Skai Moore was wide open.
North Carolina trailed South Carolina 17-13 with 3:29 left in the game, and Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams dropped back on fourth-and-goal with a chance to give his team the lead. Instead, he threw the ball directly into the hands of Moore, South Carolina’s junior middle linebacker.
“I am not going to lie, when he threw it, I was kind of shocked, like, ‘The ball is actually coming to me,’ ” Moore said. “He did throw it right to me. I guess he did see the receiver behind me but made a pretty poor throw.”
Moore was in the right spot to capitalize on that mistake because of what his coaches and teammates call an instinct for “reading the quarterback’s eyes.” It sounds straightforward and, it turns out, it is – if the quarterback looks to the right side of the field, drift right, if he looks look to the left, drift left.
“We are big about reading the quarterback,” linebackers coach Kirk Botkin said. Defensive co-coordinator Jon “Hoke preaches that, and (Moore) has got a knack for it.”
9 Career interceptions by USC junior linebacker Skai Moore
It’s one of the reasons the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Moore is a such a good fit in Hoke’s Tampa 2 system, where the middle linebacker often is asked to cover a lot of ground of the middle of the field.
“He can run and he has length, so for what we do, it does help, but he could probably play in any system,” Hoke said. “He’s a good football player.”
What makes one player good at reading eyes and another not?
“Couldn’t tell you,” Hoke said.
14 Career interceptions by USC’s Bo Davies (1969-1971), a school record
There’s no secret, Moore said. It’s simply being where the quarterback is looking.
“It’s really pretty much that simple,” he said. “Just read his eyes and have a good feel for their routes. From going over film, you have a good idea of what kind of route combos you are going to get and the depth you need for those route combos. That’s pretty much it.”
Moore had two interceptions against the Tar Heels, giving him nine for his career. That’s five off the school’s career record of 14 set by Bo Davies from 1969-1971.
“Definitely, it’s something I’m going for,” Moore said. “Getting takeaways period is a big deal for us. We are going out there trying to take the ball away so that’s big for us all the time.”
Moore also led the Gamecocks in tackles against North Carolina with 10.
“He did his job is what he did,” Botkin said. “He went out there, was in the right place and did what he was supposed to do and good things happened.”
9 Interceptions by Bryant Gilliard in 1984, a USC single-season record
Gamecocks vs. Wildcats
Who: South Carolina (1-0) vs. Kentucky (1-0)
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
TV: SEC Network
LINE: USC by 8 (over-under 55.5)