Quarteback Drew Lock didn’t speak with reporters Monday during Missouri’s usual football availability for the first time this season.
It was not his choice, and I suspect he’ll be available again after the Tigers’ homecoming game Saturday against Middle Tennessee at 3 p.m. on the SEC Network.
During the immediate aftermath of a 40-14 loss last weekend at Florida, Lock laid responsibility for the offense’s poor performance squarely at his own feet.
“They’re a good defense, but I was shooting us in the foot,” said Lock, who went 4 of 18 for 39 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. “It wasn’t us shooting us in the foot. I was shooting us in the foot.”
Teammates think that’s an overly harsh assessment.
“He’ll be fine,” freshman running back Damarea Crockett said. “He’s out trying to take ownership for some things, but it’s not Drew. It’s a team effort — win as a team, lose as a team. We believe in Drew, we have all the confidence in Drew and he’ll be back strong.”
Consistency remains the missing piece for Lock, who has completed 117 of 217 passes for 1,714 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions this season.
“There’s been times this season when he looks really special,” first-year MU coach Barry Odom said. “There’s been times that we’d like to have some throws back.”
That’s true of pretty much every quarterback every in the history of American football since the advent of the forward pass, but Odom also provided Lock a lifeline.
“There are some things Drew has done with a couple throws … it looks like a bad throw, but it’s a combination of 10 other guys being on the same page,” Odom said. “We’re working through the consistency of everybody playing as well as they can together.”
There’s still a feeling he’s the best option at the position based on talent and demonstrated ability. Lock’s played poorly the last two games, but he’s hardly the sole reason for the Tigers’ struggles — though his pick-sixes at Florida were the turning point.
“Drew’s going to continue to improve,” Odom said. “He’s got a very high ceiling on what I think he is going to continue to be and to grow into. Without a question, he’s not reached his ceiling. He’s still learning.”
Now, what’s on your mind this week, Mizzou fans?
Unfortunately, Drew Lock and Marvin Zanders aren’t old enough to run for President of the United States. Besides, there’s a good chance Jack Lowary would win the quarterback-room primary due to his charisma and the heft from his donor-base in California.
But, if I understand this exercise, let’s go at it this way: Lock is consummate statesman. He absolutely looks the part of a quarterback — tall, strong-armed, boyish/All-American grin. Lock should do milk commercials if he makes it to the NFL. His raw talent is undeniable. It made him one of the top QB prospects in the 2015 class nationally and he still ranks among the top 20 starting quarterbacks in the country who are a sophomore or younger.
There’s a lot to like and he’s got a solid track — not perfect and certainly a resume with a few blemishes too, but he’s also proved he can play at a high level. Lock needs to do it consistently, but the upside is staggering. The pieces in place around him, at best, need more experience and consistency as well and, perhaps, need to upgraded. But he has the best grasp of the offense, the issues faced week-to-week, and gives Mizzou the best chance to win. Lock represents the establishment, which draws the most criticism but is responsible for more positive things than it gets credit for compared to its shortcomings.
Zanders is the Bernie Sanders of the election. He brings a radical new idea to the offense, which isn’t working as effectively as it could. From an arm-talent standpoint, he’s not in the same class as Lock when it comes to strength and accuracy, but he brings an element to the run game that presents headaches for opposing defenses that are bound to resonate with segments of Mizzou’s (fan) base. There would be a substantial tax on the Tigers’ passing game if he was inserted full-time, but that might be offset if he invigorates the run game enough to bring balance.
Having said all that, Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel sees both Lock and Zanders every day at practice. He works with both on a daily basis in film study and understands the intricacies of the Tigers’ attack better than you, me and anyone else on the planet. It’s wise to defer to his judgment, and I’ll accept his decision about to deploy MU’s quarterbacks. I also might also scratch my head and wonder aloud sometimes when things don’t seem to make sense, but I don’t think the competition is rigged.
WITH TWITTER NOT working today in various parts of the country, here’s a bonus nugget from Mizzou men’s basketball coach Kim Anderson’s appearance at SEC hoops media days in Nashville earlier in the week:
There’s no denying that Anderson’s first two season with the Tigers — a 19-44 overall record, including back-to-back 3-15 campaigns in conference play — have been well below the program’s standard.
Nobody knows that better than Anderson, a former Big Eight player of the year at MU and long-time assistant under legendary coach Norm Stewart.
“Missouri’s historically been a very good basketball program and, obviously, the last couple years have been tough,” Anderson said. “When I took the position two years ago, we made the decision — not only as a coaching (staff), but as an administration — that we were going to build this program pretty much with younger guys, start with freshmen and build it up.”
In other words, growing pains were expected — though they’ve been far worse than anticipated — but there’s a hope and belief a corner soon will be turned back toward respectability.
“It’s not easy,” Anderson said. “I know fans get impatient. I get impatient. But I think it’s the best way to do it. We’re trying to build a program; we’re not just trying to build one team. That’s the route that we’ve chosen to go. The first two years have been hard, no question about it.”
The question is what’s a reasonable expectation this season for the Tigers, who were picked to finish last again in the Southeastern Conference in a preseason poll by national and regional media.
“Obviously, people want to win, and I understand that,” Anderson said. “Hopefully, we can make some significant progress this year. I’m not going to sit here and tell you, ‘Buy your Final Four tickets,’ but certainly I think this is a group that wants to get better, they want to work hard and — more importantly, most importantly — they want to be coached.”
At minimum, Mizzou should be 8-4 coming out of the nonconference schedule, which already would be a substantial improvement compared with 6-7 and 7-6 records the last two seasons entering SEC play.
Another three-win run in conference won’t be acceptable, but the SEC isn’t exactly a Murderer’s Row of elite teams this season. There’s Kentucky and then a collection of decent teams in Florida, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Arkansas and maybe Georgia, too. LSU has immense talent but still needs to prove it can put things together.
Beyond that … the Tigers, and I don’t think I’m completely crazy, could win six to eight conference games. Perhaps that’s optimistic and it would require a couple road wins, which would be unprecedented under Anderson.
Mizzou has lost 27 consecutive true road games — dating back to a 75-71 win on Jan. 28, 2014, at Arkansas during Frank Haith’s last season with the team — and are 0-21 on the road the last two seasons.
The Tigers have lost 28 straight away from Mizzou Arena against NCAA Division I competition since a 91-83 double-overtime win against Texas A&M in the 2014 SEC Tournament — a game during which Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson, Earnest Ross and Johnathan Williams combined for 73 points.
MU did knock off Chaminade in the eighth-place game of the Maui Invitational in November 2014 during Anderson’s first season, but are 1-27 away from home during the last two years overall.