University of Missouri

Coaches expect improved Mizzou offense to take another step forward this season

In 2016, the first season under offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, the Missouri Tigers offense showed dramatic improvement after finishing last in the Southeastern Conference in yards gained a year earlier.

The Tigers finished first in total yards per game (500.5) in the Southeastern Conference, second in passing yards (295.4) and eighth in rushing yards (205.1) a year ago. Mizzou finished 13th in the country in total yards, 20th in the passing yards and 37th in rushing yards.

Yet Heupel and first-year head coach Barry Odom saw the Tigers finish the season 4-8 overall, including 2-6 in the SEC.

So after a record-setting, but ultimately disappointing season, how can the offense evolve in 2017?

“We are looking for our kids to become more consistent in the things we are asking them to do,” Heupel said Tuesday. “The jump that we made a year ago from the beginning of the season to the end of the season … to continue on that path and make that same jump this year.”

One of the reasons for excitement around Mizzou’s offense is junior quarterback Drew Lock. After a subpar freshman season, Lock showcased his prowess as a full-time starting quarterback in 2016.

“I am really excited about what he (Lock) has done,” Odom said. “The jump he made from year one to year two was tremendous and I really expect the same jump from year two to year three.

“He’s a great leader and he understands what it takes to play that position, which a lot of guys don’t.”

The sophomore threw 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while passing for 3,399 yards. He completed 54.6 percent of his passes and finished the season with a 133.3 quarterback rating.

“I expect a bigger jump in him as a player,” Heupel said. “If he has a great June and July, with all of the work he has put in during the offseason, he’ll put himself in a position to play at an extremely high level.

“But at quarterback, you have to have 10 other guys around you playing at a high level.”

Lock will have plenty of help in 2017, as Mizzou will have several key players from a year ago returning to the fold.

“The offense really picked up towards the end of last season and played really well down the stretch,” Odom said. “We’ve got 10 returning starters back on that side, but it’s our responsibility as coaches to make sure they play even better than they did last year.”

One of those returning players who will be counted on to make an impact is running back Damarea Crockett, who will look to build on an impressive freshman season. Crockett rushed for 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first year as a Tiger.

Additionally, Lock still has his favorite targets from 2016, senior J’Mon Moore and sophomore Dimetrios Mason. As a junior in 2016, Moore caught 62 passes for eight touchdowns and 1,012 yards.

In his freshman season, Mason finished with 587 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 47 receptions.

“If we can play together consistently, we will be right where we need to be,” Odom said.

The Tigers kick off their season on Sept. 2 when they host the Missouri State Bears.