Drew Lock became Missouri’s starting quarterback the fifth week of his freshman season, and the junior had only won seven games since that time coming into this weekend. So he said he has faced far greater adversity than what happened on the first play of Mizzou’s game against Idaho.
The Tigers, wearing their old Block M helmets, opened the game in a Split T formation, with three men in the backfield. It was an homage to old-time football. But after Lock shifted two men out of the backfield and himself into the shotgun, Missouri’s struggles looked very current: Lock stared down receiver Johnathon Johnson and threw an interception. Missouri lost its Homecoming game a year ago, came into this game with its worst record since 1992, and now Idaho was about to take an early lead.
“Very pointed discussion between our offensive coordinator and him,” coach Barry Odom said of what happened afterward for Lock. “It would not be G-rated.”
The rest of the game, which ended with Missouri winning 68-21, was. Odom walked into his press conference and told reporters they didn’t have to be so quiet after a win, Missouri’s first since the season opener against Missouri State.
“Not how you draw it up,” Odom said of the game’s opening. “But I also looked around the sideline, and guys were fairly calm. … That’s been a work in progress probably forever for our team, being able to withstand something, especially that early.”
There were ugly moments in this game for the Tigers, who were only 14-point favorites against a program that’s headed to the FCS next season. J’Mon Moore fumbled on a play that got the Tigers into the red zone. Lock heaved what became a jump ball between an Idaho defender and Johnson, who came down with it for a 50-yard gain. Against any SEC team, the throw probably would have resulted in an interception, or at least a batted-down pass.
All of this happened in the first quarter. Mizzou also scored 34 points in the first quarter. It was the greatest scoring output in a single quarter in program history.
The Tigers scored 14 points in the first quarter against Georgia last week, but just three in the opening periods of its other four losses. If Missouri was playing a more formidable opponent, its mistakes might have produced an outcome that mirrored the Tigers’ first quarters against many of its FBS opponents.
Instead, this was a blowout. Missouri has scored 60.3 percent of its total points this season in its two wins. Of Missouri’s 10 scoring drives through the game’s first three quarters, only two required more than 2 minutes.
Lock, who redshirt freshman Micah Wilson replaced for the entire fourth quarter, completed 23 of 33 passes for 467 yards and six touchdowns. Most of those completions were to Moore, who caught 11 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown a week after making one reception for 8 yards against Georgia.
“It was big for him to get the ball back in his hands, come out and make some plays,” Lock said of Moore. “I was excited for him to get back on the positive. Maybe it rolls and snowballs for him.”
Emanuel Hall, who made three catches for 80 yards and one score, continued to be Missouri’s greatest deep threat. And redshirt freshman tight end Albert Okwuegbunam caught three touchdown passes after recording just five catches during Mizzou’s five-game losing streak.
“I didn’t see that coming,” Moore said.
With leading rusher Damarea Crockett out because of a shoulder injury, freshman Larry Roundtree ran 12 times for 97 yards, and Ish Witter scored two rushing touchdowns.
Roundtree said Crockett, who has averaged 80.2 yards per game in six games, had surgery on his shoulder Friday, and his absence could hinder Missouri in future games. But on Saturday every Mizzou skill position player seemed to have a chance at a big play.
Redshirt sophomore Richaud Floyd returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown, the Tigers’ first punt-return touchdown since Johnson’s against Eastern Michigan in September 2016. It was Floyd’s first collegiate touchdown, and he caught one later, too. Roundtree had a 53-yard run that included dropping his shoulder into one Vandal and stiff arming another.
“Larry always runs angry,” Lock said of Roundtree. “Larry runs really hard. And he’s not necessarily an angry guy. Very happy guy. Very upbeat all the time.”
After its four-play, 33-yard scoring drive that followed Lock’s interception on the game’s first snap, Idaho’s offense experienced success only once more before Mizzou played its backups. At least briefly, a Missouri secondary that has struggled all season did so against the Vandals. Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan — who completed 19 of 32 passes for 139 yards — led a 17-play, 75-yard drive in the second quarter that included four third-down pass completions.
That 8 minute, 43-second drive was an aberration for the Vandals, though. They had six three-and-outs, turned the ball over on downs twice and even fumbled a kick return to set up Missouri’s fifth touchdown of the game — with just more than 2 minutes left in the first quarter.
Odom said his defense added “a lot” to its third-down playbook and only used about a quarter of it Saturday. Junior Cam Hilton saw his most playing time in weeks and made one of Mizzou’s five sacks on a blitz. Missouri had just seven sacks in its last five games.
Odom, now 6-13 as Mizzou’s head coach, has to hope his team can avoid disappointment again next weekend, when it plays a road game against Connecticut.
Last weekend, Odom burned scouting reports, box scores and printouts of social media posts critical of Mizzou in a cooler in front of his players. The can of lighter fluid was still on his podium when he met with media Monday, and the message was clear: Odom wanted his players to forget about the first half of the season.
The cliché of treating the second-half schedule as a new season is tired. But Lock said the Tigers have bought into it, and they are off to an undefeated start. Of course, they began that last season, the one that went ablaze, 1-0, too.
Missouri was without sophomore kicker Tucker McCann. He was suspended for a violation of team rules. Nick Bartolotta, a senior transfer from Kansas, kicked in his place.
Odom said McCann will be the team’s kicker next weekend at Connecticut.
Bartolotta made two field goals and missed one extra-point attempt.