COLUMBIA — It's homecoming week at Missouri. But last week was when T.J. Moe got to go home.
The senior receiver headed back to O'Fallon for a brief visit with his family. He went to watch his old high school football team, Fort Zumwalt West.
"We lost," Moe said.
Moe also watched a couple of St. Louis Cardinals games with his dad while at home. Moe showed up to Media day on Monday clearly ready to watch the Cardinals play Game 7 of the National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants. Moe was wearing a red Cardinals warmup jacket over a grey Cardinals shirt. He said he'd be watching the game alone in his house while biting his nails.
The Cardinals lost.
During the first break in the Missouri football season, he helplessly watched his teams lose. Even on the team Moe actually plays for, he feels like too much has been out of his control.
"You can't fix anything as a receiver. You just kind of have to wait for things to come," Moe said. "We're gonna get open. We're gonna run our routes hard, we're gonna do all the different things that we do, but you're kind of a little bit helpless as a receiver as far as if the ball is coming to you or not."
So far, the ball has not been coming. Injuries to the quarterback and offensive line have crippled the Tigers offense this season. A brutal schedule only made matters worse. This is not how Moe envisioned his senior season would play out.
Moe grew up a Missouri fan.
As a teen, he knew he wanted to play on Faurot Field someday. Moe didn't know what position he would play. He just wanted to be there.
"In my younger years, when people said 'Missouri,' everybody thought 'Brad Smith.' I kind of wanted to be that. When they said 'Missouri,' I wanted everybody to think 'T.J. Moe' and all my teammates that are playing with me," Moe said. "That was my goal growing up and then eventually get to the NFL and be a good player."
After playing quarterback in high school, Moe was recruited to Missouri as a safety. But he quickly switched to receiver.
After dealing with a foot injury his freshman year, Moe exploded on to the scene in his sophomore season. He caught 92 passes for 1,045 yards and six touchdowns that year.
He even had a game-winning 68-yard touchdown catch against San Diego State. The play is known as the "Moe Miracle." The score came with the Tigers trailing by four with less than a minute to play. It helped the 2010 Missouri team begin the season 7-0 and climb as high as No. 6 in the BCS rankings.
Moe still looks back at that season. He remembers that he would rack up so many catches that reporters would tell him his statistics every week. He averaged just over seven catches per game that year.
"It was neat," Moe said. He took a deep breath as he reflected.
"There's nothing more fulfilling than seeing your success manifested from all your hard work. I worked really hard not only to get here but then through an injury my freshman year. And then kind of seeing it become everything I wanted it to become and being right there at the top of the country in catches and yards, and our team at one point was ranked No. 6 in the country. It was neat."
This season is a lot less neat for Moe. The Tigers are 3-4. In yardage per game, the Missouri offense is the 13th worst in the country, or 108th best, depending on how you look at it.
Moe's numbers are low. Through seven games, Moe has just 26 catches for 250 yards and one touchdown, but he said he is a much better player now than he was in 2010.
He had a large drop-off in catches last season, which Missouri offensive coordinator David Yost said was a result of the quarterback change. Blaine Gabbert loved to throw to the inside receivers, while James Franklin spreads the ball around more.
This year even more problems have plagued the offense, but Moe doesn't worry about how declining statistics might affect his NFL draft stock or his legacy as a Missouri player. He's still just trying to turn things around.
"We've got five games left. We're more worried about fixing stuff than we are looking back and enjoying how things went," Moe said. "I'll look back someday. I've had a really fun career. I think I've had a good career and I'd like to finish it off the right way."
Reporters no longer tell Moe his stats every week. He doesn't keep track either, but if he wanted to, he could count his catches on one hand for most games this season.
He still gets plenty of media attention. That's because when people think "Missouri" they think "T.J. Moe," especially media members who heard Moe speak at SEC media days in July. Moe received a standing ovation from the media because of his candid responses.
When junior receiver L'Damian Washington first met Moe, he was surprised at how frank Moe was with his words.
"His first words (to me) were 'I hate KU.' And I'm like, 'Bro, it's just football,'" Washington said. "And he was like 'No, you don't understand," and I really didn't understand until he really broke it down and then my first game playing Kansas."
Moe schooled Washington, who is from Shreveport, La., on Missouri football history. Washington appreciated the lesson, but what really impressed him was Moe's leadership.
"When you got a guy like T.J. that leads by example, a lot of guys are willing to follow a guy that's always willing to put himself out there first and lead the team," Washington said.
Although other Missouri receivers tower over Moe in height, the 6-foot senior is still the leader of the pack. Junior receiver Marcus Lucas said the players trust Moe because of his experience and consistency. The 6-foot-5 Lucas, 6-foot-4 Washington, and 6-foot-6 Dorial Green-Beckham can't always mimic the much smaller Moe's technique, but they do try to adopt his leadership skills.
"When he's talking, we'll listen," Lucas said. "He just wants us to keep fighting. It's his senior year. We want to win for him, get a bowl game for him."
For Missouri to reach a bowl game, the Tigers will have to win at least one game on the road, either at Florida, Tennessee or Texas A&M. While some players want to get to a bowl game for Moe, the senior wants to do it for the young players on the team.
"We've got some younger guys that really haven't tasted the success like I have in past years," Moe said. "We're just working on it. Trying to make it easier on them, trying to lead them in the right direction and get back to winning."