Welcome to Locktober: Mizzou wins Lock’s debut, holds on to the “Columbia Cup;” Florida next

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It was once Mauktober. Now, it’s Locktober.

Drew Lock, the true freshman out of Lee’s Summit, became the first true freshman signal caller to start a game in the Gary Pinkel era, did what all the other first-time starters in the Pinkel era have done…WIN.

And like his predecessor, the now-suspended Maty Mauk, Lock made his first in October, thrown into the fire of SEC Conference play.

He did just fine, completing 21 of 28 passes with two touchdowns as Mizzou (4-1, 1-1)

“He did a pretty good job,” Pinkel said of Lock, the better quarterback in the SEC’s first game featuring two true freshmen starting quarterbacks…and it was a major difference in the 24-10 win.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Lock, the first true freshman quarterback to start a game in Pinkel’s 38 years of coaching AND Missouri’s first since Corby Jones in 1995. “I always thought about winning games at Missouri. It’s a little overwhelming to say the least. Now that I’ve started and actually won a game, you can’t really put it into words.”

The win continued Pinkel’s success with first-time starters. Every one dating back to Brad Smith were winners in their first start, including the Lee’s Summit quarterback before Lock – Corbin Berkstresser (who is now buried on the depth chart). That’s seven different quarterbacks. The last two, Mauk and Lock, were thrown into the fire right into conference play.

Lock led Missouri on scoring drives to open and close the half – both passes to Nate Brown (6-33-2) of 8 and 9 yards respectively – on 11-play drives. Missouri scored the only second half points, an Ish Witter rushing TD from the half-yard line with 3:36 left in the third quarter, making it 24-10. South Carolina’s Lorenzo Nunez hurt Missouri with his legs, scrambling for extra yards, long gains or extending plays, but he threw three interceptions in a row to open the second half and his only score was…well…lucky. After being nearly intercepted by Aarion Penton near the goal line, the ball bounced out of his hands into the hands running back Shon Carson, who crossed the plane for an 8-yard score, tying the game 10-10 with 9:20 remaining in the first half. This was three plays after a TERRIBLE “targeting” call on freshman D-Tackle Terry Beckner, Jr., who shoved Nunez on a would-be third down incomplete pass (also dropped by Penton) to the ground. The rest of the scoring came from the legs of kickers Elliot Fry and Andrew Baggett. Fry cut it to 7-3 with 2:11 remaining in the first quarter after a long Nunez to Pharoh Cooper pass set them up. Andrew Baggett made it 10-3 in the second quarter. The freak TD tied the game at 10-10.

“Drew really did some good things for a young player,” Pinkel said. “I thought he really carried himself well.”

Lock credits played in all the Missouri games prior to this, getting AT LEAST one series per game.

“Having the series in the other games helped me out a lot. I was a little nervous. I wanted to get a win for the university and the state and everything.”

***

Quarterback – B+

Lock started the game 7 for 8 and stayed accurate for the rest of the first half, where he was 16-19 heading into the locker room. He was 7-7 for 70 yards on the last full possession of the first half, including making tow throws that Maty Mauk would not make – a third and long rope to the sideline to Jason Reese to move the chains and on the touchdown pass to Brown – their second scoring connection of the day – rifling one in there with a defender draped all over him. But, it was more than that, he dumped off passes to secondary receivers; something Mauk rarely, if ever, does. Also, his ability to look off of his receiver to hold the coverage, before coming back and letting the ball go, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Mauk do that. His first TD pass, in particular, with 2 rushers bearing down on him, was particularly impressive.

He was not as accurate in the second half, completing five out of nine passes, but Pinkel said the offense went too conservative as they milked the lead. That conservative gameplan was enough as his teammates made enough plays to give him some breathing room.

“Drew played his game on Saturday, and that’s really cool to see,” center Even Boehm said. “Drew made the throws that he wanted to make. Drew made the calls that he wanted to make. And as an offensive line, we trusted Drew with what he did and how he did it.”

So, does the offense have a better flow with Lock, than Mauk?

I would say so, and it has been that way all season.

