We have heard SO MUCH about Rondale Moore leading up to this week’s matchup with Purdue and its star wide receiver.
It’s for good reason, too - Moore currently leads all of college football with 344 yards receiving through two games, and the consensus Freshman All American from a season ago has only been held under 75 yards twice in his young career - against Eastern Michigan and Iowa last year.
There’s absolutely no hope for the Horned Frogs, then, is there?
Not so fast my friend.
Before we dive in, let me be perfectly clear - I am in no way trying to convince you that Moore isn’t an absolute star, a truly great wide receiver, or that TCU has some magic formula to make him a non-factor Saturday. I am simply making an argument that, while Moore is elite, he’s not the first (or the best) WR to match up with a Gary Patterson defense. In a conference like the Big 12, you tend to see a lot of elite, NFL caliber skill players. The Horned Frogs get to practice against one every day, too. In addition to defending Jalen Reagor daily, they have also faced off with recent stars like Hollywood Brown, Hakeem Butler, CeeDee Lamb, Tylan Wallace, and Gary Jennings - and that was just last year.
So how have the Frogs fared when lined up against an elite pass-catcher? Let’s go to the numbers.
Courtland Sutton (SMU - 2017): Sutton finished his SMU career with 195 catches for over 3,200 yards and 31 touchdowns had just one catch for 0 yards when he lined up against Jeff Gladney and TCU for the final time two seasons ago. This is the same player who was drafted in the second round by the Denver Broncos and went for over 100 yards in their 2019 opener.
James Washington (Oklahoma State - 2017): Well, you can’t win them all. Washington, now on his way to starring for the Steelers, had a massive game against the Frogs in 2017 - albeit in a loss. He racked up over 150 yards and a score in the Pokes stunning home defeat at the hands of a Horned Frogs team that wasn’t expected to do much. This is a good comp for what we could see Saturday night - the star shone brightly but the visiting team got the dub.
Advantage: TCU (hey, they won, after all)
Gary Jennings (WVU - 2017): TCU did a nice job on Jennings, holding him to just 80 yards on ten catches in the Frogs’ one score win with GameDay in town.
Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson (Texas - 2017): The Frogs dominated the Horns and their star receivers, holding the pair to 158 yards and no scores on nine catches as TCU rolled to a 24-7 win.
Marquise “Hollywood” Brown (Oklahoma - 2017): This is a tricky one. TCU held Hollywood to just two catches, with the same fate befalling their other star, CeeDee Lamb. Neither receiver got in the end zone, and they combined for just 109 yards. But running back Rodney Anderson went for nearly 300 total yards - including 139 through the air and two touchdowns on just five catches. Whoops.
JJ Arcega-Whiteside (Stanford - 2017): The Stanford star almost single-handedly beat the Frogs in the Alamo Bowl, scoring three touchdowns on five catches. He was virtually unguardable, but TCU still managed to come out on top.
Advantage: JJ (TCU won but he was a beast)
Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson (Texas - 2018): Round two of this matchup went to the Horns, as the duo combined for 11 catches for 200 yards and two scores in what was an ugly day for the TCU offense and a so-so effort from the D.
Hakeem Butler (Iowa State - 2018): Butler was a menacing force in the Big 12 in 2018, but he was stonewalled by a TCU defense that rose up to the challenge on their home field. Butler had just two catches for 14 yards on a night where the Clones couldn’t get anything going.
Marquise “Hollywood” Brown (Oklahoma - 2018): Brown is probably the best comp for Moore when it comes to size and speed, and even in a blowout loss, TCU did a nice job defending him. You aren’t really going to run by guys like Jeff Gladney and Julius Lewis, both corners that run sub-4.4 40s. And the safeties can really fly. Hollywood managed five catches in this matchup, but gained only 41 yards - though the Sooners didn’t need him much as they dominated TCU on their home turf.
Advantage: Toss-up. Brown didn’t do much, but he wasn’t needed.
Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State - 2018): This is another good comp for Moore, as Wallace is a strong, shifty guy who is next to impossible to tackle in space. Gladney did a great job on the All-Conference wide receiver, allowing one big play (for 29 yards), but otherwise holding him in check with just three additional catches for another 35 yards. He kept him out of the end zone, too, as the Horned Frogs claimed the must-win game.
So what does all this mean? Let’s let GP chime in. “We’ve played some awfully good skill set people in this league. It’s not going to be the first time that we’ve played somebody that’s as mobile and athletic as what Rondale is. Now, he’s a really good player. I don’t mean that [as a slight] in any shape or form because he’s a really good player.”
Patterson has faced a lot of elite talent, and so has his star cornerback, senior Jeff Gladney. Both know that when facing a player as good as Moore is, you’re going to win some snaps and you’re going to lose some. But the key is making plays when you have the opportunity to and not letting something small turn into something huge. “Like anybody else you’ve got to be able to tackle in space. He’s a powerful young man.” It’s likely that we won’t get a lot of Gladney and Moore in one on one matchups, as Patterson hinted at during media availability earlier this week. “At some point, everybody has to defend. That’s the whole key, that you have to defend. For us, you have to know where Rondale Moore is, but they’ve got some other good players.”
And frankly, he seems excited about the challenge ahead. “You can tell he’s a really smart player, too. They do a lot of things with him, so he can learn and he can do things, and I think he’s highly competitive. Coaches all love watching guys that are good at what they do, whether they play for them or they play for somebody else. Admiration for guys that play the game the way that you want it to be played.”
At the end of the day, and the end of the game Saturday, the success of Moore and the Purdue offense or Patterson and the TCU D will come down to one thing - who is winning on the scoreboard. GP would be just fine with Rondale going off for 200 yards and two scores - if his Frogs come out the victors. Well, maybe not fine, but he could live with it. Probably. For the record, I don’t see Moore torching the TCU secondary quite that badly - in addition to Gladney (one of the fastest players in college football), Patterson has raved about the speed of newly-inserted linebacker LaKendrick Van Zandt, who ran stride for stride on a fly route against Jalen Reagor during fall camp, and the football smarts and reaction time of guys like Innis Gaines and Vernon Scott. And, don’t forget, Purdue hasn’t seen too . many 4-2-5 schemes. This is a matchup of good vs good, and on Saturday night, one will stand on top as having been great.
Oh, one other interesting note: Rondale Moore has gone over 90 yards receiving ten times in 15 career games…
… Purdue is just 5-5 in those contests.
Can’t wait to see how it all plays out Saturday night.