GREENSBORO, N.C. – Morgan Moses would be perfect for one of those commercials talking about being comfortable in his own skin.
A senior anthropology major, Moses will graduate on time in four years, a feat skeptics would have bet against when the mountainous figure came out of Richmond’s Meadowbrook High. Since that time, Moses has gotten hold of his academics and his weight, reporting to Sunday’s annual ACC Football Kickoff a svelte 6-foot-6, 335 pounds.
After beating the odds in the classroom and on the scales, now it’s a question of whether the big man can handle the move from right to left tackle and whether he can live up to expectations of becoming Virginia’s next great offensive lineman.
Many seasoned observers believe how Moses’ final season goes, so goes Virginia’s offense, which is a heavy burden to carry on his ample shoulder pads. Number 78 welcomes the challenge, just as he overcame academic issues and the battle of the bulge when he first reported in the 360-pound range as a rookie.
“It’s a great tradition we have at Virginia with offensive lineman,” Moses said while holding court at the Grandover resort. “We’re talking about D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Elton Brown, Eugene Monroe, Branden Albert, guys who paved the way for us offensive linemen at UVa. At the same time, I have to pave my own road. There are definitely high expectations, but I have to go out and perform.”
Some felt that neither Moses nor the Cavaliers’ offensive line in general had a very good year in 2012, leading to an offense that piled up yardage but didn’t match production on the scoreboard and often faltered in short yardage situations. Still, Moses’ predecessor at left tackle, Oday Aboushi, was an All-ACC performer and an NFL draft pick, carrying on the tradition.
With a new offensive coordinator, a new offense, a new quarterback and a philosophy that demands toughness and in-your-face football, there is urgency for Virginia’s offensive line to dominate and for Moses to be that next great guy.
Most all of the linemen return from a year ago, with the exception of Aboushi. Moses has moved to Aboushi’s old spot, protecting the quarterback’s blind side. Center Luke Bowanko will line up beside Moses at left guard, Sean Cascarano at right guard, Jay Whitmire at right tackle, with surprising redshirt freshman Jackson Matteo at center. There are several guys listed as backups with playing experience such as Cody Wallace, Conner Davis, and Ross Burbank.
Still, in the collective minds of the fan base, there remains uncertainty as to whether or not this line can be better than last year’s. It’s like the old joke by the coach coming off a horrible season who jests, “Well, the good news is our whole line is back… and the bad news is our whole line is back.”
In Virginia’s case, it’s yet to be determined if this group becomes part of Wahoo lore for its ability to dominate or just another punch line.
Moses believes it’s the latter and has worked hard to build chemistry among the linemen, often wheeling up to pick up a teammate in his white 2002 Crown Vic, which rides good despite its 130,000 mileage.
“We always hang out,” Moses said about him and his fellow linemen. “Whether it’s going to good spots and tearing up the place or going to another lineman’s place and eating all the food, or going bowling or swimming, we spend a lot of time together.”
Don’t be concerned about the “tearing up the place,” reference. Moses didn’t mean physically tearing up a joint. However, if you are dining at a place in Charlottesville that serves wings, you might want to run for cover if these guys walk in because they are h-u-n-g-r-y.
The social aspect is a big deal among football players, particularly offensive linemen who have to work with precision, like a well-oiled machine. They have to trust one another. One breakdown and the entire play is likely a failure.
Old coaches will tell you, control the offensive line and you can control the game. You can do whatever you want.
Moses is trying to build that kind of confidence and trust in his unit so that the Cavaliers can improve last year’s disappointing 4-8 finish, coming off a Chick-fil-A Bowl appearance the season before.
“I feel like a big part of it is that you really need to know who your teammate is and what he’s all about, both on and off the field,” the towering left tackle said.
Virginia rushed for 1,542 yards last season, only 128.1 per game, the lowest totals and average since the ’09 season, in addition to a mere 10 touchdowns via the ground game, lowest since 2001. There are no figures on short yardage failures but Wahoo fans remember their frustration on third-and-three or less from a year ago.
Moses believes a lot of those problems will be solved by UVa’s experience across the line. Cavalier fans should also be encouraged by the presence of assistant head coach for offense Tom O’Brien, considered one of the best offensive line coaches in the land.
O’Brien preaches and demands toughness and apparently the linemen have gotten the message. Whether or not they are good enough to carry it out remains the question.
Moses thinks that having the quarterback situation settled early this season could help as well as opposed to last season when Michael Rocco and Philip Sims had a timeshare on the position. Both are gone, Rocco out of frustration, Sims out of poor work habits and academic shortcomings.
“It was hard to know who you were blocking for and the timing required for different quarterbacks,” Moses said.
That won’t be a problem this fall if Watford starts from early on. Talking about a left tackle who is familiar with his quarterback, Moses and Watford are roommates.
“It’s like having a little brother,” Moses grinned. “You talk about little brothers being nagging sometimes, we have our moments. Like, ‘Get off me,’ or ‘no, I don’t want to talk to you.’”
But it’s a healthy relationship where the two might have their differences but nothing too serious.
“When we have our little arguments, I just tell David, “Well, I’m just not going to block for you,’” Moses chuckled. “That gets him a little heated. He’s so used to me saying it that now he says, ‘Well, you always say that, so I’m not listening to you.’”
The two have bonded to the point where Moses takes a personal interest in Watford’s safety. Assigned with protecting his quarterback’s blind side, Moses doesn’t want to let his roomdog down.
“The relationship we have between us, when I see him behind me at quarterback, I have to keep him protected,” Moses said. “And I think he believes I can protect him. It just has to be that way.”
Just another challenge for Mount Moses to overcome. He wouldn’t have it any other way.