Missouri won, and Drew Lock played well.
Those are the two biggest and most important takeaways from Saturday’s 24-10 victory against South Carolina at Memorial Stadium.
Tigers coach Gary Pinkel wasn’t prepared immediately after the game to announce his starting quarterback for the Florida game at 6:30 p.m. Saturday back on the Faurot Field turf, but Lock made a strong case to remain entrenched behind center.
Lock doesn’t deserve all the credit for the win, but he did a better job throwing receivers open than junior Maty Mauk, who was suspended Tuesday for an undisclosed violation of team rules, had during Missouri’s first four games.
The embarrassment of last week’s loss at Kentucky probably fueled the offensive line and defense to play better, but Lock’s accuracy — and the adjustment the Gamecocks’ defense made to respect it — certainly didn’t hurt the run game.
The Tigers totaled a season-high 163 yards on the ground, including a career-best 98 yards from sophomore Ish Witter.
“I’m very pleased with him,” Pinkel said. “He did a lot of good things. Running the football helped us a little bit, and maybe both of them working together. We blocked better and we ran the ball better. That’s why we all the sudden started playing better.”
Of course, Lock was part of that run game.
The running narrative about Missouri’s quarterback situation pigeon-holed Lock as a drop-back passer and pegged Mauk as the flamboyant scrambler, but the former showed that he has a few skills with his legs too.
Asked to describe his running style, Lock said, “Run when needed. If they call a play where I need to run, I’ll run. But if they don’t, then I’ll probably go with the call.”
Lock gained 9 yards on a QB draw to convert a fourth-and-3 on the Tigers’ first touchdown drive and helped ice the win on the game’s final drive with a 4-yard run on third-and-3.
“He’s a good athlete if you ever saw him play basketball,” Pinkel said. “Sometimes, I don’t think he’s running as fast as he can run, so I’m going to have to talk to him about that. I think he can run faster than that, so we’ve got to change some of his habits there.”
Lock’s mobility is just as valuable in the pocket, keeping plays alive as he did on the first touchdown pass to Brown, as it is escaping the pocket.
O-line steps up
Missouri’s offensive line regained some mojo against South Carolina and never was it more evident than on Witter’s 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
The Tigers lined up with six offensive linemen and three tight ends, bullying the Gamecocks and asserting their will at the goal line.
The play looked almost like a field-goal block with tight end Kendall Blanton off the line on the right edge and tight end Jason Reese off the line on the left edge.
Senior center Evan Boehm lined up in his customary position, but he was flanked by sophomore Alec Abeln at left guard with starting left tackle Connor McGovern shifting to right guard, where he played most of the last two seasons.
“I said, ‘Welcome back, man. I’ve missed you,’” Boehm said. “It was one of those cool situations that happened. It might be the only time it happens, but … I was glad to have him back.”
Right guard Mitch Hall kicked out to left tackle with reserve center Sam Bailey outside of him in a traditional tight end alignment.
Senior Taylor Chappell remained at right tackle with tight end Clayton Echard on his right shoulder.
South Carolina stood no chance, but the offensive line was dominant on several other drives, including the 12-play, 44-yard march that ran out the final 6:42 on the game clock.
“We still have a little ways to go, but, at the same time, I think we got better and we opened up some holes for some running backs, which was nice to see,” Boehm said. “We just got on our blocks and finished our blocks. … We’ve still got to get better this week, but … I think we did a great job as an offensive line.”
Tigers’ defense rebounds
Kentucky didn’t exactly shred Missouri’s defense, but the Wildcats did enough to leave the Tigers feeling miffed.
“Kentucky was embarrassing, honestly,” senior linebacker Kentrell Brothers said. “It left a really bad taste in our mouth and we couldn’t wait to get out here and play a better game. We made a lot of mistakes and we missed a lot of tackles. We’ve got a lot of stuff to fix, but it’s good to have a win after a loss like that.”
Sophomore defensive end Charles Harris talked about effort and enthusiasm after the Kentucky loss and the team responded during practice last week.
“We came back to work on Tuesday with our minds right,” senior safety Ian Simon said. “Everybody was hungry, wanting to do better than what we did the previous week, and I felt like we came to work.”
Missouri whiffed on a couple chances to snag interceptions in the first half.
Simon and cornerback Aarion Penton collided going after a Lorenzo Nunez floater in the end zone, knocking the ball away from one another.
Penton also tipped another Nunez floater that wound up getting deflected for a touchdown.
The Tigers did a better job in the third quarter, ending the Gamecocks’ first three drives by picking off Nunez.
“We settled down,” Simon said. “Nerves were running high. We’re out there trying to make plays instead of letting the plays come to us. We settled down, got our minds back right and everything just started happening for us.”
Senior cornerback Kenya Dennis did the honors followed by Simon and redshirt freshman defensive Walter Brady.
“We missed two in the first half, but we came out in the second half and even Walter got one,” Brothers said. “It must have been raining interceptions.”
Nothing else changed.
“It was catching the ball,” Scherer said. “We didn’t make any adjustments. (Defensive coordinator) coach (Barry) Odom came in the locker room at halftime all fired up, just telling us to keep doing what we’re doing.”