April 13, 2024

Dante Moore is off to Oregon, where the term “Duck!” won’t mean evading pass rushers charging past UCLA’s porous offensive line.

The most highly recruited quarterback in the Chip Kelly era will most likely redshirt or be the backup at Oregon, instead of competing with Ethan Garbers for the starting job in Westwood. Dillon Gabriel, a senior transfer from Oklahoma and Central Florida who has passed for 14,865 yards and 125 touchdowns in five seasons, transferred to Oregon a week ago, yet Moore is off to Eugene anyway.

Is Moore’s departure an indictment of Kelly and his staff, or was the kid who arrived on campus last spring at age 17 on a scooter simply not ready to take the controls of a Power 5 team?

Or is it a bit of both?

The recruiting hype that began as a coronation swiftly became an albatross, Moore’s five-star status generating unattainable expectations, inevitable disappointment and a predictable departure.

“There’s just a lot of things I’ve been going through, you know, mentally and things like that,” Moore said in his last interview as a Bruin. “Just far from home and doing these type of things can be pretty tough at times.”

Moore originally committed to Oregon out of Detroit King High before bolting to the Bruins because quarterback Bo Nix decided to return to the Ducks for a fifth season and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham left for Arizona State.

Westwood, ho! Moore said he chose UCLA because of Kelly’s track record of developing quarterbacks.

Yet as Moore again ducked into the portal a year later, he tossed shade in Kelly’s direction, telling 247Sports, “For these next upcoming years, I just want to go to a place where I can get developed. … and having a staff around you that’s going to help develop you.”

The transfer portal’s dizzying comings and goings are especially frenetic when it comes to quarterbacks, and it’s worth pointing out that had events shaken out differently, Gabriel and Moore could have been teammates — at UCLA.

Gabriel committed to transfer to UCLA from Central Florida in December 2021. Then he recognized that Dorian Thompson-Robinson would remain the Bruins quarterback for a fifth season and that Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams would follow coach Lincoln Riley to USC.

So Gabriel instead transferred to Oklahoma, where he flourished the last two years. Meanwhile, Moore’s shuffle from Detroit King High to Eugene, Ore., to Westwood landed him in the Bruins’ lineup in the fall. He played well in three victories over inferior opponents, throwing seven touchdown passes to only one interception.

Everything unraveled during a 14-7 loss to Utah in Game 4. Moore’s first pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. He lost a fumble and was sacked seven times. Kelly’s play calling didn’t adjust to the fierce pass rush. Moore didn’t roll out. He didn’t throw quick passes.

“I’m sure there’s some plays he’ll want back,” Kelly said. “But there’s calls I want back.”

Moore appeared shell-shocked, saying, “I know me being so young, not many people would say that, but I’ll put this loss on me for sure.”

UCLA defeated Washington State the next week, but then Moore played so poorly in a loss to Oregon State that he lost his job to Garbers. Moore had one more chance when he replaced an injured Garbers early in the regular-season finale against Cal. But he threw two more interceptions and lost a fumble in a 33-7 loss.

The UCLA offensive line gave up 42 sacks during the season, ranking No. 122 out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Not ideal for a freshman struggling through his passing progressions.

“Something I stand on is that God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers,” Moore said. “I know as of right now I’m going through a storm … but at the end of the day I’m going to get through it. Things aren’t going my way.”

Getting back on a positive path meant sitting out the Bruins’ LA Bowl game at SoFi Stadium, entering the portal and heading back to the program that he originally chose out of high school. It’s a distinct possibility that Moore will redshirt in 2024, and learn from coach Dan Lanning while Gabriel pilots the offense in Oregon’s first season in the Big Ten.

That’s a far cry from taking hold of the UCLA job as a freshman and lifting the program to the rarefied heights expected out of a five-star recruit. Was Moore unprepared or wasn’t he sufficiently developed by Kelly and co.?

Both are likely true. And in the transfer portal era, that kind of disconnect results in a parting of the ways.

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