From goat to G.O.A.T.: Elijah Moore's year-to-year Egg Bowl transformation is the stuff of legend
Elijah Moore started with a chuckle.
It was early September, roughly 3 weeks before Ole Miss was set to kick off the 2020 season. Moore was asked a question about responding to his fake dog pee celebration in the 2019 Egg Bowl, which set off a chain of events of epic proportions. Five FBS programs made head coaching changes that stemmed from Moore’s penalized celebration in Starkville last year, 2 of which were of course in the Magnolia State.
Social media exploded. Moore was trending nationally. On a Thanksgiving night in which the college football world should’ve been settling into a post-turkey slumber, Moore’s celebration and the subsequent game-losing missed extra point lit off a bottle rocket in countless American living rooms.
So Moore looked into the camera on his Zoom press conference on that September day and let out a brief chuckle when he got the inevitable question about his viral moment.
Then, he did two things. The first of which, we should’ve seen coming. He gave the cliché answer about moving on from that embarrassing play (throw in a couple variations of “that’s in the past”).
The second thing Moore did, nobody could’ve seen coming. He went out and became the most prolific receiver in college football.
There’s bouncing back, and then there’s what Moore has done. When Moore chuckled that day, maybe he didn’t even know the year he was about to embark on and how much he’d come full circle ahead of this year’s Egg Bowl. The Ole Miss junior leads FBS in receiving (1,054 yards), he has 6 games with double-digit catches and 3 games with 200-plus yards. Not bad for a guy who has only played in 7 games.
That’s absurd for a guy who has only played in 7 games. No SEC receiver has ever had that many yards through 7 games, despite the fact that they all had non-Power 5 games and Moore didn’t.
Compare that to the 14-game season that Amari Cooper had in 2014, which is arguably the best season for a receiver in SEC history:
Moore won’t have the luxury of playing 14 games like Cooper did for SEC champion Alabama during a full, normal season. They both, of course, had the luxury of playing their junior seasons in Lane Kiffin’s new offense.
It’s funny because if you listened to Moore’s cliché answer about bouncing back from his Egg Bowl gaffe, he said 4 words that certainly helped his year-to-year transformation.
“Got a new coach.”
Yeah, ya did. Perhaps there should’ve been more of a preseason conversation about Moore’s likely bounce-back season. After all, he did rack up 850 receiving yards in Rich Rodriguez’s run-heavy offense, and that only took 12 games. Of course we were going to see progression in Kiffin’s versatile, high-octane spread attack.
Still, nobody could’ve imagined that in 2 short months, Moore would go from a preseason third-team All-SEC selection to a guy that Kiffin publicly lobbied for to win the Heisman (and didn’t sound so crazy doing it).
— Lane Kiffin (@Lane_Kiffin) November 20, 2020
I mean, is he wrong?
Moore is putting up numbers that are better than DeVonta Smith, who just set the SEC record for career receiving touchdowns, yet one has Heisman odds and the other doesn’t. Both are having All-American seasons, but obviously Smith is doing that for the No. 1 team in America and Moore is doing that for 3-4 Ole Miss.
But entering 2020, Moore’s biggest obstacle wasn’t becoming better than an Alabama receiver (past or present). It wasn’t even about trying to become better than D.K. Metcalf, who was the teammate Moore paid homage to with his fake dog pee celebration in the Egg Bowl. It was just figuring out how to do those cliché things that he spoke of in the preseason. I mean, we’re talking about a 19-year-old kid who released a statement through the school apologizing for a celebration penalty. That stuff will stick with anyone, much less a college sophomore.
“Learn from my lessons” was the thing that Moore repeated in that Zoom press conference in September, which was his first time meeting with the media since that play happened (COVID restrictions might’ve played a part in that). His mantra was simple — don’t be the guy who gets caught up in the moment. Understand the bigger picture.
Instead, now it’s Kiffin who goes viral for celebrating Moore’s late touchdowns:
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 16, 2020
And no, not all of Moore’s scores have come that easy. He entered last weekend ranked first among all FBS receivers in yards after the catch, and he was tied with the dynamic Kadarius Toney for most missed tackles forced after the catch among SEC wideouts (via PFF).
Line him up inside, line him up outside. Moore gets open, Moore makes plays.
Shoot, let him be a tailback and he’ll make plays there, too. With elite SEC corner Jaycee Horn matched up on him, Kiffin dialed up running plays to Moore on Ole Miss’ first 2 plays from scrimmage against South Carolina. Moore finished that day with a career-high 6 carries for 45 yards … to go along with a casual 225-yard receiving game with 2 touchdowns.
Nobody in FBS has had as many 200-yard receiving games (3) as Moore. That’s more than fellow preseason All-SEC receivers Smith, Terrace Marshall, Seth Williams, George Pickens and Jaylen Waddle combined. Actually, Moore has more 200-yard receiving games than the rest of the SEC combined.
While those numbers might not have Moore in the Heisman conversation, he should at least be the front-runner for the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the nation’s top receiver every year. Cooper won it in his first and only season with Kiffin in 2014. It’s been in the SEC each of the last 2 years with Jerry Jeudy claiming the honor in 2018, and Ja’Marr Chase earning the award for his historic 2019 season.
Speaking of that, take a side-by-side look at Moore’s 2020 compared to what Chase did for LSU last year:
Again, it’s certainly in different context when you’re doing it for a national title team over the course of an entire season. Chase put up those numbers against 7 top-10 teams, too. It’s at least worth remembering that Moore’s historic season is against all-SEC competition.
Around this time last year, Chase had become a household name and no-brainer for the Biletnikoff. Moore, on the other hand, became a household name for all the wrong reasons. Go figure that he’ll head into this year’s Egg Bowl as the first SEC receiver ever to post consecutive 225-yard games.
Even if closes with the most prolific season we’ve ever seen from an SEC receiver, Moore might not ever escape the role he played in the 2019 Egg Bowl. There’s a chance that every time he posts something on social media, someone responds with some sort of reference to his celebration. He’ll be asked about it plenty more times throughout his football career and perhaps beyond.
And when that happens, Moore can chuckle knowing he made sure he’d have the last laugh.