This week’s five most important players feature takes a bit of a left turn.
And when we say left turn, we mean this player didn’t play a down last season.
From 2013 to 2015 Skai Moore led the South Carolina Gamecocks in tackles and was a team captain the latter season. Somehow at the unconventional size of six-foot-two, 218 pounds he manages to be an effective run stopper and team leader.
It’s not just fan fodder feeding the hype on Moore. He’s a two-time all conference selection and could well be on his way to a third if he plays up to his potential this season. Better yet, if Moore leads the team in tackles again he could be only the 14th player in NCAA history to lead his team in tackles all four years.
Even with all of the accolades and stats, there’s an argument to be made the South Carolina defense played fine in Moore’s absence. After all, South Carolina’s defensive S&P rose from 95th to 50th in a year without Moore on the field and went back to a bowl game.
But to make that rash assumption would be an insult to both Will Muschamp’s defensive schemes and Moore’s talents as a linebacker. If you need to know anything about how Muschamp and Travaris Robinson built South Carolina’s defense to play at a top-50 level in spite of many flaws, you can read about it here.
But we’re here to talk about what makes Moore so important. First and foremost, he creates turnovers. I’ll readily admit as a subscriber to the Bill Connelly school of thought “turnovers are luck based” that in 2015 Moore had a knack for finding ways to make opponents cough up the ball.
Sure, you can force the ball out of opponent’s hands and the ball may not always bounce your way. But Moore is crafty enough to know how to get the ball away from his foes and on the ground.
Watch this play from the 2015 Clemson game. Coaches watching this, try not to loose your mind over the near perfection of Moore’s technique from start to finish.
In Muschamp’s defense, not shown above of course, Moore plays the “weak side” linebacker. That means he lines up on the opposite side of the formation in regards to the offense’s balance. So if the tight end/h-back lines up on the right side of the field, Moore will line up on the left side.
As seen on this play Moore is indeed lined up on the weak side of the field. Linebackers are coached at the snap of the ball to make an initial step and pause so they can properly read the play. This allows linebackers to gather themselves so they’re not duped by play action or over commit to the initial motion in the backfield.
Check out Moore’s positioning on his initial step.
He’s perfectly square to the line of scrimmage. There’s a solid three yard cushion between the offensive line and himself so he can properly diagnose this zone read. Moore scrapes across the LOS and completely avoids Maverick Morris (69) to meet Wayne Gallman (9) for a five yard gain.
If Moore gets sucked too far in or isn’t as nimble as he is, there’s a big hole for Gallman there to gain a first down and then some. But Moore doesn’t just tackle Gallman, he uses his right hand to poke the ball away for a turnover. If you’re a linebacker coming from the weak side, you couldn’t play this any better than Moore did.
But if you really want Moore’s magnum opus as a linebacker, look no further than the 2015 North Carolina game. Moore might have been the best player on the field in that game — giving a very good UNC team fits in both the run and pass game.
Here we see Moore using his smaller, quicker stature to his advantage by side-stepping Bentley Spain (75) right out of his shoes to meet Elijah Hood at the LOS.
I could watch Moore make Spain look stupid all day. It’s such a crafty move and is one of the many Moore uses to compensate for his lack of size. Also consider since Moore is so much lower to the ground than the offensive linemen trying to block him, it’s especially difficult for any OL to square him up in space and make a clean block.
Here’s another example of Moore using his shiftiness in space to make blockers miss. This time it results in a big tackle on Marquise Williams who could of ran for a first down had Moore not stuck him.
And one more time let’s watch Moore give Spain more fits by being too quick for him. North Carolina utilized a lot of double team blocks with another lineman trying to release to the second level to grab a linebacker. Moore was too quick for a majority of those second level blocks like the one shown here.
But enough about the run game, let’s move on briefly to what Moore does in the passing game. Moore’s definite strength his ability to stop the run, but he has value in coverage too. Check out this play where he simultaneously takes away the scramble lane from Williams and Hood in the flat.
That short hesitation move from Moore causes Williams to pause just long enough for the pressure to get to him for the sack. But you can’t write about Moore’s game against UNC and leave out one of his two interceptions. This one being the most critical of the bunch.
Moore checks the inside receiver before turning his eyes to Williams and locking on for the rest of the play. In fairness, Williams didn’t seem to have the best depth perception during this game because both interceptions he threw to Moore came in the same fashion.
In both instances Williams looks to the back of the endzone and instead of trying to lob the pass over Moore darts it right into his hands — this one coming on fourth and goal with less than four minutes left in the game. Moore proved to be a huge part of the game and arguably won it for South Carolina with his play.
In review, there’s no way Moore is anything but an asset to the South Carolina defense this season. As Bill Connelly explains in his SC team preview:
The offense went from awful to average, but defensive slippage offset most of those gains. Each of the last four regular season opponents — Clemson, Missouri, and even Florida and Western Carolina — averaged at least 6 yards per play on the Gamecocks.
There weren’t any obvious, injury-related reasons, but run defense was the culprit. Missouri’s Damarea Crockett and Ish Witter combined to rush for 162 yards on 24 carries (6.8 per carry), Florida’s Jordan Scarlett went for 134 in 20 (6.7), WCU’s Detrez Newsome and Tyrie Adams went for 214 in 33 (6.5), and a foursome of Clemson backs went for 217 in 37 (5.8).
With Ulric Jones and Taylor Stallworth returning up front alongside the addition of Javon Kinlaw, there should be plenty of room for Moore to clean up tackles and stuff running backs. Granted we don’t know what kind of affect this injury will have on Moore, but if he’s fully healthy he’s going to be the best player on defense.