He did not throw the ball downfield often, dumping the ball off short most of the time, but it’s hard to argue with the results, even if it even totaled just 136 yards – the “worst” debut of the seven QB in the Pinkel era. But, he was the first quarterback to complete at least 75% of his passes in a conference game since Chase Daniel, vs. Iowa State, 2008. His 16 first-half completions matched Mauk’s season-high for a game. Lock, not a dual-threat guy at all, also ran for four first downs and showed decent speed in doing so. Mauk, however, who is 17-5 as a starter at Mizzou, has been inconsistent in his four starts this season, completing 51.8 percent of his passes for 654 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions.

Pinkel CLAIMS that whatever happens with Lock will not influence his decision on Mauk as his starting QB (IF he even returns). Asked again after the game, Pinkel says, “I’m not discussing that. I don’t ever talk about disciplinary issues ever. That’s something they trust in me and I trust in them.”

Mauk’s suspension has been made indefinite, but even if he does come back (he may not if some of the things I have heard are true…), at this point, it is hard to believe that Mauk will ever start another game, barring injury.

I’ll stand firm with my stance that Mauk has not lost Missouri games. He is what he is, but as a fourth-year junior, I think you have to expect more out of him. The offensive woes were a collective effort – struggles in the run game, shaky wide receiver play and inconsistent QB play – all which were improved today with a different quarterback.

But, he also wasn’t going out there and winning games, either. So, this move, going forward – now that it has happened – is going to stick. And, the kid (Lock) can play.

“He did some good things,” Pinkel said. “We feel like he can be a whole lot better. The more he plays, the more he’s going to get it.”

He is a freshman, still. And he’s going to make, “freshman mistakes.” His only real mistake came when he was nearly intercepted by TJ Holloman on a third-down attempt deep in their own territory. When he tried a slant to Moore, Holloman drifted over underneath and dropped a sure pick-6. He also made a couple poor reads on the zone read.

Running BacksB

Russell Hansbrough was the healthiest he has been all year since leaving the season-opener after the second play of the game…until he hobbled off again in the third quarter, before returning for a couple touches late. Ish Witter looked the best he has in his young career, rushing for a career-high 98 yards and his first TD of 2015. Play-calling helped the backs, as Mizzou ran between the tackles on quick hitter more than they have in the past. The results were a season-best 163 yards, all from the running backs – well-above their season average of just 84. Witter’s TD was the first on the ground from a running back (Tyler Hunt has a receiving TD – Lock’s first TD pass of career…by the way, what does this guy have to do to get more touches?).

What can take pressure off a young quarterback’s shoulders? A running game that can help move the chains. The success on Saturday kept the linebackers up and inside, opening up passes to the outside.

Offensive LineA-

Down starting right tackle Nate Crawford, the line plowed some massive holes as the game wore on. This is a good indication that senior center Evan Boehm, who has also been battling an ankle injury since the first offensive series of the season, is getting healthier.

“We’ve got to work on our fundamentals, we’ve got to work on our technique this week as an offensive line and take a step forward from this,” Boehm said.

“We ran better and we blocked better,” Pinkel added.

Lock credited the line.

“Hats off to our offensive line and our running backs,” Lock said. “They opened up our passing game a ton. They helped me out pretty much the whole game.”

Hansbrough was the only Missouri running back to lose yards on carries today. Witter wasn’t dropped for a loss in 17 carries.

Wide Receivers – B

This was by far their best effort. Up to this date, they had not helped out Mauk. They have been so bad that two players that caught passes on Saturday started the season as defensive backs, Raymond Wingo and Cam Hilton. Hilton was still on the depth chart at safety LAST WEEK. He then caught a pass on the first drive of the game, to move the chains on third down.

Pinkel said seven weeks ago he left practice depressed after watching his receivers, but “we’re getting better and it’s neat to see it.”

They appeared to have a better rapport with Lock.

“Once the offense got going, we got our tempo going and everyone was a little more relaxed,” said Brown, the team’s leading receiver with 17 catches for 192 yards and four touchdowns on the season. “When you get into a rhythm, it relaxes everybody on the offense and just kind of keeps them focused on their job.”

Jason Reese, starting at tight end in place of Sean Culkin, who is out with a knee a sprained knee, had a career-high in both catches and yards (6-47). The tight ends have been more involved this year than any year since Michael Egnew’s departure. They already have more catches and yards (23 for 199) this year than all of last year (21 for 186).

