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With his numbers rising, Mizzou’s Lock faces crucial month

November 4, 2017 GMT

COLUMBIA, MO. • Missouri’s next month of games is the Tigers’ chance to reverse a gloomy 1-5 start … a chance for Barry Odom to preserve his job … and a chance for Drew Lock to further shed his reputation as a creation of favorable scheduling.

Lock starts his 29th college game Saturday against visiting Florida — more than past Mizzou QBs Blaine Gabbert (26) and Maty Mauk (22) and getting close to James Franklin (31) — but for a player with such a rich body of work, Lock’s career still seems far from comprehensive, rarely satisfying and mostly unfulfilled. The statistics paint the picture of a strong-armed scoring machine who sacrifices pinpoint accuracy for long-ball fireworks. By some measures the junior is on pace to catch Chase Daniel’s hallowed statistics. But even the shiniest numbers seem hollow alongside the losses left in their wake.

“Numbers will come with wins,” Lock said in July. “I need to win football games this year, and I will win football games this year. We will win football games this year. Losing can’t be accepted.”

But here the Tigers sit at 3-5 and 0-4 against the Southeastern Conference, with their victories coming against Missouri State, Idaho and Connecticut. On the surface, Lock’s numbers are stronger than any quarterback in the SEC. At any other position his statistics would thrust him into contention for first-team all-conference honors. At quarterback he’s defined by more.

Forget Locktober. November is the quarterback’s month to redirect his career’s narrative.

“The thing he’s done is become a much more mature player in the way he prepares,” said offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel, now in his second season coaching Lock. “Part of that is he’s got a basis of understanding, so he can do things on his own. He played as a true freshman (in 2015). I get that. He was extremely young and raw when I got here after that season. The light bulb is coming on for him. It’s coming on when it typically does for the young quarterbacks I’ve coached.”

• MIZZOU TALK: Sound off about the 2017 season

Mizzou still hasn’t beaten a Power Five opponent in five tries this season, and while Lock is coming off the best month of his career — 18 touchdowns, two interceptions, 195.9 passer rating, second-best in the country for October — there’s still a dichotomy in his output that will trail his career like an asterisk until he logs more meaningful wins.

Since the start of the 2016 season, when Lock became the centerpiece to Heupel’s offense, he’s played 14 games against Power 5 opponents — the Tigers are 2-12 in those games — and played six games against non-Power 5 and FCS opponents. MU has won five of those six games.

Against Power 5 teams the last two seasons, Lock has completed 52 percent of his throws, averaged 247.7 yards per game, mixed 21 touchdowns with 16 interceptions and posted an efficiency rating of 119.4.

• EYE ON THE TIGERS: Dave Matter’s Mizzou blog

Those numbers skyrocket in Lock’s six games against weaker competition: 66.8 completion percentage, 416.3 yards per game, 30 touchdowns and just one interception.

Lock delivered some of those gaudy stats the last two weeks against Idaho and UConn, but Heupel insists Lock has lifted his command of the offense regardless of the competition.

“I think he’s probably played his best football the last three or four weeks,” Heupel said “He’s comfortable and confident in what he’s doing. His decision-making has really been pretty sound.”

• SCHEDULE/RESULTS: 2017 Mizzou football

For the season, Lock ranks among the nation’s top 10 passers in yards per game (320.9, ninth), passer rating (167.8, eighth) and touchdown passes (28, tied for first). Daniel holds the Mizzou single-season record in each category — 309.6, 159.4 and 39, respectively — and all three are in jeopardy of being broken.

“Drew keeps pushing the envelope as the driving force offensively to continue to play at the level of his expectations,” Odom said. “He’s going to keep pushing. He’s got a lot left in him. The offense is rallying behind that.”

While the passing game’s failures were Mizzou’s undoing in several games last year, that’s rarely been the case this fall. With Lock throwing four touchdowns, the Tigers scored 28 points at Georgia last month. UGA’s other four SEC opponents combined to score 24 points against the Bulldogs.

Still, the Tigers lost the game, an outcome that supersedes flashy statistics for any quarterback. Mizzou is 9-19 in games Lock has started, 7-13 the last two seasons.

• STANDINGS: SEC football

And here comes Florida (3-4, 3-3), the opponent that’s troubled him more than any other. In two lopsided losses to the Gators, Lock has thrown four interceptions — three of them returned for defensive scores. In both games, Lock and his receivers struggled to connect against Florida’s aggressive coverages on the outside.

Lock doesn’t expect to carry any personal motivation into Saturday’s game.

“You might take a little extra, but that might lead to you overthinking things and bringing too much energy,” he said. “It’s like warming up for a basketball game and you’re too tired to make the first couple trips down the floor because you’re so pumped. I’ll keep a real level head going into this and attack them with our game plan.”

Another strong month could create some NFL buzz for the junior quarterback. College teams are allowed to submit NFL draft evaluations for five draft-eligible underclassmen. Lock will surely be among Mizzou’s five to seek feedback.

• PODCAST: Dave Matter in ‘Eye On The Tigers’

Asked about Lock’s NFL prospects this week, Heupel turned ashen.

“He’s got a lot of talent,” Heupel said, “but I worry about the day to day. And that’s it. There’s plenty of room for him to continue to improve.”

Starting Saturday against a familiar nemesis.