Mizzou faces competition spike against South Carolina
COLUMBIA, Mo. — When Missouri quarterback Drew Lock last played South Carolina at home, he looked far different from what he does now.
Lock made his first college start on Oct. 3, 2015, against the Gamecocks, completing 21 of 28 passes for 136 yards and a pair of touchdowns en route to Missouri’s 24-10 victory.
The Tigers’ then-freshman quarterback thrived on check-down passes and sported hair that flowed out from the back of his helmet, which Lock called a bad look.
Now, with a shorter trim and bigger arm, Lock can attack the whole field — something his potent Missouri (1-0) offense will need when it faces a steep competition spike against South Carolina (1-0) on Saturday.
Lock never eclipsed 250 yards passing in eight starts as a freshman. Last week in a 72-43 win over Missouri State, however, he set Missouri single-game records with 521 yards and seven touchdowns and earned Southeastern Conference Player of the Week honors.
“He’s just comfortable,” Tigers receiver J’Mon Moore said. “He knows that he’s a leader and people will follow him, so that’s allowed him to find his comfort zone as a quarterback.”
The Gamecocks boast their own rising star at quarterback in Jake Bentley.
The sophomore threw for 215 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on 17-of-29 passing last week in a 35-28 victory over North Carolina State. The opener marked just his seventh college start since taking over in the middle of last season.
Despite his inexperience, Bentley has quickly assumed a leadership role for the Gamecocks. South Carolina coach Will Muschamp believes that quarterbacks are inherent leaders, and Bentley has fulfilled that role thus far.
“Having a natural leader in that position is certainly a benefit for our purpose,” Muschamp said.
Bentley potentially has a chance to post big passing stats Saturday against a Missouri defense that allowed 353 passing yards to Missouri State last week. South Carolina’s defense faces a much tougher task, however, in stopping Lock and Missouri’s loaded offensive arsenal.
Some other things to watch as two of the SEC’s budding quarterbacks go toe-to-toe at Faurot Field:
MATCHUP NIGHTMARE: South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel was a one-man highlight reel last Saturday against North Carolina State. Samuel returned the game’s opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown and snagged a one-handed touchdown. The junior will face a Missouri secondary that allowed numerous big plays to an FCS opponent last week.
DANGEROUS DUO: Missouri showed its offensive depth at wide receiver last week. Moore and Jonathon Johnson each surpassed 100 receiving yards and had two touchdown catches. The two combined for 309 yards on nine receptions.
DOWDLE TIME: After facing NC State’s swarming run defense last week, South Carolina running back Rico Dowdle will have an opportunity to rebound against Missouri. The Wolfpack limited teams to 104.7 rushing yards per game in 2016, ranking fifth in the nation. The Tigers ranked 112th in that category last year after allowing 232.8 yards per game. Missouri State’s Calan Crowder tore up Missouri’s defense last week for 11.3 yards per carry and a pair of touchdowns.
LESSONS LEARNED: Last week, Missouri sophomore running back Damarea Crockett dove into the end zone with a defender on his heels at the end of what appeared to be a 75-yard touchdown run. He drew an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty that cost Missouri three or four points. (The Tigers wound up kicking a field goal.) While many were quick to criticize the official, Missouri coach Barry Odom wasn’t one of them. “I think the rule is what it is, and that’s what the officials called,” Odom said. “For us as a team, that’s a learning experience, a teachable moment.”
PROVE YOURSELF: Missouri’s offense will have a chance to validate its impressive offensive numbers against South Carolina’s defense Saturday. “We were pretty confident going into Missouri State,” Lock said. “I’m excited to get an SEC team this week and show that last week wasn’t necessarily a fluke.”