestern has a blocked defender right in his path and another tackler in good position to stop a freshman one-on-one. How’s that go?

Not great!

Purdue kept using him as its quick-hit guy as the season wore on, but Moore’s role would evolve. Purdue worked in more downfield options, including double moves and play fakes based on what he was already doing really well.

For instance: Moore ate Ohio State alive on quick outs, screens, and other snap-fast touches.

Against Indiana, Purdue played off the fear of Moore getting loose on shorter routes. This opened up longer plays. Here, against Indiana, Moore breaks to the sideline, turns his defender, and races upfield for a wide-open TD (off what I’d like to point out is a very pretty over-the-shoulder throw by QB David Blough).

Those endless screens and short routes also helped set up an absolute crime committed by Moore against Wisconsin. Two of them, actually.

Badgers cornerback Rachad Wildgoose goes missing the minute he falls for a half-twitch toward the sideline.

Safety Eric Burrell then bails his teammate out. Ideally, the safety does this by tackling the ballcarrier the cornerback missed. In this case, Burrell helps his friend by getting B-button’d into oblivion on national television, making Wildgoose’s error seems unspectacular in comparison. There are many ways to be a great teammate. This is just one.

Anything else?

Oh, yes, one very, very lovable thing.

He does this move. Kirk Herbstreit calls it “the deadleg.” I’ve always called it the Walter Payton Mule Kick. I’m not married to either. “Deadleg” is shorter, while the Walter Payton Mule Kick feels more accurate in terms of a.) the actual motion and b.) homage to another undersized but ferocious ballcarrier.

Either way, I cannot emphasize enough that in the annals of old-school moves, this is the best. If Moore comes out for a postgame press conference wearing a headband and a pair of KangaRoos — the shoes with pockets! — I would somehow love him more than I do already.

Is that all?

No! Let’s all remember the time Ohio State had Purdue at third-and-7, then watched Moore fly through the entire defense off a simple swing pass.

Is that important to understanding Moore as a player? Yes, this showcases everything: fast, explosive, hellaciously strong, and capable of exploiting any gap for serious damage.

Is this also just an excuse to remind everyone that Ohio State lost 49-20 to Purdue as the Boilermakers scored 28 points in the fourth quarter? Yes, it absolutely is. You’re welcome.