“Everyone knows Drew is talented,” Reese said. “My hands have never been hurt after catching some passes (until Lock). Drew throws a pretty tight spiral. It’s hard, too. He can sling the rock.”

DefenseB+

The defense was good. They had three picks and could have had six. They kept numerous drives alive with penalties and failed third downs. They could have been a lot better, but they were pretty good.
South Carolina started in Missouri territory two times in the first three drives, and other than a 37-yard pass to Pharoh Cooper, the Gamecocks (2-3, 0-3) LOST 20 yards, but ended up with three points because of that long pass play.

Their next possession was not good, as they allowed SC to get a first down after facing a 2nd and 15. Then, after Carolina ventured into the redzone, where they lost Beckner, Jr for the rest of the game and the first half of Saturday’s Homecoming showdown with Florida, which extended the drive, ending in that fluke dropped Penton interception into the hands of Carson for a TD…their only one of the day. After, Missouri’s defense got the job done. They gave up a few plays here and there to Cooper (9-102) and struggled with Nunez’s athleticism, but picked him off three possessions in a row to open the third quarter (two of them were not great decisions by Nunez) and despite 8 trips into Mizzou territory – including all four third quarter drives, Carolina came up with just 10 points. The four third quarter drives were part of a five consecutive drives in the second half into Mizzou territory sequence were Carolina did not put a point on the board, missing a fourth quarter field goal (Elliot Fry missed one wide left the play before, but a penalty moved him back five yards, and he missed it wide right). The defense had seven tackles for loss, four sacks, four hits on the QB and Nunez, who had 141 yards at the half, threw for just 31 yards in the second half, throwing the three picks. Redshirt freshmen Walter Brady recorded two sacks and dropped into zone coverage to pick off a pass and return it 34 yards to set up Witter’s TD run as the defensive line continued to dominate. On that pick, blitzing safety Anthony Sherrils forced a quick pass. Combined with the stud linebacking duo of Kentrell Brothers and Michael Scherer, the defense has produced at least 7 tackles for loss in every game this season…including 15 against Arkansas State. FIFTEEN.

“I think we played exceptional defense,” Pinkel added.

Brothers, playing despite being questionable before kickoff, had seven tackles, including 1 ½ for a loss, increasing his total to 59 – best in the nation – told the coaches, “you can say anything you want but I’m playing.”

Senior captains – corner Kenya Dennis and safety Ian Simon – both picked off their first passes of the season. It was Simon who dropped a sure pick in the endzone in the 21-13 loss at Kentucky while Missouri led 10-7 late in the third quarter. Kentucky went on to score the go-ahead TD. Penton dropped two picks this week, but credit him for being there to make the plays; albeit, one ended in a South Carolina touchdown.

Only cashing in on one of three turnovers was good enough against South Carolina, but it would be nice to turn more of the defense’s performance turned into points. Does Mizzou have the best defense in the SEC East, again? It’s a fair question. We’ll see the other good one this weekend.

Special Teams – D

Punter Corey Fatony has been a stud this year, but he struggled a bit Saturday, with punts of 24 and 28 yards. Cam Hilton, in his first return as the new punt returner, took one back 64 yards into South Carolina territory, but negated by a block in the back away from the play by Clarence Green.

“I didn’t agree with the call,” Pinkel added in his weekly presser.

There were some mistakes made, BUT, luckily, it didn’t impact the final score.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The Tigers desperately needed this victory after losing on the road to Kentucky last week. Hurting for some sort of offensive presence, Lock might have provided the Tigers with a little bit of a jolt. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. The offense looked the best it has all season. Was it all because of Drew Lock? No. Maty Mauk has not been the problem, but, he hasn’t been a solution, either. For the first time all season, the Tigers had a consistent running game, the offensive line played the best it has all season and the receivers caught almost everything. Coincidence? Good question. Still, Missouri only gained 299 yards.

“We played a lot better as a team,” Pinkel said. “We can become a lot better.”

