It is hard to hide when you are wearing the number “1” on your back. Lance Moore is not hiding from anyone.
The University of Toledo junior wide receiver ranks first in the nation with 70 catches through eight games. He has a string of five straight games with at least 10 receptions, despite the fact opposing defenses are shadowing his every move.
“He is actually playing at a higher level than even I expected,” UT coach Tom Amstutz said. “There are all the physical tools - the speed, the athleticism, the good hands - and then there is the determination. Lance is a guy who wants the ball and is willing to go get it.”
Moore, who had a school-record 15 receptions in a win over Pittsburgh a month ago, ranked fifth on the team in receptions a year ago with just 23. He totaled 26 in back-to-back games against Pitt and Syracuse this season.
Last year, when three of UT's top four receivers were seniors, Amstutz was hoping he would see Moore develop and fill a lot of the coming void.
“We expected big things from Lance, but he has been outstanding so far this season,” Amstutz said. “We did see how hard he worked this summer, how he looked in two-a-days, and we saw him getting better and better.”
With 70 receptions so far, Moore seems certain to break Don Fair's 1970 school record of 81. He could do so with a big game against Buffalo Saturday night at the Glass Bowl.
With four games remaining, Moore already owns the fourth-best single season by a receiver in school history. Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski has already thrown 281 passes, and with UT's spread offense he is likely to keep on flinging it Moore's way.
“Coming into this season, I did set some personal goals,” the 5-11, 175-pounder from Westerville, Ohio, said. “I felt there was an opportunity in front of me, and I wanted to catch as many balls as possible, so 100 seemed like a nice round number. I'm on pace to get there, but more important than the number of balls I catch and leading the country and all of that is winning games. That's what I'm looking forward to - winning the rest of our games.”
The Rockets (5-3) have four Mid-American Conference games remaining, and at 3-1 will need to run the table and get a little help to make a run at winning or sharing a sixth MAC West title in the past seven years.
“I can't really dwell on the personal stats and all because the team goals come first. I know that if I am having some success as a receiver, that means the team is doing the right things,” Moore said. “Me being able to catch 70 passes so far this season is the result of a lot of things - some determination on my part, the coaches creating good schemes, Bruce being able to deliver the ball, great blocking by our line - any notice I get is a credit to all of those people.”
Gradkowski has completed passes to 13 receivers. Junior Terrance Hudson had six catches for 107 yards and a touchdown at Ball State, while tight end Andrew Clarke had a career-high seven catches for 78 yards and a touchdown.
“We still use other receivers. We're not a one-dimensional team having to throw to Lance all of the time, and I think that makes him even more effective,” Amstutz said. “The defense has to pay attention to a lot of people.”
Amstutz said Moore has the physical tools, the athletic skills, and the instincts that make a top wide receiver.
“He's had the sure hands ever since he stepped on campus, but he's worked on improving his strength and his speed and he's gotten better and better as the season has gone on,” Amstutz said. “He's consistent, he's very trustworthy, and you know he's going to run the right pattern. Lance is a very reliable football player, and the tougher it gets, the better he plays.”
ROCKETS ON TV: The Northern Illinois-Toledo game at the Glass Bowl Nov. 15 has been selected the MAC television game of the week and will be shown on Fox Sports Ohio. The time of the game has been pushed up from 7 p.m. to 3 p.m.