When Texas Christian shut down star wide receiver Rondale Moore with only three catches for 25 yards in a 34-13 blowout over Purdue two weeks ago, it was like watching a total solar eclipse.
Slowing down Moore is a rare occurrence.
The sophomore sensation had fewer than 74 yards receiving only twice last year — and through two weeks this season, he led the nation with 172 receiving yards per game.
If the secret is out to stopping arguably the nation’s most dangerous offensive threat, it probably would happen more often. The Gophers (3-0) can only hope they don’t allow Moore to dominate them with explosive plays in their Big Ten opener Saturday vs. the Boilermakers (1-2) in West Lafayette, Ind.
“He’ll play every single position,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. “He’s very, very talented. And you have to know where he is all the time. You have to. And they know that, too, which they’ll use to their advantage.”
The lightning-quick, 5-9, 175-pound New Albany, Ind., native was the first true freshman in Big Ten history to earn consensus All-America honors in 2018. He led the Big Ten with 114 catches for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns. He broke several school records, including all-purpose yards in a season (2,215) and all-purpose yards in a game (313).
This season, Moore topped his best receiving game from a year ago with 13 catches for 220 yards in a 42-24 victory over Vanderbilt on Sept. 7. He’s a game-changer in different ways, whether it be as a receiver, running back or return specialist.
“They put him everywhere,” Fleck said. “And I’m sure as they continue to get the run game and want to run the football, he’s going to be doing a lot of that, getting the ball on the perimeter.”
The Gophers are anticipating Moore being used more in the backfield Saturday. Purdue’s rushing attack is averaging only 50 yards through three games, worst in the Big Ten. Moore has only three carries for 3 yards this year, but he had 21 carries for 213 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman.
Boilermakers coach Jeff Brohm didn’t reveal any plans for Moore to get more touches in the ground game, but he announced this week that junior receiver Jackson Anthrop would now see time at running back.
Last season, Moore finished with eight catches for 76 yards in a 41-10 loss in Minneapolis, but his 9-yard touchdown came with the Boilermakers trailing by 38 points in the fourth quarter. Moore wasn’t much of a factor, especially with Minnesota pressuring quarterback David Blough into mistakes. The Gophers picked up three sacks and scored on a fumble return.
“We didn’t play too well,” Moore told reporters this week. “This year that will be a motivating factor.”
This time around, the Gophers could face freshman quarterback Jack Plummer, who threw for only 181 yards and two interceptions in Purdue’s loss against TCU. Plummer replaced Elijah Sindelar, who was leading the nation with 932 yards passing before being sidelined because of a concussion. Brohm said Sindelar remained in concussion protocol this week.
“[TCU] did a good job of sitting on our routes,” Brohm said, “and making us throw to somebody other than Rondale.”
Forcing Plummer to look elsewhere Saturday could help the Gophers keep Moore’s impact to a minimum. He struggled to make an impact against the Horned Frogs, but used the bye week to move on.
“I don’t think it was a frustrating thing,” Moore said. “It was more a lesson. We learned from it.”