The defense was still really good, and with a high-level defense, and hopefully an improved offense (all it needs to be is average), Missouri can still be in the mix in the SEC East, again. With Georgia losing at home to Alabama, this is a race again. Missouri-Florida this weekend has series meaning, as the winner is likely the contender to Georgia in the division. The loss last week to Kentucky wasn’t crippling. It didn’t end the season. Everything Missouri wants to do is still out there. Missouri was not going to be a national championship contender. There’s still 9 wins on the table. There’s still a lot to play for. A three-peat in the East is still possible.

Mammoth.

Up Next: Florida (5-0, 3-0), 6:30 Saturday Night on SEC Network, in Columbia

Lock played well in helping Mizzou topple South Carolina last weekend in his first career start, but now he’s facing a defense from Florida that is coming off a dominant performance in its 38-10 upset of then-No. 3 Ole Miss.

“You’ve got all these ideas you want to do, but you’ve got a young quarterback and you’ve got to execute,” Pinkel said. “You’ve got to decide what he can handle and what he can’t handle, which increases his chances for success.”

Part of that may be a running game, but Florida’s defense ranks 15th nationally against the run, allowing 97.8 yards per game. So, if the game is thrown into Lock’s hands, will the freshman be ready for it against a defense that sacked Ole Miss’s Chad Kelly four times and turned him over four times?

“I’m definitely excited,” Lock said. “Competition brings out the best in anybody. Hopefully it brings out the best in me this weekend.”

Missouri’s defense will have its hands full, too. This isn’t the last couple years Florida offense, at least it doesn’t look like it, thanks to improved QB play. Redshirt freshman Will Grier put together the best performance of his young career, completing 24 of 29 passes for 271 yards and four touchdowns Saturday. He also had no interceptions, making him the first quarterback since Georgia’s Aaron Murray in 2012 to throw for four scores and no picks against Ole Miss.

The Gators are considered a surprise, but, Pinkel doesn’t think so.

“Not surprised that they’re good,” Pinkel said.

Of note, since beating Oklahoma on homecoming in 2010, Missouri is 1-4 in home games against higher-ranked opponents. Only other win was Texas in 2011. In the SEC, they’re 0-3 at home against higher-ranked opponents.

Former Florida linebacker Michael Jones had something interesting to say about Missouri:

  • “The last two years we played them, they were upstanding citizens. You would talks mess and would say something disrespectful to them and they were just like ‘OK.’ They were just nice guys helping you off the field. They were good, too, which kind of disturbed me. Like, ‘say something.’ Don’t just be nice.”

***

Etc

  • Time has passed Steve Spurrier. The Hall of Fame “Ol’ Ball Coach” is just a guy now…and maybe below that. May be time for him to run into the sunset. South Carolina is 0-3 in conference play under Spurrier for the first time. This is one year after he went 7-6 and told the media, “that’s a good season at South Carolina.”
  • South Carolina has held Missouri to fewer than 300 yards of offense in back-to-back meetings, but Missouri has won both games.
  • Missouri outgained South Carolina 299-298, but the Gamecocks – had three turnovers.
  • Pinkel commented on team’s youth: “look how many freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores we have playing on that field. It’s amazing.”
  • Tackle Malik Cuellar, who was suspended with Mauk, has returned to the team, and is listed No. 2 on the depth chart at left tackle.
  • Also back on the depth chart is WR DeSean Blair, who has missed the last three games with a concussion stemming from a car wreck. Nate Crawford, who was out of action last week, is back as the starter at RT.
  • Drew Lock said the first text he had after the game was a “congratulations” from Maty Mauk.
  • Meanwhile, Pinkel told Lock, “you don’t know how good you’re going to be.”
  • When asked why they didn’t double-team Pharoh Cooper, Scherer said, “we didn’t have to.” He may be right. Penton held his own against Cooper, and he was right there on the long pass. Four of Cooper’s other eight catches came at the line of scrimmage – and three of them came in succession on SC’s lone TD drive.
  • Pinkel says if Lock gets hurt, both Eddie Printz and the uber-athlete Marvin Zanders would both play.
  • Russell Hansbrough will be as close to 100% for the 104th Homecoming Saturday as he has been all season.
  • Running back Morgan Steward, shut down (again) for the season, and Missouri will apply for a sixth year of eligibility when the time comes.
  • Missouri trolled Steve Spurrier before the game, as they honored the 1965 team that beat Spurrier-led Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

***

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