Near the end of a recent practice, as the Missouri football team splits into two and goes to opposite end zones of its indoor practice space, junior quarterback Drew Lock offers a glimpse of why he has become the nation’s leader in touchdown passes.
Lock, who is finishing one of the most prolific seasons in Southeastern Conference history, sprints toward an end zone. He has decided to race his offensive linemen. He looks back at them, and he raises his hands when he gets to the end zone. He points two fingers skyward, like a sprinter breaking tape at the finish line.
There are a few reasons Lock has thrown 43 touchdowns this season, leading one of the country’s most explosive offenses, but teammates and coaches say the most important one is also the simplest: He is loose and happy. This is his third season as a starter, and despite Mizzou’s 1-5 record before six straight victories, this is arguably the most stable one.
Lock is a constant “tinkerer,” according to his private quarterback coach Justin Hoover, and adjustments Lock has made have helped fuel this confidence. So has the emergence of new weapons on the Missouri offense, which have made Lock harder for defenses to stop.
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“People are putting the quarterback at the University of Missouri out there, rather than Florida, Texas,” Lock says. “Those are all very good quarterbacks, but you know what I’m saying.
“We fly under the radar here. For any of us to get our name out there on the national stage is awesome.”
Although he won’t decide on whether to declare for the NFL Draft until after Missouri’s bowl game, once he’s received his grade from the draft advisory board, Lock has become a dark horse candidate to go in the first round. If he comes back for his senior season, Lock — who has thrown for 3,695 yards and completed 58.2 percent of his passes — will be a Heisman Trophy contender.
He has effusive confidence now. Watch him right here, in this post-practice interview scrum, with about 10 reporters around him. Soon, he will tell them that he thought the newest Star Wars movie had too much humor in it — but first, football.
On Wednesday in Houston, Missouri will play the Texas Longhorns, a team that faced two of the other top quarterbacks in the country this season: Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. Lock says he doesn’t feel the need to compare himself.
OK, but does he think he has proven himself to be elite, the ultimate quarterback buzzword that means nothing and everything?
“I’m not out here saying I’m the most elite quarterback of all time,” he says. “I’m saying I made a lot of strides in my ability that got me to the point I’m at now, where people are actually talking.”
They are not just talking. They are praising. He was the quarterback for both the coaches’ and the Associated Press’ All-SEC first teams.
Did that surprise Lock? Did he figure a quarterback from Auburn or Alabama or another traditional power might receive the honor?
“We don’t want to get into a touchy subject about that,” he says at first, with a bit of a smirk. But then…
“I felt like I was the best quarterback in the conference,” Lock says. “I think that showed.”
Of all the big plays he has made this season, Lock is proudest of one that came in a loss.
With Mizzou down 34-27 early in the fourth quarter of its game at Kentucky, Lock faced third and 10 with four receivers out wide. He looked to his left, at J’Mon Moore. Then Lock moved his eyes toward the middle of the field and zipped the ball 30 yards to Jonathon Johnson in stride. Johnson ran untouched to the end zone.
Missouri’s up-tempo offense, a hybrid of spread and air raid concepts, has not always required Lock to survey the entire field, but this play did. A quarterback can’t really be “elite” unless he can do this, and Lock says he could not have made the play in past seasons.
“Probably not anywhere close,” he says. “Especially freshman year.”
Lock took over as the Tigers’ starting quarterback midway through his freshman year, after the team suspended and later dismissed Maty Mauk. Lock showed flashes of the strong arm and potential that made him an All-American in high school, but he completed just 49 percent of his passes. He threw twice as many interceptions (eight) as touchdowns (four).
The quarterback was always friendly, but teammates says he was also shy. One of his best friends on the team, offensive tackle Paul Adams, would drive Lock to an 8 a.m. class they shared that semester, and Lock would barely talk. Even as Lock became more comfortable around teammates, Adams says that didn’t change, because the season kept getting worse. Mizzou lost six of the eight games Lock started.
“He felt like he was over his head a little bit,” Lee’s Summit coach Eric Thomas says, “but he was up to the challenge.”
Lock spent much of his winter break after that freshman season at Boost Sports Performance, a complex in Lee’s Summit where he worked out with Hoover, his private quarterback coach.
During those workouts, Lock hooked his thumbs inside his shirt until he had to throw the ball. He had learned that the windows to fit a ball into closed faster at the college level, so he needed to improve his accuracy. Doing that required Lock to have his arms close to his torso until he released the ball.
“You think about an ice skater on an ice rink. Their arms and legs aren’t out wide til they want to slow down,” he says. “They’re intact.”
Hoover, who is also the offensive coordinator at Bishop Miege, wanted Lock’s front foot to be more forceful as the quarterback stomped, planted it and revved the ball toward a target. That would help with accuracy, too.
Lock says he threw “100 miles an hour every single time” as a freshman. Fixing this didn’t require specific drills, just changing a mindset. Hoover asked Lock, a former Division I basketball prospect, to think about shooting a basketball. Different shots require different arcs. Football passes do, too.
“We didn’t stop until it felt right,” Hoover says.
That helped Lock enter the spring with a renewed confidence in his skills as he entered his sophomore year under a new offensive coordinator, Josh Heupel.
Lock put up big numbers as a sophomore. He completed a throw of at least 50 yards in seven games. But the offense was more simplistic then, and the touchdowns weren’t as frequent. Ten of his 28 scoring throws that season came against Delaware State and Eastern Michigan.
Now the offense is more diverse than it was a season ago. That’s because of Emanuel Hall, who became a starter midway through the season and is No. 3 in the country yards per catch, and redshirt freshman tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who has scored 11 times on just 25 catches. Trent Dilfer, a former NFL quarterback who has known Lock since he attended the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback camp, says the increased role for the tight end has opened up the middle of the field.
Lock has thrown at least three touchdowns in each of Missouri’s past eight games, starting with that loss at Kentucky. Hall, the Tigers’ greatest deep threat, says Lock has gotten even better at putting just enough touch on his long passes, just the right amount of arc to hit receivers in stride.
“He has done everything in his power to maximize that offense,” Dilfer says.
Lock has done this without the transition of coming to college, which he dealt with in his first year as a starter, or learning a new offense, which he dealt with last season. He has fewer things to worry about, and he’s utilized that free headspace to become more of a vocal leader.
He is talking more in the quarterback meeting room. Since Heupel left to become the head coach at Central Florida, MU coach Barry Odom has had Lock serve as the primary quarterback coach. He still tells teammates to call him Drew, though.
“He knows what he wants to see,” his backup, Micah Wilson, says. “He knows what everything is supposed to look like.”
Lock is no longer the shaggy-haired kid who kept quiet in Adams’ car on the way to that 8 a.m. class. Now he loves to dance.
Look at a video Mizzou released before its game against Idaho. It’s intended purpose was to show of the vintage Block M helmets the Tigers were going to wear for homecoming, and near the end, Lock does the “Milly Rock,” a dance that rapper Playboi Carti helped popularize with his song “Magnolia.” Moore, Lock’s favorite target the past two seasons, says that’s the quarterback’s favorite dance move, and Mizzou hasn’t lost since that video came out.
“He found himself,” Moore says, “and saw another person.”