Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — Missouri freshman quarterback Drew Lock threw all of one pass in Missouri’s Week 2 win at Arkansas State, and it wasn’t a pretty one.
His second-quarter throw across the middle to Thomas Richard was too strong, resulting in a deflection and an interception. Lock didn’t get another snap in the tightly contested Missouri win.
Saturday, the Tigers once again were locked into a close non-conference game. This time, Lock got his second-half opportunity. His fourth-quarter drive against Connecticut didn’t end in points, but the fact Lock was on the field late in a three-point ballgame spoke volumes about the Missouri staff’s faith in its true freshman.
“I truly feel as if them putting me in there like that, they’re pretty confident in me,” Lock said. “And that means a lot to me to see that this early.”
Starting quarterback Maty Mauk said he wasn’t surprised to be on the sideline for the Tigers’ final real drive of the game.
“Obviously I want to be in there, but that’s something that’s scripted,” he said. “He’s going to get his time in there and get his series, and that’s not on me. That’s on the coaches.”
While Lock’s drive to begin a game’s second quarter is premeditated, his appearance in the fourth quarter took a bit more improvisation.
“We just get gut feelings and kind of do it where you’re at,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “That was it. There wasn’t much of a conversation between (quarterbacks coach Andy) Hill and myself.”
Lock said he was told a series in advance he would be coming back into the game. He said he was “maybe a tad” surprised at the decision.
“But I was confident in myself,” he said.
Lock was 3-of-6 on the drive, drawing a big pass interference penalty on a deep throw to Nate Brown before eventually turning the ball over on downs after three incompletions.
“That was a pretty stressful moment for me there,” Lock said.
In the second quarter, Lock completed three passes during a seven-play, 29-yard drive that was halted by an inefficient running game and ended in a missed field goal. It was Missouri’s only drive in the first half not to end in a punt or interception.
“He’s going to get in there and get his reps, and we want him to get in there and take the team down and score,” Mauk said of Lock. “That’s his job.”
Lock finished with a passer rating of 104, completing 6-of-9 passes for 40 yards. Mauk threw for 145 yards on 14-of-22 passing with an interception, good for a 109.9 rating.
Tailback Tyler Hunt never had a reception before this season. He’s currently Missouri’s second-leading receiver.
Hunt had one catch against Southeast Missouri State in the Tigers’ season opener and another Saturday against Connecticut. Between the two, he has racked up 129 yards.
The first was a 78-yard touchdown on a seemingly broken play during which Lock rolled to his left and found Hunt standing wide open on the opposite half of the field. Saturday’s 51-yard reception took a bit more work. Mauk dumped the pass off to Hunt, and the senior ran over one tackler before spinning and evading a handful of others to rack up 48 yards after the catch.
“That’s just instincts,” Hunt said. “I’ve been doing that since I was in third grade. I mean, in third grade, I played with the sixth graders. Backyard football, I was out there, a 10-year-old playing with the high-schoolers. So it’s just instinct, and I (attribute) that to the young guys when I grew up. Everybody that taught me how to play.”
It was longest offensive play in a 9-6 Missouri win devoid of much offense.
“That was just a great football play,” Pinkel said.
Without starter Russell Hansbrough, Missouri’s tailbacks struggled Saturday, running for 74 yards on 23 carries (3.2 average).
“Running backs have got to make plays,” Hunt said. “With Rus hurt today and (Marcus Murphy) gone after last year, we don’t have those guys creating plays like that. Younger guys and me, personally, we’ve got to step up and make plays as running backs. That’s what we’re missing. Third-and-short, we’ve got to make that. That’s on the running backs. That’s no one else.”
Hunt had one carry Saturday, going for two yards. He believes he should see more playing time following his two big plays.
“I feel like I deserve more time out there. (I’m) just trying to prove that,” he said. “I mean, I’ve put in a lot of work here. I’m one of the strongest and fastest guys on the team. So I want to prove that I can play at this level, and obviously I’ve shown that I can on these plays, so we’ll just see what happens next.”
Missouri fell from No. 22 to No. 25 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll released Monday.
The Tigers also fell in the coaches poll, going from No. 20 to No. 23.
Seven Southeastern Conference teams are ranked in the coaches poll and six in the AP poll. Mississippi is the highest-ranked SEC team in each, tied for third in the AP poll and ranked fifth in the coaches poll.