Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — There was the good: two surprising touchdowns. There was the bad: two potentially costly injuries.
And then there was Drew Lock.
The Missouri football team covered it all Saturday in its 34-3 season-opening defeat of Southeast Missouri State at Faurot Field.
First came the bad. Both of Missouri’s offensive captains left the field during the Tigers’ opening drive with ankle sprains, first Russell Hansbrough, then Evan Boehm. Both returned to play in the first half but were eventually pulled from the game.
“It’s the first game of the year,” quarterback Maty Mauk said. “You know people are going to be banged up, but to see two guys that are very important to the offense go out kind of did catch you off guard.”
Head coach Gary Pinkel said after the game he was not sure of the severity of the injuries. Boehm has never missed a start in college, going back to his freshman year, and Hansbrough was coming off a 1,000-yard season.
“(That’s) the middle of your offense: center, quarterback, tailback,” Pinkel said. “That’s the spots that are obviously so critical to success, and we got a shot with two of those guys, so hopefully we’re going to get them back. I’m not sure when.”
The Tigers forged on, however, and scored a touchdown on their opening drive, a 27-yard pass from Mauk to sophomore receiver J’Mon Moore. The Tigers scored another touchdown — a 23-yard connection from Mauk to sophomore receiver Nate Brown — two drives later but then began a stretch of eight straight drives without a touchdown.
That’s when the first surprise score broke the game wide open.
With SEMO feigning a fourth-down conversion attempt, Redhawks quarterback Tay Bender tried a pooch punt, which linebacker Kentrell Brothers blocked skyward and into the hands of cornerback Aarion Penton who returned his gift 41 yards for a touchdown.
“(Bender) just backed up a little bit, and I mean, I don’t think I know a quarterback who’s about 8 or 9 yards off the ball,” Brothers said. “So I just ran up there.”
The score gave Missouri a 27-3 lead. It was the first touchdown of Penton’s collegiate career, something the punt returner was hoping to accomplish in the season opener.
“I was really thinking this week a Pick-6 and a punt return,” Penton said. “But I mean, hey, I’m not going to complain how I get it.”
Missouri’s second touchdown of 40 or more yards seemed to surprise the entire stadium — and most of the sideline. Lock, on the second drive of his first game at Missouri, scrambled left on a first-and-10 as pressure broke down the pocket. With his eyes downfield, Lock suddenly looked back to his right, where tailback Tyler Hunt was busy redifining the term “wide open” on the SEMO 42-yard-line. Hunt caught the cross-field heave and outran a defender for a 78-yard touchdown.
“I didn’t even know where he was throwing it,” Mauk said. “I didn’t even see T-Hunt. I thought he was coming back down to (receiver) Keyon (Dilosa), and I was kind of nervous, and then he threw a touchdown.”
Pinkel added: “That’s a broken play, and when a broken play happens, (Hunt) didn’t just happen to stop and look back. We were just wide open, so it worked out pretty good.”
Though not everyone is convinced the touchdown was a happy accident. Moore was also perplexed at how his quarterback knew the tailback would be there.
“I asked him once we got to the sideline,” Moore said. “I was like, ‘Are you doing that on purpose? Were you, like, setting the defense up?’ He was like, ‘Yeah.’ I was like, ‘I felt like you were.’ He’s Mr. Magic Man.”
Lock was announced as the team’s backup quarterback Monday, and the Lee’s Summit grad turned heads with his performance in fall camp.
Pinkel said he told Lock before the game he would get to play the first series of the second quarter.
“I thought he executed well,” Pinkel said. “He needs tons of work. As long as he practices well and produces when he goes in then we’ll continue to do that.”
Lock played three drives in all, completing 6-of-10 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s finally good to be on the field,” Lock said in his first media availibility at Missouri. “I’m sick and tired of sitting in the stands for those four or five years that Missouri recruited me, and to finally be on the field, it means a lot to me. Obviously it was a fun day.”
Lock completed his first four passes for 51 yards on his inaugural drive, which ended up in a field goal after an incompletion and a sack.
The drive was one of the few bright spots for Missouri’s offense after Brown’s first-quarter touchdown. The Tigers went three-and-out the possession before Lock took the field and on the two possessions afterward. Missouri scored a field goal on a 10-play, 76-yard drive to open the second half, but punted twice more on three-and-outs before Hunt’s touchdown.
Missouri held a 191-20 advantage in yardage to start the game, but SEMO responded to outgain the Tigers 107-8 up until Lock’s second drive.
A 16-play, 76-yard drive led to the Redhawks’ only score of the day, a 35-yard field goal by Ryan McCrum. No other drive went for more than 27 yards, and the Tigers held SEMO to 201 yards of total offense in defensive coordinator Barry Odom’s debut.
“Coach Odom is a great coach, and he always comes out every day with the mindset that we’re going to get better,” Brothers said. “He makes sure of that, whether we’re on the practice field or in the room. So kudos to him for making a great gameplan and great job for us to execute it.”
Brothers had a career day, recording 16 tackles — the fourth most by a player under Pinkel, according to the Missouri athletic department.
The Tigers finished with 417 total yards of offense.
Baggett hit a second field goal, a 23-yarder, in the third quarter.
Missouri (1-0) plays at 6 p.m. Saturday at Arkansas State.