There are 100-plus players in the Stanford locker room who are taking this 0-9 season hard. It is frustrating. It is embarrassing. It is unbelievable.
Different players decide to vocalize their feelings in different ways, but the one you can count on wearing his emotions on his sleeve is Evan Moore. The 6'7" wide receiver has experienced numerous pains this season, both mental and physical. He floundered his first two games, with no catches in the second half at Oregon and then fumbling his sole second-half reception at San Jose State, to end Stanford's last-minute game-winning drive. He suffered a stress reaction the following week and did not return to the field until Game #8. Moore caught one pass at Arizona State - dropping two - and hauled in two passes last Saturday versus USC.
Moore has experienced the gamut of wide receiver roles in this winless season. He was a part of the problem at the start of September when Stanford could not score after halftime in its first two games. He was unable to play the next six games. Now he has come back to the field, experiencing frustration from what he feels are not enough opportunities or balls thrown his way. As Stanford searches for answers on offense, where they have scored just one touchdown the last five games, Moore is thirsting for chances to make an impact. Call him Keyshawn Johnson ("Just throw me the damn ball!"), or maybe not. But this fiery competitor is pining for passes thrown his way.
"Sure, but that's not my call. I have to go out and play. Block in the run game and work hard when the ball is not coming to me. Then when I do get the chance to have the ball in my hands, I have to make a play," he says. "I've done everything I possibly can in my hands to come back from this injury. I'm not all the way back yet, but I'm healthy enough to be effective. At this point, all I can do is continue to practice hard. Everything else is out of my hands."
In whose hands does Evan Moore's pass-catching opportunities lie? Some of that is in fact in his hands. Some of it is what quarterback T.C. Ostrander sees and throws. Substitutions and playing time during a game are handled by wide receivers coach Tucker Waugh. But the offense and playcalling are ultimately owned by head coach and offensive coordinator Walt Harris.
"I'm not bashing the person who does call the plays," Moore maintains. "That's not my place. At the same time, it does get very frustrating."
Additionally, Moore is hungry for the big play to emerge in the passing offense. He caught two passes for a whopping 25 yards versus USC, and five passes were completed to running backs. If he could call the plays, Moore would make sure the ball goes deep the next few weeks to help spark Stanford to those elusive touchdowns.
"To get the ball in the endzone, it takes a big play," Moore maintains. "We've struggled to put together big drives taking it all the way down the field. I don't even know how many times we've crossed the 50 in the last five games - maybe a handful of times or less. Obviously it's going to take a pretty big play. It's either that or perfectly executing all the way down the field, which we have struggled to do."
"Not every throw needs to be down the field to be successful," Ostrander counters. "A lot of times there are good outlets whenever there is pressure or people are covered down the field. I think part of my development is being able to recognize when the backs are open and getting them the ball quickly."
As explained here before, many of Harris' passing plays to wide receivers hold the "Z" position as the first option. Senior Mark Bradford was Stanford's starting "Z" coming into this season. In his injury absence, the position has been manned by freshman Richard Sherman and redshirt sophomore Kelton Lynn. Both of those healthy players have less experience than Moore, and they certainly do not possess the same attributes that Moore brings at 6'7". He plays the "X" position, which more often lines up on the short side of the field and plays in tighter quarters among the defense. It can be argued that positions and playbook be damned, Moore should be the main man in the receiving offense today.
Harris argues that the jumbo fourth-year wideout is still on the road to returning to his old form. Moore says he is "healthy enough," but Harris says that health is not enough.
"The longer he can go in practice, I think the better it helps him play the game," the head coach comments. "I know Evan has worked very hard to get back. He has worked very hard in practice. But football is not one of these games where you can not practice and then show up and play well. There are too many little things that are required through training. That's why it will be great: the more he can practice, the more training he will get and the better results he will have in the game."
"I believe that this game is a game of habits. I need ball skills," Moore admits. "When you haven't caught the ball for a while, you need to get back in the feel of things."
Harris does applaud Moore's improved work last week over his game at Arizona State: "I think he was better in the execution and fundamentals of his route running that we are trying to get him to do."
As this 12-game season winds down to its final few weeks, Moore stands at a paltry 11 catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns. He expected to have a blockbuster season - one which he privately knew could catapult him into a first-day NFL Draft position this spring. Moore missed all but the first 20-plus minutes of the season opener in 2005 with a debilitating and nearly career-ending separated hip injury, which avails him of a medical redshirt and chance to play a fifth year of college football in 2007.
Prior to now, Moore has been mum on his leanings for '07. Proclaiming that he wants to go to the League this next year can only provide him downside risk of public humiliation should he instead return for a fifth year. Supremely confident that his abilities would make enough plays to put him in a draftable position, Moore has not hinted at any inclination to return. With the passing of each week, Moore's résumé remains thin. He is now coming to terms with the likelihood that he will be playing college football next fall.
"I haven't done much this year, and I didn't do anything last year," Moore allows. "I'd say there is a decent chance that college football won't be over for me."
"My number one concern is these last three games," he continues. "These next three games are extremely important - I don't care what our record is. Whether its individual or team goals, I want to play well. I don't want to hear that's selfish because you can benefit your team by playing extremely well. You can also benefit yourself. I just want to play well."
Would Evan Moore be drafted - at all - if we were now at April 28-29? Maybe. But his pride is too strong to put himself into the pro's without riding a season worthy of his potential, wallowing in some sixth- or seventh-round selection. Moreover, Moore needs to show general managers that he can play the breadth of a season injury-free. The big weapon has been ailing on the sideline for monumental chunks of three of his four seasons in college. Short of a total explosion the next three weeks, Moore will have too much to gain from a 2007 season back in college.
The question we can ask, however, is which campus he could call home. A new NCAA rule allows a student-athlete to transfer Division I-A schools without penalty of a year sitting out, provided he has successfully completed his undergraduate degree. Moore was prepared to go into the NFL Draft next spring and pushed ahead in the classroom to finish his degree one quarter shy of four years.
"There are some options out there," Moore says.
We needled Evan Moore (mercilessly) since last November on the question of whether or not he would play a fifth year of college ball. Now the Cardinal community can wonder whether he would jump ship in the spring and find himself a healthy offense outside of Palo Alto. The Stanford offense currently taking the field is not just bad; it's epically and historically excruciating. Could that be enough to nudge him to another campus for his fifth year?
"I have an extra year here. I have a fifth year here, if I want to use it," Moore answers. "I love it here. This is a great school. I enjoy being here, and I love the guys on this team. I have an extra year here - this is a great place. I just really appreciate my team here."
"This is a great place, and I appreciate every minute that I have here. Honestly," he says. "I love being here. But some things obviously haven't gone the way that I had planned."
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