(Photo by Kayla Wolf/Columbia Missourian)
When news broke Tuesday that Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk and backup lineman Malik Cuellar would be suspended for Saturday’s game against South Carolina, it meant that highly touted freshman Drew Lock would take Mauk’s place as the starter.
Now we’re not going to speculate on what Mauk and Cuellar did to deserve the suspension, although we assume their suspensions are related to each other, but Missouri Tiger fans are going to get a glimpse of the future of the program, and that future may be now.
There’s a chance that if Lock plays well Saturday versus the Gamecocks, he may never relinquish the job to Mauk again. Mauk hasn’t exactly set the world on fire with his play with a 51.8 completion percentage with only six touchdowns to four interceptions. He has been particularly frustrating leading a pretty offensive Tiger offense thus far into the season.
Missouri ranks near the bottom of the FBS in total offense and really haven’t faced the meat of their schedule. Is it all Mauk’s fault? No, there has been little push from the offensive line on run plays, the running backs haven’t been able to break tackles, and the receivers haven’t been catching all balls thrown their way.
So how is this offense going to look better with a true freshman replacing a redshirt junior? For one, Lock is starting against the 13th ranked scoring defense in the SEC (26.3 points per game) and total defense (411.3 yards per game). In Lock’s small sample size of seven drives, the offense was more up-tempo, crisper, and was put in good positions to score.
According to Sam McDowell, a South Carolina staff writer for garnetandblackattack.com, the Gamecocks cornerbacks will play a little soft and try not to give up the big play. That should be music to Josh Henson and Lock’s ears as he’ll try to get a bunch of short completions early, to get some confidence and rhythm as well as open up the run game.
That run game should be gradually improving as Russell Hansbrough gets more and more healthy, as he hasn’t been the same since his first carry of the season against SEMO.
A healthy Hansbrough and an up-tempo offense in rhythm may make up for some of the offensive line run blocking shortcomings, but it will be stalled if the receivers can’t make catches. Drops have plagued this offense in the early going of the season.
It doesn’t help that the most reliable target, tight end Sean Culkin, is sitting out with a knee injury, but backup Jason Reese impressed in his absence last week with a few catches. Look for him to be a big part of the gameplan Saturday.
Bottom line, if the offense gives their defense any more slack than they should be more than okay for this game. The defense has been playing lights out, and that’ll more than likely continue for this game as South Carolina hasn’t faired much better on offense and they are starting a true freshman quarterback of their own in Lorenzo Nunez.
Nunez will make some mistakes, and it’s likely that Lock will make a few of his own. If Lock doesn’t try to force too much and checks down the ball when his big play target is covered, Missouri will be fine. A punt is better than an interception, and when Missouri is playing and winning the field position game, they usually come out on top.
There’s a lot of pressure on Lock, as many fans clamored for him to be on the field during Mauk’s struggles, and has officially pulled the hashtag #Mauktober from him and replaced it with #Locktober. It is his very first start against an SEC team, but his style with an emphasis on short, easy passes with give him great confidence.
I think that the offense will look a little better and that’ll make a world of difference to the amount of pressure the defense has on their shoulders. Offense looks better and the defense plays relaxed and looser leads to a 24-13 Missouri victory in Lock’s first start.