'He's a star.' A thank you to Rondale Moore for his electrifying, yet short Purdue career
It was a 3rd-and-5.
David Blough vividly recalls the moment, because it was one in a list of many when he knew that Rondale Moore wasn’t only a great player, but a special once-in-a-generation one.
It was the next-to-last regular-season game of the 2018 season, as Purdue battled Wisconsin in what would be a triple-overtime loss in Ross-Ade Stadium. And, as it turned out, it would be the 11th game of Moore’s shorter-than-anticipated 17-game Boilermaker career. One of the country’s best wide receivers, Moore opted out of the 2020 season Thursday, choosing to bypass this fall’s uncertainty to ready for the NFL Draft next spring. It marks the end of one of the shortest, yet most electrifying careers in college football history.
But back to the Badgers.
Moore had already established himself as a star, rocking Ohio State to the tune of 12 receptions for 170 yards and 2 scores in Purdue’s 49-20 primetime win 4 weeks before. And now, he was trying to lead the Boilermakers to another upset.
Blough, the Purdue quarterback then and a backup for the Detroit Lions now, remembers the details: Moore had been repeatedly burning the Badgers on an out route, so much so that the Badgers’ nickel back started playing a full yard to the outside, knowing that he had linebacker help inside.
Wise beyond his years, the 18-year-old freshman suggested a countermeasure to coach Jeff Brohm and Blough on the sideline. The Louisville native wasn’t just the speedster, he wasn’t just an agile athlete, he wasn’t just a guy who could squat 600 pounds. He is all those incredible things, but also a great student of the game.
“He told me, ‘I know (the nickel) is so far outside, I can slip (past) him inside and get back outside to my landmark. Trust me,’” Blough told Saturday Tradition on Thursday night after a Lions’ team meeting. “I said, ‘I’ll (freeze) the safety and you do the rest.’
“… He did exactly what he said he was going to do, catching the ball while splitting the hash and the numbers and making the safety look silly with a spin move.”
Moore gave us a ton of such highlights.
And it’s a reason Purdue, the Big Ten and college football in general should be saying thank you, despite the sting of not getting to see Moore more in Old Gold and Black.
What he meant to Purdue in only a season-and-a-half — Moore, who is healthy now, had been sidelined with a knee injury since Game 4 of last season — might be immeasurable. It’s not too much to say that Brohm is still the coach at Purdue because of the wide receiver’s presence.
After the 2018 season, the lure to return to Louisville to fill its head coaching vacancy was intense. Brohm had starred there at Trinity High School, where Moore did the same decades later, and as a quarterback for the Cardinals. His family has deep, deep roots in the community.
When Brohm decided to stay at Purdue, he didn’t call local media, as might be the expectation, but instead dialed into a Louisville radio station, and cried a bit — as much as a football coach does — when the hosts asked about the difficulty of the decision.
But Moore was in West Lafayette. The dynamic playmaker provided hope that Purdue could climb to new heights, compete in the B1G West and perhaps beyond.
Purdue is grateful. It still has its coach.
Moore also elevated the recruiting profile of the Boilermakers. A 5-8 receiver, the 4-star 247Sports.com prospect was a Texas commitment who made a late flip to Purdue, picking up a Boilermakers hat at the Army All-American Bowl, rather than that of Ohio State, Alabama and Florida State.
It undoubtedly upped the Boilermakers’ relevancy on the national stage.
Others have followed. Purdue’s recruiting classes in 2019 and 2020 ranked No. 25 and No. 33 overall, per 247Sports, the highest in years. Because of that, ironically, Purdue might be a little bit better prepared to absorb Moore’s departure.
With Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman making a similar decision to opt out earlier this week, Purdue can make the argument that it lost the best receiver in the B1G but still has the best receiver in the Big Ten, with 2019’s breakout star David Bell. And there are others who could step into bigger roles, like 4-star freshmen Maliq Carr and Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen, or 2nd-year players like Milton Wright, Mershawn Rice and T.J. Sheffield.
The Boilermakers won’t be as explosive in 2020, but they still have weapons. All thanks to Moore.
Blough is appreciative. He’d had an up-and-down Purdue career before 2018, when he took control of the Boilermakers a few games into the season then thrived with Moore as his primary target. Blough is in Detroit now, ready to enter his second NFL season after being given a chance as an undrafted rookie free agent.
“The kid is special,” Blough said of Moore. “I know a big part of where I am is because of that. He’s a star.”