South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore had to settle for a tie in the record book, but he got a sendoff any defensive stalwart would take.
One of the most decorated and accomplished players in the history of the Gamecocks strapped up for the final time Monday in the Outback Bowl. He’d been a prolific star for defenses that fell from a lofty height when he arrived and built their way back up, overcoming an injury that cost him a year and delayed his NFL plans.
And he got to leave on a 9-4 football team with a defensive shellacking of Michigan.
“It means the world,” Moore said. Defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson and coach Will Muschamp, “they’ve done a lot for me this year, mentally and running the game, just putting me in this scheme. I’m thankful to even be playing in this scheme, playing for this team. I’m just forever thankful for what this program’s done for me for sure.”
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On Monday, Moore did what he always had. He posted a modest five tackles and broke up a pass that was nearly the 15th interception of his career. He leaves tied for the school record, an impressive feat for a linebacker.
He’ll also leave as only the 15th player in NCAA history to lead his team in tackles. He finished his career with 353 stops.
And he leaves with a defensive masterpiece. USC held Michigan to its worst average yards per play of the season (lower than against Ohio State, Michigan State or Wisconsin). The Gamecocks forced five turnovers, allowed conversions on just 2-of-17 on third downs and smothered the Wolverines in the red zone.
Now Moore will turn toward the NFL Draft, a dream delayed by a neck injury and a redshirt season.
Through that, as much as the gaudy statistics and dynamic play, will be the mark he left in Columbia.
“There’s not words I can really put into his contributions to our football program at South Carolina,” Muschamp said. “He’s going to be a great pro.
“He’s really, really smart, and in my brief time in the National Football League, that’s one attribute that you’ve got to have to in order to have some longevity. ... We’re certainly going to miss him.”