Missouri freshman quarterback Drew Lock will garner the attention and headlines as he prepares to make his first career start, but Tigers coach Gary Pinkel is more concerned about everybody else.
“First game for a starting quarterback, I’m more concerned about the people around him than I am about him — the offensive line playing well, receivers getting open and making some tough catches, trying to run the football better,” Pinkel said. “A combination of all those things, that’s what will help him quarterback better.”
Missouri announced Tuesday night that starting quarterback Maty Mauk had been suspended for at least one game along with backup left tackle Malik Cuellar for violating team rules.
Pinkel confirmed Wednesday during the weekly SEC football teleconference that Mauk’s suspension opened the door for Lock’s first career start, which will come at 11 a.m. Saturday against South Carolina.
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Through four games, Lock has played one second-quarter series in each game, and he also played in the fourth quarter against Southeast Missouri and Connecticut.
“First of all, I think he’s very excited about it,” Pinkel said. “He’s a very talented player. I’m very thankful that we’ve got him some of the work and that he’s had some experience. Obviously, I think that’s going to help him.”
Lock has completed 15 of 25 passes for 225 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He’s a more accurate passer than Mauk, especially on short and intermediate throws, but Lock isn’t viewed to be as much of a running threat.
“We run the same plays with Drew that we do with Maty …” Pinkel said. Lock “moves in the pocket well. I think he has pretty good instincts back there. He doesn’t have Maty’s foot speed, but not too many quarterbacks do. But again, he’s got to be who he is.”
Pinkel said no decision has been made about whether sophomore Eddie Printz or redshirt freshman Marvin Zanders would serve as the backup against the Gamecocks.
South Carolina will start its own true freshman, Lorenzo Nuñez, against Missouri.
“As coaches, you’ve just got to let them play and see what happens,” Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said. “... Most teams don’t really change their offense all that much when they change quarterbacks. But the one they are going to play now is an excellent passer from the pocket. So, who knows, maybe he plays better than the guy before him. Time will only tell.”
Mauk’s struggles — he’s 57 of 110 passing, 51.8 percent, for 654 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions in four games — weren’t a factor in the decision to suspend him, Pinkel said.
“When we make those decisions, we don’t look at circumstances — who the player is, what type of game it is, what have you,” he said. “We just do what I always say is the right thing to do, and it’s consistent with how we handle disciplinary issues.”
Pinkel said Missouri probably would have defeated Syracuse in 2012 if he hadn’t suspended Sheldon Richardson “for an academic issue.”
“But what we do, and I think our players have great respect for it, I protect the integrity of the program,” Pinkel said. “We’re going to be who we are and we’re going to do the right thing. We’re not going to manipulate things. … We have rules we abide by, and everybody lives by the same rules.”
Pinkel said no decision will be made about Mauk’s future with the program or status as the starting quarterback until after the South Carolina game. His father, Mike, underwent surgery for treatment of colorectal cancer Monday.
“Anytime we have a suspension, we assess the position of the player coming back on Sundays after it,” Pinkel said. “That’s happened with any suspension I’ve ever had in the 25 years I’ve been a head coach. We’ll do that the same way.”
Certainly, that leaves the door open for Lock to remain the starter beyond this week.
“It’s a great opportunity, and I think he’ll do well,” Pinkel said. “... He’ll make some mistakes, but he’ll still get out there and compete.”
Pinkel doesn’t want Lock getting too wrapped in the circumstances, the opponent and the setting for his first start.
“To me, it’s, ‘Go out and have fun.’ That sounds really easy to everybody listening, but ultimately that’s what you want him to do,” Pinkel said. “The good news is he’s had experiences, and I think those will really be helpful. Again, I am more concerned about the people around him than I am about Drew Lock.”