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Monday, October 16, 2017

Lock leads way, but Tigers fall at Kentucky

The junior quarterback had a banner day through the air but came up just short against the Wildcats.

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Maneater File Photo

Oct. 8, 2017

Junior quarterback Drew Lock threw for 355 yards and three touchdowns and senior running back Ish Witter ran for 139 yards, but the Missouri Tigers came up one play short, losing 40-34 to the Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington, Kentucky, on Saturday.

Missouri (1-4, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) had a chance to win with three seconds left in the game and the ball at Kentucky’s 28-yard line, but Lock was pressured and unable to get a throw off in the direction of any of his receivers. The Wildcats swatted the ball down to secure the victory, albeit controversially, as it appeared the Tigers would have had time for one more play if the referees hadn’t butchered clock management as time ran down.

The game was a back-and-forth affair throughout. Kentucky jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter thanks in part to its defense, which forced and recovered a Lock fumble when he was sacked on third down during Missouri’s first offensive series of the night. After Wildcats kicker Austin MacGinnis connected for the second of his three field goals on the night with 9:41 left in the second quarter to give his team a 13-0 lead, it appeared the game was already slipping away from Missouri. But Lock had something to say about that.

Lock had arguably his best game ever against an FBS opponent Saturday night. He recovered from his fumble on his team’s first series and consistently delivered passes that only his receivers could make plays on. Most importantly for his team, he got the deep ball working again, giving Missouri’s offense the quick-strike ability it had been missing since Week 1 against Missouri State.

The first of Lock’s excellent deep throws came midway through the second quarter. Looking to the left sideline, Lock found redshirt senior wide receiver J’Mon Moore streaking upfield and delivered a perfect strike to his primary receiver just before the Wildcats safety Darius West could make a play on the ball. The 50-yard touchdown pass gave Missouri new life, but it would not be Lock’s last of the half.

With 49 seconds left in the half and his team down two touchdowns, Lock delivered one of his best throws of the night. Standing poised in the pocket from around his own 42-yard line, Lock hit Emanuel Hall in stride along the right side of the field. The ball got to the junior wide receiver just before he reached the end zone, and the Tigers picked up their second touchdown of the night to enter halftime trailing 20-14.

Lock hooked up with Hall again in the third quarter to set up another score. Once again in one-on-one coverage, Hall came back to the ball, which was slightly underthrown by Lock, and spun his body around to catch the ball at Kentucky’s 1-yard line despite being interfered with by Wildcat corner Derrick Baity. Hall finished with 129 yards receiving, four receptions and a touchdown in his first start of the season.

Missouri also got significant production from its run game. Witter looked as good as he has all year, exploding through holes for big gains and consistently opening up room for Lock to throw the ball downfield. Sophomore running back Damarea Crockett also had a solid day, rushing 12 times for 74 yards, but his lone fumble of the night at the 11:13 mark in the third quarter came back to bite the Tigers.

In fact, turnovers were once again Missouri’s Achilles’ heel. Kentucky converted both Lock and Crockett’s fumbles into eventual touchdowns, and because Crockett’s fumble came immediately after Missouri forced Kentucky’s lone turnover of the night, the Tigers were unable to make up the difference in the points off turnovers category.

Special teams was also a weak point for Missouri, especially in the kicking game. Sophomore kicker Tucker McCann continued to struggle, missing a field goal attempt early in the second quarter from 38 yards and having a 45-yarder in the fourth quarter blocked after a poor snap and hold. Junior punter Corey Fatony was once again fantastic, though, punting twice for 102 yards and pinning Kentucky inside the 20 both times.

Next Saturday’s task doesn’t get any easier for the Tigers, as Missouri will travel to Athens, Georgia, to take on No. 5 Georgia at 6:30 p.m. C.T.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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