Friday November 11th, 2011

This just in: Despite the intense focus on off-the-field events in central Pennsylvania, a full slate of college football games will be played this weekend.

One of the most interesting will decide the championship of the Mountain West. TCU's battle at Boise this Saturday could be called the Sayonara Bowl: The Big 12-bound Frogs (No. 24, 7-2) are bailing on the MWC after this season, while undefeated, fifth-ranked Boise mulls an invite to the Big East.

While the college football world cast its gaze toward Tuscaloosa last Saturday, Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore quietly made history. The senior threw five touchdown passes in Boise's 48-21 win at UNLV. The victory was his 46th as a starter (against two losses). That broke the FBS record held by current Cleveland Brown and ex-Texas Longhorn Colt McCoy, who texted Moore his congratulations.

When Moore is done for the day -- and Boise coach Chris Peterson seldom plays him in the fourth quarter of lopsided wins -- the quarterback sends a signal to his parents, Kathy and Tom. When he dons a hat on the sidelines, that means he won't be returning to the game.

Don't look for the hat on Saturday. In its two previous meetings with TCU -- a 17-16 Poinsettia Bowl loss in 2008, and a 17-10 Fiesta Bowl win a year later -- prolific Boise has mustered just two offensive touchdowns. This being the Broncos' last, best chance to make an impression on BCS voters, TCU coach Gary Patterson is expecting the Broncos to try and pour it on. "They're not going to try to beat us; they need to try to beat us bad."

At his Monday press conference, Moore was asked to cite some of the reasons for TCU's defensive excellence: "Just the level of execution," he replied. "There's no silly mistakes, no blown coverages, everything's very assigned, everyone knows what they're doing.

"They're just very sound," he elaborated. "They understand their assignments, what the coverage provides, they just do a great job executing. They're as prepared as anyone in the country."

He might as well have been describing himself.

When I ventured into Petersen's office last month, seeking a "fresh angle" on Moore for a recent SI feature, the coach smiled and said, "Good luck with that."

Everybody wants some new angle, he told me, but it's not there. "Like all simple truths in life, it's uncomplicated. He works hard, and -- just as important -- he works smart. The biggest compliment I can give Kellen doesn't sound like a great compliment, but he's so consistent. And I'm talking about consistent over four years."

A coach's son from Prosser, Washington, Moore set state records for passing yardage. In the spring before his senior year, he flew to LA for a Nike combine at USC. He was thrown in with the top quarterbacks in the class. "It was about nine guys who were around 6-foot-4, and Kellen." Moore's biggest fan that day was the Trojans quarterback. From the moment he saw him throw, Mark Sanchez was a Moore fan. "He was Kellen's biggest cheerleader," recalls Kellen's father, Tom. "He kept saying, 'Hey, this guy can throw!"

Moore more than held his own with some of the top prep quarterbacks in the country. "That might have been when it dawned on him," says his father, "Hey, 'I'm as good as any of these guys.'"

Moore was wrong. He was better. The challenge would be getting a chance to prove it. His unimposing physical stature -- Boise lists him as 6-foot, 191 pounds -- scared off coaches. Aside from Boise, he had exactly two other scholarship offers. One was from Eastern Washington, another from Idaho, then coached by the peripatetic Dennis Erickson, who had recently "come home" to Moscow, where he intended to finish his career. But the Moores suspected Erickson might not be around for the long haul. He lasted 10 months.

Coaches could watch Moore's film, but they couldn't see his defining attribute -- his discipline, curiosity; his ability to recognize coverages; his speed-of-light decision-making before and after the snap.

They couldn't see his upbringing, custom-designed, it seems in retrospect, to produce a savant at reading defenses. Since at least second grade, he's been diagramming plays, jotting them down in little notebooks. If Tom was breaking down video at home, Kellen recalls, he would curl up on the couch next to him and ask, "Hey, what are you doing?"

Tom Moore won 21 league championships and four state titles in 23 seasons at Prosser High before resigning in March 2009 so that he could watch his sons play. Kirby Moore is a 6-2 Broncos sophomore receiver with 13 catches this season, one for a touchdown. His 95 touchdown receptions at Prosser set a national high school record. While they didn't fight as boys, according to Kirby, they did clash.

"Most of our disagreements were over video games," Kirby says. "Kellen would throw an interception, then say the game was unrealistic, because the safety was in a spot he shouldn't have been in."

By the time he was a junior at Prosser, Kellen was calling his own plays. Tom's only request was that he yell the audible toward the sideline, "to let me know what was going on out there."

The result of this lifelong immersion in X's and O's; of discerning tendencies and going through progressions: Kellen Moore reads defenses as if he's rattling off the top row of an optometrist's eye chart.

Here, according to Boise offensive coordinator Brent Pease, is Moore's routine in the moments before every play: "Pre-snap, he studies the coverage, leverage, cushion; the depth, eyes and alignment of the linebackers. He goes through that probably quicker than anybody, in a split second. Some guys it takes three or four seconds.

"And he's able to understand where there'll be no people, and where we've got advantage in the route. He can break all that down in a real short amount of time."

Center Thomas Byrd wants to know "a little bit about the coverage -- if it's one safety high, two safeties high, if it's a cover zero, or whatever. It lets me key in on what they blitz might be. It takes me a few seconds, but that dude -- he has it like that!"

Byrd also has a front row seat for some of Moore's good-natured swipes at defensive backs (usually -- but not always -- those on his own team, during practice). "There's a few times in games I'll see stuff," he admits, "and say something like, 'Just go ahead and roll the coverage already. We know it's coming."

Moore is not likely to be very chatty against TCU. No defense has given him more trouble. Of course, in the team's previous meetings -- both bowl games -- Patterson had a month to get his defense ready. This time, he gets a week.

Good luck with that.

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