Folks across the state of Missouri will be glued to their television sets this Saturday night thanks to one man: Drew Lock.
Namesake of “Locktober,” the 18-year-old is Mizzou’s first true freshman starting quarterback in 20 years, and he appears to have re-energized a fan base that was in the dumps after losing at Kentucky on Sept. 26.
This Saturday is Homecoming, and the Tigers will host No. 11 Florida. You know, the same Gators team that just shut down high-powered Ole Miss at The Swamp.
Junior quarterback Maty Mauk is still suspended, so Lock will be the man behind center.
The latter’s numbers against South Carolina this past weekend (21-of-28 for 136 yards and two touchdowns) were impressive, but Florida will undoubtedly be able to exploit some of his weaknesses.
We broke down the film to test the sturdiness of “Locktober.”
Lock started hot on Saturday, zipping footballs all over Faurot Field with confidence. A 4-star recruit from Lee’s Summit, Mo., he showed off his big arm with a couple cannonballs across the hashes. Here’s what Mizzou fans saw early on:
That looks like a short throw on television, but thanks to the pythagorean theorem, we know the football traveled roughly 35 yards through the air — on a rope.
Lock was also generous with the ball, spreading passes to seven different receivers. Most of that was due to the gameplan, but it’s tough for a young quarterback to build rapport with several pass-catchers at once.
He leaned on “Downtown” Nate Brown (six catches on seven targets) and tight end Jason Reese (six catches on eight targets) more than other players, so it will be interesting to see what happens when defenses are able to shut those two down.
Missouri’s new quarterback showed an ability to adapt, though.
Lock was 7-of-9 on first down, 9-of-10 on second down and 5-of-9 on third down. He even converted an early 4th-and-3 on a designed quarterback draw:
Perhaps his most impressive play was a touchdown pass off his back foot to put Missouri up, 7-0. South Carolina was able to get in Lock’s face with a corner blitz, but he delivered a perfect strike into the teeth of USC’s zone coverage.
That’s a throw that gives several NFL quarterbacks trouble, and Lock used his balance and big arm to make it look easy.
His second touchdown pass was just as impressive.
Lock used his shoulders to fake a wide receiver screen, then forced a frozen rope into Brown’s hands. The throw was nearly perfect — above the helmet of the turned defender, and to a spot where only his receiver could make a play.
Brown made it, and Missouri grabbed its second lead of the day.
Other positive signs from Lock: He limited sacks (two), showed off his legs on four separate occasions, flashed an ability to run the option and make safe pitches, got hot early (16-of-19 for 105 yards, two touchdowns in the first half) and had a 94.4 completion percentage (17-of-18) on balls thrown five yards or fewer downfield.
Missouri’s offense relies heavily on balancing its running and passing games. That sounds cliche, but the Tigers “O” is designed to create numerical advantages on one side of the field with multi-wideout sets and constant pre-snap motion.
The reason Mizzou struggled so mightily through its first four games was a lack of balance. The rushing attack was pretty much nonexistent thanks to Russell Hansbrough’s ankle injury, and Mauk was unable to find many open lanes in the passing game as a result.
The South Carolina game was a turning point, as Lock’s early completions created huge holes in USC’s front seven and helped running back Ish Witter (17 carries, 98 yards) get going.
But starting fast is not always an option, and the Tigers’ passing game can reveal itself as somewhat one-dimensional when defenses taste blood.
Of Lock’s 28 throws, only five went wide of the left hashmark, while 18 went wide of the right hashmark. Twenty-five of those throws traveled 10 yards or fewer downfield. Missouri’s gameplan against USC failed to use much of the real estate available, and that kind of attack will be tough to maintain against faster, more talented defenses.
It’s nitpicking, but Lock also threw a few important passes behind receivers, including this 3rd-and-3 attempt to Wesley Leftwich.
There were also a couple fumbles that did not end up costing the Tigers. One was on the Gamecocks’ 1-yard-line, but Lock quickly scooped it and handed the ball to Witter for a touchdown.
In the second quarter, Lock tried to get too fancy by keeping his eyes downfield while delivering the ball to Witter. It didn’t work:
Most of these things are normal for a new quarterback, so Mizzou fans will need to suffer through some growing pains. Lock just can’t afford to have too many this weekend; he probably won’t be as lucky as he was against USC.
Lock’s inexperience was not evident until Mizzou got backed up near its own goal line in the first quarter. Facing 2nd-and-10 from the 10, Lock took a shotgun snap and was immediately pressured. The culprit was Tigers tackle Taylor Chappell (62), who mistakenly went downfield to run block.
This obviously surprised Lock, who panicked and drifted back toward the end zone. What resulted was a clear intentional grounding (and subsequent safety), but the referees inexplicably called the play a sack at the 1-yard-line.
That stroke of luck was big early on, but it was nothing compared to Lock’s gaffe in the third quarter.
Facing 3rd-and-3 from his own 9-yard-line, Lock faked a handoff, turned left and fired a pass directly into the arms of linebacker T.J. Holloman.
The redshirt junior could not hang on to the ball, but if he had, it would have been an easy six points for the Gamecocks. Missouri was up just 17-10 at that juncture, so a USC defensive touchdown would have changed the course of the game.
While those two plays in the shadow of his own end zone were careless, Lock almost threw away points on the other side of the field, too.
After the dropped interception, Missouri quickly got the ball back with a turnover. Lock proceeded to fire an ill-advised pass into the South Carolina end zone on 1st-and-10.
Receiver Ray Wingo had come free on the right sideline, but that’s because USC had a safety waiting over the top. Lock tried to force the ball between the defenders and the result was another near-pick.
Frankly, Missouri’s defense was the hero on Saturday. Without several big plays from Tigers defenders, Lock would have been forced to make something out of nothing more often.
Offensive coordinator Josh Henson would also have needed to open up his playbook a bit more. The above pass was Lock’s second-farthest of the game, and it only traveled 21 yards down the turf. His other deep shot was a 27-yarder out of Brown’s reach on the right sideline.
Lock certainly has the ability to make those throws, but that kind of playcalling is not Missouri’s forte at the moment.
What to expect moving forward
Taking down Florida will be tough. The Gators “D” swarmed Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly and forced him into his least efficient performance of the season.
Missouri’s passing offense is based primarily on rhythm. Lock is not making that many post-snap reads; his job is to know where the ball is going almost as soon as he touches it.
If Florida’s defensive line can shake up Lock’s timing in the first quarter, that could spell doom for Henson’s offense.
The question is not whether Lock has the ability to beat a great team; it’s whether his coaches will design a gameplan that can balance his inexperience with his brilliance. Lock made some silly mistakes in his first start, but he also flashed All-American potential that Missouri has not seen from the quarterback position since Chase Daniel’s senior season in 2008.
Final verdict: “Locktober” is here to stay.
— Alex Martin Smith (@asmiff) October 6, 2015