Missouri coach Gary Pinkel sought out true freshman quarterback Drew Lock as both sidelines spilled onto Faurot Field in the immediate aftermath of the Tigers’ 24-10 win against South Carolina last Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Columbia.
When he found him, Pinkel put his left arm around Lock’s shoulders, pulled the Lee’s Summit graduate close and said, “You don’t even know how good you can be.”
Pinkel’s a pretty good authority on quarterbacks. His track record — working with Chris Chandler and Mark Brunell as an assistant coach at Washington and grooming Brad Smith, Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert during a 15-year tenure with the Tigers — is impressive.
Before Lock’s career is finished, he could move to the head of the class among Pinkel’s quarterback protégés.
“The upside’s tremendous,” Pinkel said of Lock. “He’s really smart, he’s competitive and he’s dying to be a great player, so I’m thrilled that he’s playing for us.”
Pinkel also understands that Lock, who completed 21 of 28 passes for 136 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Gamecocks in his first career start, has a lot to learn as the only true freshman he’s ever started in a coaching career that spans parts of five decades.
With junior Maty Mauk, who started the season’s first four games, suspended indefinitely, Pinkel and the Tigers have hitched their wagon to Lock. He’ll get the start again at 6:30 p.m. Saturday against Florida in MU’s homecoming game.
“The more he goes, he’ll learn,” Pinkel said. “Sometimes, he’ll learn from making mistakes. That’s OK. … We don’t want him to be scared out there. We don’t want him scared to make a mistake. He’s got to go out and have fun and compete. We’re really focusing on that with him, and I think he does a good job with that.”
Less than a year removed from carving up Kansas City’s Suburban Gold Conference as a senior at Lee’s Summit, Missouri isn’t asking Lock to take on too much as he gets his feet wet in the SEC.
“We don’t look at him to rally the troops right now or stand up,” Pinkel said. “He’ll naturally do those things. He’s a natural leader by the way he carries himself … (but) he doesn’t have to verbally do anything. His leadership, right now, as a true freshman is going to play the best you can. That would be leading by example.”
A few growing pains are inevitable.
“He had some times in the game Saturday he came back over and his head was in his hands” after a missed read or a missed throw, “but he was able to bounce back pretty quickly from that,” associate head coach/quarterbacks coach Andy Hill said.
Missouri isn’t expecting Lock to play at an All-America level right now.
Lock, who still wears a No. 12 Lee’s Summit basketball backpack to interviews and only arrived on campus in June, is still digesting parts of the playbook, but he already feels considered more comfortable as the Tigers’ starter in his second week in that role.
“It’s a cool feeling, saying that you’re the QB1 for at least one more week,” Lock said.
Missouri hasn’t changed its offense with Lock behind center, but Lock’s accuracy has changed the trajectory of the offense.
“More than anything, it just allows you to function, because the ball’s on target,” MU offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. “He’s putting the ball in good places, and the receivers are catching. I thought we caught the ball well Saturday and you’re continuing to move the chains. You’re not getting behind the chains. From that standpoint, it just helps the overall offense function.”