University of Missouri

Mizzou’s Drew Lock looks to step up against SEC competition

Even with a bye last week, Missouri sophomore quarterback Drew Lock leads the Southeastern Conference with 1,675 passing yards.

His 14 touchdowns are second in the conference behind Arkansas’ Austin Allen (15), and Lock’s touchdown-to-interception ratio trails only Alabama’s Jalen Hurts. Lock also ranks fourth in yards per attempt at 8.4 yards and boasts the SEC’s fifth-best quarterback rating at 146.7.

Of course, those numbers are buoyed substantially by dominating performances against Eastern Michigan and Delaware State, where Lock completed 50 of 75 passes for 852 yards with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Against Power Five competition — losses to West Virginia, Georgia and LSU — Lock has completed only 50 percent of his passes, while averaging 274.3 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions.

During a five-touchdown loss in the Tigers’ last game at LSU, Lock went 17 of 37 for 167 yards with no touchdowns and an interception, an indication he’s still a work in progress against elite competition. He’ll face that again Saturday when he makes his 14th career start at Florida.

“The (passing) window is different, but there’s a lot of things that went wrong against LSU,” first-year Mizzou offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “It ain’t just Drew. We didn’t compete hard enough and didn’t win enough on the outside. The protection broke down at times. Now, the guy with the ball in his hands has got to be good enough to cover up for 10 other guys, too. That’s the role of a quarterback.”

So, how close is Lock to becoming a guy who can elevate the rest of the team?

“We’re going to find out on Saturday,” Heupel said. “You guys want to talk about the last one, but the great thing about sports is everybody outside of the guys that strap it on can talk about the last one. We are only as good as the next one, so that’s what we’re focused on.”

It’s clear that Lock has grown since his true freshman season, when he started the final eight games after Maty Mauk was suspended.

“He’s come a long way in understanding defenses, throwing the ball on time, getting his eyes in the right place (and) playing fundamentally sound,” Heupel said. “Is he a finished product? Absolutely not, but he’s 14 starts into his career. He’s fairly young yet. I want him to be perfect. He’s not that yet, but he’s going to continue to get there.”

Lock completed only 98 of 215 passes, 45.6 percent, for 910 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions in eight SEC games, including seven starts, last season.

While he struggled against LSU, it’s foolish to think he’s reverted to last year’s helpless form when the offense managed only 9.1 points per game in conference play.

“It’s a different feeling,” Lock said of the LSU loss. “It was more frustrating this time. Last year, it was kind of a defeat feeling, but it was more frustrating this time knowing that we could’ve done so much better.”

Gators coach Jim McElwain also sees tremendous progress from Lock and is leery of the Tigers’ big-play passing attack.

“I actually watched him in high school,” McElwain said. “When we first got here, he was obviously committed (to Mizzou), but he’s a guy that, man, he’s talented. He gets the ball out quick. He’s got a very accurate, strong arm. What I see from him this year is a great understanding of where he’s going with it. … This guy’s really a good player and has got a long career ahead of himself.”

Lock gives himself a “C” so far this season — “I wouldn’t put it below average, but I wouldn’t put it above average either” — but he used the bye week to dig deep into his performance at LSU from decision-making to mechanics.

Whereas last season, Mizzou, which has lost eight straight SEC games, had no solutions for getting the offense untracked, Lock is confident this year’s group has the ability to figure out and fix its deficiencies — he hopes starting at Florida.

“There’s definitely a little chip on our shoulder,” Lock said. “We know that we can do it. We just want to prove (it) and actually put it into action and get an SEC win. That would be big to us, especially down there in foreign territory.”

Tod Palmer: 816-234-4389, @todpalmer