Missouri junior quarterback Drew Lock has always shown flashes of the potential that made him a big star at Lee’s Summit High School. But too often for Mizzou, Lock’s best statistical performances have come in wins against inferior, non-conference opponents or in blowout losses.
It would be premature to call his play Saturday in Missouri’s 40-34 loss to Kentucky a turning point for him. That won’t be clear until later this season — and Mizzou still lost.
But Lock’s performance — 22 of 42 for 355 yards, with three passing touchdowns and zero interceptions — was perhaps the best of his career against a legitimate opponent. And when combined with 213 rushing yards against a Kentucky team that had the No. 3 rushing defense in the country coming into this game, Mizzou’s offense could have built momentum.
At least that’s the hope for a team that has continued to come up short, even in its best performance. Missouri’s four touchdowns — all of which Lock was responsible for — are more than the Tigers scored in their last three games combined.
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“Gosh dang it, we’re close,” said Barry Odom, who now has a 5-12 career record as MU’s head coach.
There are moments from this game that will haunt Mizzou as it prepares to play No. 5 Georgia on the road next weekend, a game the Tigers will likely lose, only further depleting their chances at a bowl game.
Enough time ticked off the clock as referees set the ball at the Wildcats 28-yard line during Missouri’s final possession to cost the Tigers the chance at more than one opportunity to get the game-tying touchdown. Tucker McCann had a 38-yard field goal blocked. A Wildcat went unblocked off the edge during Mizzou’s first drive, and Lock fumbled, which eventually led to a Kentucky touchdown.
“It’s on me,” Lock said as he left the interview room while making eye contact with right tackle Paul Adams, who had the defender run by him and was preparing to answer a question about the play.
Lock also overthrew Emanuel Hall, who was wide open late in the third quarter after Missouri faked a reverse. A completion would have given Missouri a touchdown and the lead. The Tigers had to settle for a field goal.
“That hurt a little bit,” said Lock, who claimed to rush the throw with pressure coming.
Yet during this poor Mizzou season, the Tiger offense still looked its most competent against a quality opponent this season on Saturday.
Missouri utilized offensive lineman Alec Abeln and tight ends Kendall Blanton and Albert Okwuegbunam as fullbacks who sometimes motioned to the offensive line. That helped Ish Witter rush for a season-high 139 yards, and Missouri’s running helped Lock find holes in the defense for completions of 50, 58, 48 and 75 yards, the last of which went to Johnathon Johnson and tied the game at 34-34 with just under 14 minutes remaining.
“More big guys on the field, more holes you’re going to see,” Witter said.
Missouri’s first touchdown came when Lock lasered the ball to J’Mon Moore along the left sideline midway through the second quarter. Moore, a senior, had run past the Kentucky cornerback covering him, and a safety was too far away from the sideline.
The Tigers didn’t miss Dimetrios Mason, who was third on the team in receiving yards when Odom dismissed him from the program. Lock threw to Hall, Mason’s replacement, for a 58-yard touchdown that put Missouri within six points at the half. Hall caught a 48-yard pass on Mizzou’s third drive of the second half to set up a 1-yard Lock rushing touchdown a play later. It was the third running score of Lock’s career.
“Emanuel was who we know Emanuel is,” Lock said. “He can run by anyone that we need to. That’s an unreal vertical threat for us.”
Still, Mizzou exhibited many of the traits that have hindered this team this season.
The Tigers missed open-field tackles and allowed the Wildcats to run past them or cut back across the field. MU committed seven penalties for 55 yards. And next week, Mizzou plays a Georgia team that has held three SEC opponents to a combined 17 points this season.
“You can’t obviously like what happened today,” Lock said. “There’s a lot of stuff we can build on. One thing’s for sure: We’re not going to lie down.”