The Missouri football playbook has its staple components, particularly in the spread offense, but it’s not a static set of documents. The book is tweaked weekly, perhaps even daily, based on the upcoming opponent. Plays are added. Others, subtracted.
That was the case against South Carolina over the weekend. The Tigers supplemented their playbook with a new passing option. But when they ran it for the first time Saturday, the Gamecocks countered with a unique defensive coverage call, bluffing quarterback Drew Lock into throwing a pass that resulted in an interception.
“They definitely got me on that one,” Lock said Tuesday, after watching a replay of the interception. “It was a different look than I expected. (They) gave me a lot of (clues) that said one thing — got the other.”
In a nutshell: Such is life in the Southeastern Conference. Or most of Power 5 football, for that matter.
Few know this better than Lock, who has made 17 career starts against SEC opponents and 18 against teams from the proverbial “Power 5” conferences.
In those 17 against SEC programs, Lock has completed only 49.5 percent of passes. He’s thrown 13 touchdowns and 18 interceptions and averaged 184.8 yards per game.
In nine dates with teams outside the conference, Lock’s completion percentage has jumped more than nine points. He’s thrown 22 touchdowns, just three interceptions and averaged 261.8 yards per contest.
In many ways, this is to be expected, right? The programs are bigger, faster, stronger and more talented in the SEC. There’s a reason they compete for national championships on an annual basis.
But it’s not just the talent disparity that has prompted such a statistical discrepancy.
It’s those unique coverage looks, too. Just take the latest example, South Carolina, which defeated Missouri 31-13 in the SEC opener.
“They ended up getting to basic coverages, but the way they got there was pretty different,” Lock said.
That’s why on Tuesday, as coach Barry Odom held his weekly news conference, he noted that Lock had arrived to practice early to study video. That’s certainly not an uncommon event.
Lock has proven many times over that he has the arm to make throws and can squeeze a football into a tight window. It’s the defensive schemes — work in the film room — that has the bulk of his concentration now.
“One, you’re playing a better opponent (in conference). Two, a year ago, he was a young quarterback (who) was maturing,” Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said, explaining the difference in Lock’s career numbers in conference. “I know he had some experience the year before, but when I got here in January, I don’t think he had an opportunity to improve from week to week because of his understanding of defenses and those types of things.
“I think he — and we — are close to playing at a high level in conference or out of conference.”
Missouri’s spread offense can be a natural counter to some of those defensive coverages. There is less time for a defense to trick an offense when the ball comes out of Lock’s hands quickly.
To be fair, Lock didn’t draw much help Saturday in the loss to South Carolina, his first opportunity against an SEC team in 2017. His receivers were credited with three drops, and it could’ve been more. Still, a week after record-setting numbers against a non-conference opponent in Missouri State, Lock dipped to a 14 of 32 outing against the Gamecocks.
“A quarterback, in part, is only as good as the 10 other guys around him. At the same time, the quarterback has to be good enough to make up for the 10 other guys,” Heupel said. “I know I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth right now, but that’s how it all comes together.
“I believe in (Lock). I believe he’s really close to playing the way he’s capable of and the way that we need him to play.”