Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — The backup quarterback is every fan’s favorite player, and that has been especially true for this year’s Missouri football team.
With starter Maty Mauk struggling to a 51.8 completion percentage and four interceptions on six touchdowns, calls for true freshman Drew Lock have been growing ever louder.
Those calls were answered Tuesday — though not in a way many saw coming. Missouri announced Mauk would be suspended for the Tigers’ game Saturday against South Carolina with his status to be evaluated after the game.
Lock has played in seven drives so far this year, and has shown signs of the success he had in scrimmage play that helped catapult him to second string and convince Missouri to burn his redshirt season. The Lee’s Summit grad threw for 484 yards on 38-of-51 passing with four touchdowns and an interception in Missouri’s three scrimmages. So far this season he is 15-of-25 (60 percent) with 225 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Comparatively, Mauk has completed 57-of-110 passes this year for 654 yards. Though the sample size is small, Lock’s 9 yards per attempt sit well above Mauk’s 5.95, and Lock’s quarterback rating is 140.8 to Mauk’s 112.5.
Considered the top recruit from the state of Missouri in 2015, Lock has shown off his well-regarded accuracy on more than a few throws this season. He appears to be adept at looking through his reads as well, most notably on his 78-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Hunt against Southeast Missouri State. Lock scrambled left on the play and scanned back to his right to find a wide-open Hunt.
Lock hasn’t been flawless, however. He overthrew a few targets on his third drive against SEMO despite having easier options underneath. His one pass at Arkansas State was an interception on a bullet he fired a bit too fast off the hands of Thomas Richard. Lock played well enough to earn a second drive against Connecticut, but in his one drive at Kentucky, he underthrew a pass to Emanuel Hall that likely would have scored a key touchdown. Missouri went on to lose the game 21-13.
Earlier in that drive, however, he completed two tough throws, a 28-yarder to Wesley Leftwich and a 20-yarder to Nate Brown.
“They weren’t completely wide open,” Lock said Monday. “It was just like, ‘I’ve kind of got to zing it in there and make a throw.’ I think when they start to be a little wide open, I get a little shaky. It will be fine, I’ll work on that in practice this week, and we’ll make adjustments.”
Underthrows have been an issue for both Missouri quarterbacks, as coach Gary Pinkel noted Monday. Lock said the pass to Hall simply “came off (his) hand weird.”
The drive ended with Lock taking a sack for a loss of 15 yards, which knocked Missouri out of field-goal range. Lock, who is more reluctant than Mauk to abandon the pocket, said his coaches have told him to get rid of the ball quicker to avoid sacks.
“I came off my read a little too late, and right as I came off it, there was a guy in my face,” Lock said of the sack against Kentucky. “I didn’t feel comfortable throwing it away. I felt like if I was going to do anything, I probably should just take the sack, I don’t want to throw the pick in that situation.”
Missouri’s game plan for Lock thus far had been to give him a scheduled drive early in the second quarter and then decide based on a “gut feeling” whether to give him more playing time in the second half.
Lock should have no shortage of opportunities Saturday — something he said Monday he would be happy to have.
“I feel like, typically, anyone would be,” Lock said. “You’re going to be put in one drive, and you’re going to be like, ‘Gosh, I’ve got to make the best of it,’ and when I don’t, that’s when I get (angry). Like in the Arkansas State game whenever I threw the pick, I didn’t get put in the rest of the game, so when I get in there, I want to (make the most of) what they give me.”
Lock said it could also be difficult to establish a rhythm when he was playing so sporadically.
Whether he’ll be relegated to backup status after the game remains to be seen. Receiver J’Mon Moore said the Tigers are comfortable with whichever quarterback is behind center.
“Whoever coach (Andy) Hill or coach (Josh) Henson wants in at the time is going to get in and play and make plays,” he said.
Pinkel has historically avoided benching starting quarterbacks for reasons besides health, though with a year of eligibility left for Mauk, the quarterback controversy might not be going anywhere soon.
Regardless of what the future holds at the position, many fans Saturday will at least get what they asked for: a chance to see what Lock can do.