Turnover fuels Moore's growth
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Kellen Moore didn't want to talk about the way last season's meeting with TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl ended.
And who could blame him?
Down 17-16, Moore threw an interception in his defensive zone to give TCU the ball with less than 2 minutes remaining. After Boise State's defense got a stop and the Broncos got the ball back with six seconds remaining, Moore pitched it to Jeremy Childs, who fumbled, and TCU recovered to win the game.
It was the worst back-to-back series Moore -- then a freshman phenom -- had had all year.
"It's always difficult to end the season like that because it lingers with you for a while until you can get back on the field," said Moore, who will get a second chance at TCU on Monday in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. "To end it the way we did certainly wasn't the way we wanted to. Missed opportunities, all that stuff. A lot of 'Woulda, coulda, shoulda.' They played pretty well, they didn't give up any big plays on us and we weren't able to execute when we needed to."
Boise State offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said the loss was a better learning experience than anything his young quarterback had gone through the entire season because it ate at him and fueled him through the spring and the summer. It was the reason Moore led the nation in passing efficiency and finished seventh in Heisman voting this year.
"You play a team like TCU, that type of speed, and how precise you have to be throwing the football and how accurate you have to be, I think that was probably a big thing after that game that he walked out of there saying, 'OK, that's a good football team, and these are the things I've got to get better at to beat that type of team,'" Harsin said.
"That really carried over into the spring and into fall camp and into this season. He had that turnover at the end of last year's game and I think that's something that he's worked very hard on not to do this year. I mean, three picks and he's been very smart with the football. He learned a lot from that game and going back to that whole season last year."
The loss probably also spared Moore the slump so many other Boise State quarterbacks have endured after strong seasons. Former quarterback Jared Zabransky slumped during his junior season. After leading the Broncos to an 11-1 record in 2004, he struggled in '05, was occasionally benched, and the Broncos finished 9-4.
The biggest thing that has helped Moore, and the Broncos as a whole, is staying levelheaded. Despite a stellar freshman campaign and an early win over a ranked Oregon team to start the season, Moore has been even more devoted to getting better. Harsin said that drive to improve is something Moore brought to the program. No matter how many times coaches said they were pleased with his play, Moore has always pointed out things he could have done better.
"I think it's just learning from other people's experiences, then at the same time realizing that there's a lot of work to be done on my part," Moore said. "There's a lot of stuff to improve, a lot of stuff to get better at. Just taking care of that throughout the whole offseason and worrying about all that stuff.
"You see Boise State fans around everywhere and they're certainly excited for you. They'll love you up and all that good stuff. There's a point where you accept it, but if you just sit there and soak it all in, you're getting a little soft probably."
Added Harsin: "He doesn't take anything for granted."
Moore couldn't pinpoint a time when he finally came to peace with the way last season ended. There's probably still a part of him that never has, but he also points out that there were several moments in that game when the offense went stale. Those moments were just as important. But two turnovers with the game on the line is tough to forget.
"It's kind of tough just because that's the last moment really of the season and that just kind of stuck with you for a while," Moore said. "It's a learning experience; you learn from it, but you've got to move on and quit dreading the thing."
On Monday, Moore will get a chance to see exactly what last season's loss taught him and whether he will come out a better quarterback because of it. It's also a chance to right last season's wrong.
"It's a unique experience," Moore said. "Not too many people get an opportunity to do something you weren't able to the previous year."
Graham Watson covers non-BCS college football for ESPN.com.