What if I told you the departure of Hass may actually improve the air attack
at Oregon State?
You would probably think I was in need of some kind of therapy. But before you have me committed, give me a chance to explain myself.
First of all, you have to believe that Moore will improve on his 123.1 pass efficiency rating of a year ago. His 19 interception to only 11 touchdowns will improve just from being one year older.
“It surprised me in the spring when he told me that this will be the first time in his football career that he’s run the same offense two years in a row, which was a little bit shocking,” said Head Coach Mike Riley at media day. “When you look back, he had some changes in his high school coaching staff, then you see it - he transferred from UCLA and then played here.”
For a quarterback, that familiarity with the offense is crucial to success. With the speed of the college game, being able to see the play unfold before it actually does or the ability to recognize the best option by just reading the defense are natural improvements that come with experience.
“I’m excited to see how much easier this will be this time around,” said an eager Moore of finally returning to the same offense. “Coach Riley was talking to me and said I didn’t even know what the effects of that will mean, and how much it is going to help me.”
The work Moore put in during the offseason preparing for his second stint in Corvallis was driven by the idea of not going through the same troubles he suffered a season ago.
“Last year was a learning experience. I think I have matured from last year. I just need to play smart, learn from the experiences I have been in and turn it around,” explained the play caller. “This offseason I just did a lot of ball skills and footwork. I was in the film room a little bit but not too much. During the offseason I think you can learn more just from experience (on the field) than re-watching (game film) because I just get frustrated.”
Not having a Hass on the field may actually help Moore do his job better. After all, when you have a talent like Hass on your team, it’s easy to forget about everybody else.
“I really do think (not having Hass) will make me a better quarterback. With the guys we have and spreading the ball around, it will be nice to have all three of them to throw to, including Joe (Newton),” added Moore. “I don’t think it wasn’t going through my progressions. In some cases it was, obviously, it was just that Mike was so easy to throw to. It probably got me in trouble once or twice.”
The guys he has to throw to besides Newton this year do offer Matt a few options.
“We have got a good core of guys right now in (Sammie) Stroughter, (Anthony) Wheat-Brown and Brandon Powers,” said Moore. “You throw Joe Newton in there and you have a pretty dangerous foursome, I think.”
“Sammie is just a burner. He’s got incredible speed. He will beat you deep… Anthony and Brandon are real similar to me. Both are tough as nails. You can’t jam them off the ball; they’re going to go right through you. They’ll catch the ball when they need to.”
Wheat-Brown, along with Newton, will most likely carry the bulk of the pass-catching responsibilities. In Hass’s shadow last year, the 6-1 receiver came down with 40 receptions for 400 yards and three touchdowns.
Wheat-Brown’s athletic ability will be an important asset, but his QB is expecting something else from the junior.
“Anthony brings a lot to the huddle with his experience,” expressed Moore.
The options at receiver are nice, but what will have the biggest impact on the passing game is the return of OSU’s all-everything tight end.
“I am really looking forward to working with Joe,” smiled Matt when asked about the return of #89. “I know his talents and I am glad to be working with him.”
Newton’s talent was missed last season when he had to sit out his entire junior year due to a leg injury. As a sophomore, he contributed 56 catches for 687 yards and scored as many touchdowns as Hass in 2004 with seven.
This 6-7, 256-lb target has the ability to be one of the premier tight ends in the country, as long as he stays healthy.
“I feel as good as I have ever felt physically and I am just looking forward to playing,” assured Newton. “It was extremely difficult for me to sit out and watch, especially knowing that I was injured doing something that was not helping my team. That made it even harder. I think it helped me appreciate the smaller parts of the game like practice. Football practice can be rough sometimes, but now I just enjoy being out there with the team. I missed that.”
What needs work is the chemistry between receiver and quarterback. Newton and Moore missed out on a whole season together and have some things to work out.
“I feel we are getting close to that good relationship and being comfortable playing with each other. What it’s going to take is fall camp; luckily that is what fall camp is for,” said Newton. “It’s more than just getting good at running plays. It kind of allows you to come together as a group because of all the other factors that are involved.”
Moore seems to agree. “I think it will be easy for me and Joe to mesh together.”
“It is absolutely vital to develop that relationship,” added Newton. “That’s why you see quarterbacks and receivers who have progressed through the year with each other get better together.”
The potential Moore sees in Newton has the quarterback placing a lot of expectations on his big target. "I know teams are going to be keying on him. He is going to be an impact player. I would call Joe the go-to-guy, but it’s hard to say until I play a season with him.”
Is Joe ready for this responsibility?
“I hope I can carry some of the load. (Being the go-to-guy) is what I want to do and if they ask me to do that then I’m ready,” responded Newton without hesitation.
But the No. 1 reason Oregon State will be better at throwing the ball this year is that they aren’t going to have to do it as much.
“(Our offense) will be built more from the inside out than the outside in with Joe Newton and Yvenson Bernard, the core of our offensive line and a returning quarterback,” explained Riley. “That identity has to be formed that we’re going to be a physical team, and we’re going to be able to run the ball. Then all those things that stem off of that - the play-action passes, the bootlegs and all that - are going to be good for us.”
Moore’s main responsibility this year is to just keep defenses honest. If he can create the threat of a passing game, the linebackers and safeties won’t be able to stack the line and key on Bernard as much.
If you get away from the interceptions, Moore put up pretty good numbers last season. He completed 595 of his passes for 2,711 yards, which was good enough for fourth in the Pac-10.
Riley sees the potential and realizes Moore has something else to prove. “A quarterback has to be very tough-minded. We throw the ball down the field a lot so we might have a few more interceptions, but he had the best overall passing percentage we’ve had in a while, too, so he’s very capable. He has a good arm - he’s accurate. Just a few better decisions and all those things put together, and I think he can make a jump to a different level at quarterback.”
So, can OSU be a better passing team without Hass?
Honestly it isn’t that outlandish of a statement. They are starting with the second worst air attack in the Pac-10 (Cal’s Joe Ayoob had a 114.3 rating), so improving could mean only the seventh best passing game in the conference.
Getting the opportunity to play in the same system two years in a row, the focus on spreading the ball around more, the addition of Newton and the fact that OSU should spend the majority of the time running the football are all factors that should add up to Moore and the passing attack being much more efficient this year.
The first step in making it happen is to believe it. The attitude is already changing.
“Matt has a year under his belt and we have a lot of talented receivers. As a unit we should equal what Mike Hass did,” concludes Newton. “I think our offense has serious potential to be really good this year.”
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