As if the comments from Missouri coach Barry Odom and quarterback Drew Lock weren’t enough, Johnathon Johnson garnered the seal of approval from Jeremy Maclin.
Johnson, a redshirt freshman wide receiver who was sidelined last year after injuring an ankle in fall camp, returned a punt for a touchdown and took a bubble screen for an 87-yard score against Eastern Michigan on Saturday. That performance in his first game as a starter was applauded on Twitter by Maclin, the Chiefs receiver who earned All-America honors at Mizzou.
Still, Johnson was just one of the pass catchers who excelled in Missouri’s 61-21 victory. Five different receivers caught touchdown passes — junior tight end Jason Reese, sophomores Ray Wingo, Emanuel Hall and Kendall Blanton and Johnson. They were also the first TD catches of each of the players’ college careers.
“Offensively, guys stepped up, and it’s important,” Odom said after the game. “We did some really good things (at wide receiver) and it was exciting for me to see.”
Lock also was excited for the receivers. After throwing for 450 yards, third-most among Missouri quarterbacks in a single game, and five touchdowns, which tied a school record, he didn’t want to talk about his performance.
“I think the coolest thing today was throwing to those guys who had never caught the ball in the end zone,” said Lock, a sophomore from Lee’s Summit High. “It was super cool to see all those guys out there succeeding.”
Many questions were raised about the wide receivers in fall camp after an ankle injury sidelined Nate Brown. In a week-one loss at West Virginia, it was junior wide receiver J’Mon Moore, who was targeted 23 times and had 104 yards, as well as graduate transfer Chris Black, who had six catches for 102 yards, who garnered Mizzou’s production.
On Saturday, 10 players were targeted, five had more than three catches, the explosive plays came in bunches and two Tigers again finished with 100 yards receiving. Wingo had three catches for 125 yards and a touchdown and Johnson led Missouri with five catches for 115 yards.
Although Johnson caught a pass on Missouri’s first drive, his day really began with just seconds remaining on the clock in the first quarter.
Johnson muffed a punt but gathered the ball and took it 54 yards for a touchdown. Then, later in the second quarter, Johnson caught a bubble screen and showed how he ran a 10.57-second 100-meter dash at Melrose High School in Memphis, Tenn.
“It feels good,” Johnson said. “I just read my blockers, cut it inside, found a hole and just shot it … (Saturday) was important to try to see where I was at and try to get my feet wet.”
Odom spoke highly of Johnson when he first released a depth chart on Aug. 31, saying Johnson’s work had propelled him to the starting job. After Johnson’s performance Saturday, Odom was pleased.
“It’s exciting for him and exciting for our team,” Odom said. “We know we had the opportunity to get him the ball. He’s a guy that’s got tremendous quickness and good strength for his size. He can be a special one.”
Overall, Lock was proud of the receivers’ performances. From his first touchdown pass to Hall for 36 yards to the last, a 13-yarder to Blue Springs South alum Kendall Blanton that Lock called “pretty cool,” the receiving core excelled.
It was against Eastern Michigan, yes, but a welcoming performance nonetheless.
“All these guys want it super bad,” Lock said, “so it was cool to let them get in the flow of things.”
Alec Lewis: @alec_lewis