As the #25 4-2 UCLA Bruins head into a presumable “get well” game Saturday night versus the 2-4 Stanford Cardinal, all the conversation, focus, and eyeballs will be around whether Dante Moore turns the corner with his play. In the Bruins past three games, Moore has completed only 46% of his passes (51 for 112) with three touchdowns and six interceptions, half of which have been of the pick-six variety.
Three consecutive games with an interception returned for a touchdown. Three consecutive games with an opening possession interception. Three consecutive games at or below 50% completions. Now more than ever, Moore needs a bounce back as the Bruins embark on the second half of their season to solidify a 2023 campaign that can still go in multiple directions. But these passing performances are not Dante’s burden alone, Chip Kelly needs to do a better job of schematically setting up his 18-year-old budding superstar for success, especially as interception patterns are beginning to emerge.
Here are three tangible fixes Chip Kelly must deploy.
How Chip Kelly Fixes Dante Dante Moore
Avoid Rolling Out Left
Moore’s opening drive interceptions versus both Washington State and Oregon State were mirror images of one another: rolling out to the left, flailing on his mechanics as he needed to cross his body while throwing a fluttering ball late and behind his target. Since Dante is a right-hander, rolling out to his weak side involves so many more moving parts: the need to swing his hips 180 degrees, re-align his shoulders to his throwing window, and re-plant his feet prior to making a delivery.
Given the state of the Bruins offensive line coupled with Dante still growing into his body, the high complexity and lengthy timeliness of these plays result in unnecessary risk without enough upside reward. If Moore is going to roll out of the pocket, he must do so exclusively to his strong side right.
Have Sturdivant Line Up To Moore’s Right
Both the Utah and Oregon State pick sixes were also mirror images of one another: Moore locking in on his favorite target, J. Michael Sturdivant, to his left with a defender reading his eyes and jumping on the ball. For a right-handed quarterback, especially a young one like Moore, it is extremely difficult to go through his progressions in a clockwise fashion, namely, left-to-right. Going from Sturdivant to the left and then the middle of the field and then the right sideline is opposite to the right-to-left follow-through throwing motion for a right-hander.
It’s much easier for a right-hander to go through his progressions right-to-left because it’s consistent with that throwing motion. Thus, with Sturdivant lining up consistently to Moore’s right, there’s a seamless right-to-left read of his progressions given JMS being WR1 and all passing plays beginning with identifying his location and presence.
Having Moore go consistently right-to-left is another wrinkle to minimize those micro motions in the pocket, buy those pressure split seconds amidst pressure, and generate confidence through a more frictionless rhythm.
One of the challenges in these three conference games has been Moore’s unwillingness to give up on the big play in the sporadic moments where he has enough time in the pocket. That’s generating coverage sacks and getting hit as he throws, as evidenced by interception number two versus Oregon State. Kelly needs to simplify the passing playbook, similar to 2021 and early 2022.
It needs to be: primary read, secondary read, and then either throw the ball away or scramble to the nearest sideline for a minimal gain. Once the clock in Moore’s head consistently speeds up to become muscle memory, then he can throw the check down more consistently from his secondary read and ultimately graduate to more progressions in quicker amounts of time. But Moore’s current third option should be to either throw the ball away or scramble to end the play, not extend it.
What It Means
It will be fascinating to observe Moore against the 129th-ranked pass defense that Stanford possesses. The Cardinal are coming off a breathtaking 29-point comeback courtesy of a virtuoso 13 catch, 294-yard, and three touchdown SECOND HALF performance by sophomore wide receiver, Elic Ayomanor.
But aside from that incredible showing, Stanford had 4.5 consecutive games of paltry offensive coupled with atrocious defense. This is the game for Moore to break through and regain his form from earlier in the season versus San Diego State. A reliable passing game coupled with the Top 10 Bruins rushing attack and its dynamite defense, would put UCLA right back into the conference title race.