Commentary: Dante Moore drove UCLA to a win over Coastal Carolina and should be the Bruins’ starter

Dante Moore throws a pass for UCLA.
UCLA quarterback Dante Moore throws a pass during the Bruins’ win over Coastal Carolina on Saturday.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)
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When the fourth quarter began, UCLA freshman quarterback Dante Moore had played just one series, leading the Bruins on an easy touchdown drive in the second quarter.

Chip Kelly had gone back to starter Ethan Garbers for the third quarter, but the offense looked lifeless. Now UCLA’s lead was down to one point, and, with Coastal Carolina driving into Bruins territory, the season opener was quickly slipping away.

The Chanticleers had doubled up UCLA in time of possession, quieting the Rose Bowl in the process. Confronted with a fourth-and-3 at the Bruins’ 38, Coastal coach Tim Beck elected to try to take the lead with a 55-yard field goal instead of testing the will of a tiring UCLA defense. His kicker missed.


At that point, Kelly wasted no more time in giving the ball back to Moore, the guy the recruiting rankings say is the most talented college player he’s ever coached. On the first play of the drive, Kelly dialed up a play-action pass. Moore brought the defense up with the fake and then delivered a perfectly-placed pass over the top to a streaking J. Michael Sturdivant for a 62-yard touchdown.

“Dante and J. Mike hooking up there, our offense didn’t have a lot of things going for a couple stretches there, I thought it was a big answer on that drive,” Kelly said. “That’s what competitors do. They respond.”

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With that throw, Moore didn’t just seize the moment in his first college game, a 27-13 UCLA victory. He took the Bruins’ future by the collar and shook it, as if to say, “Hey, can we cut this out now? I’m the quarterback.”

He completed four of five passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns. His quarterback rating — 405 — suddenly matched the notorious freeway that straddles the UCLA campus to the west.

Only Chip Kelly knows what he saw through four weeks of preseason practice, what led him to go with Garbers, the former star at Corona del Mar, as the starter over Moore, the Detroit native who flipped his commitment from Oregon to UCLA during his senior year. Perhaps the quirky offensive genius made this situation a little more complicated than it needed to be?

Kelly now has his first real game data points to review, but one thing was clear enough for any layman: With Moore driving the offense Saturday night, the Bruins seemed to be facing way less traffic.


Garbers started the game hot, too, with Kelly calling an aggressive, high-tempo game plan. He found Carsen Ryan for a pretty 21-yard touchdown on the game’s opening drive. During the second drive, Garbers led UCLA back into the red zone, but he threw an interception in the end zone trying to fit the ball in the middle of the Coastal defense to Kam Brown.

“I think Garbs wants [that] one back,” Kelly said.

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The UCLA offense hit a bottleneck for the rest of the night with Garbers leading the Bruins. With 6:33 left in the second quarter, Moore started to warm up on the field during a timeout. Before his first college snap, he took a deep breath.

A few plays later, on third-and-six, Moore bought time, rolled to his right and found Sturdivant, the speedy transfer from California, for a 39-yard gain.

“It was an off-schedule play,” Kelly said. “He does a great job of keeping his eyes downfield. We work on scramble drill a lot, and for J. Mike to take it deep and for Dante to have his eyes up, that’s a special quality. The special ones keep their eyes up and big plays can happen. That was a huge play for him at a time when we needed it.”

Garbers finished the game 10 of 17 for 121 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. Moore played the entire fourth quarter and finished 7 of 12 for 143 yards and two touchdowns with his own end zone interception.

Kelly was quick to defend that errant throw.

“The one Dante threw in the end zone, that was a very bad call from the play caller,” Kelly said, referring to himself. “He’ll get reprimanded.”


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Kelly doesn’t need to watch Saturday’s tape to know that the Bruins could be 0-1 right now instead of 1-0 if Moore hadn’t been up to the challenge in his debut.

The flow of the game did not allow for UCLA’s third quarterback, Kent State transfer Collin Schlee, to play, which was the plan entering the contest. The fact that Kelly said after the game that he expects Schlee to get snaps next week at San Diego State would indicate that Garbers will also play. Given how this competition has played out thus far, it would be a surprise for Kelly to hand the team over to Moore at this early juncture, even though we can all see that’s where this is headed.

But Kelly did become fully aware Saturday night of just how much college football’s new clock rule is going to change the dynamic for play callers. With the clock no longer stopping after first downs, every play is going to feel more sacred. UCLA ran just 31 plays in the first half, which prompted Kelly to say during his halftime interview with ESPN, “This new rule … that’s crazy. We had four drives in the first half. This game goes fast. I hope you guys are selling a lot of commercials.”

UCLA finished with just 60 plays and that wasn’t due to a lack of effort. Kelly had the Bruins playing with high tempo for most of the night. It hardly mattered.

The new format isn’t exactly conducive to executing an in-game quarterback competition.

Maybe Garbers can help the Bruins get to 2-0 against San Diego State and 3-0 the next week against North Carolina Central. But to compete in this turbo-charged Pac-12, a dying conference that is alive with elite quarterbacks for one more season, Kelly will have no choice but to make each snap count.

By the time UCLA travels to Utah Sept. 23 — if not before — Dante Moore should be named starting quarterback.