The Maneater

"They bring that Big 12 mentality": SEC East opponents praise Lock, Missouri offense at league Media Days

Defenders from Arkansas, Georgia and Florida discussed last season's memories of Drew Lock and the Tigers’ fast-paced offense on day two in Atlanta.

Missouri quarterback Drew Lock walks onto the field for the Tigers game against Tennessee in Knoxville in 2016. Maneater File Photo

Arkansas first year coach Chad Morris may not think of his new northern neighbor as a legitimate nemesis, as he indicated Tuesday afternoon at the 2018 SEC Media Days after ‘Missouri’ failed to come to mind when asked about the Razorbacks’ biggest rival — but some of his players have been around long enough to develop a woeful respect for at least one facet of the Tigers’ game.

And a subsequent longing for something that currently resides in Columbia.

“We want that trophy back,” cracked safety Santos Ramirez at one point during day two of the preseason press pile-up in Atlanta.

The senior has one chance to get it back after Missouri protected its claim to the Battle Line Trophy last year in a 48-45 slugfest, the fourth installment between the two schools matched by the SEC as though by a mutual friend for a blind date.

So does fellow senior Dre Greenlaw, a linebacker who also grins but shakes his head when the 2017 scoreline is repeated to him. Like most of Missouri’s opponents in the second half of the season, Arkansas was stumped by the Tiger offense.

But when asked what he remembers from that Black Friday afternoon, one thing in particular comes to Greenlaw’s mind.

“Drew Lock,” Greenlaw said, “and just his accuracy. He can throw the ball. There’s a reason why people are looking at him as the No. 1 quarterback. If you’ve got a quarterback like that and he can sit back in the pocket all day and throw the ball, it’s going to be a long game.”

Missouri averaged over 51 points per game while winning its last six contests of the 2017 regular season. Its star quarterback (then a junior) and up-tempo offense caused all kinds of problems for SEC and nonconference foes alike. A few of those league opponents talked on Tuesday about what makes the Tigers so dangerous.

“They’re just an explosive offense,” Georgia defensive back J.R. Reed said. “That’s what they bring to the table. They bring that Big 12 mentality. They can throw the ball. They like throwing the ball. That’s just what I remember from that team; Drew Lock’s got a big arm.”

Georgia wasn’t even one of the six wins. But in the game Reed recalls, the Tigers kept things competitive on the road against the eventual national runners-up through the entire first half, using Lock’s deep balls to draw even at 21 well into the second quarter. The Dawgs drowned Missouri after the intermission en route a 53-28 final, but what they remember is a team furnished enough on offense to score four touchdowns against a prototypically hard-nosed SEC defense.

“I mean, that’s every year,” Georgia senior defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter said, turning down the notion that it was one breakout game. “Missouri’s a fast team. Our coaches were making us do RPOs (run-pass options) and do fast ball starts and resetting the ball, running another play in seven seconds. That’s a Missouri team right there.”

While there is some mystery as to how new offensive coordinator and ex-Tennessee dud Derek Dooley will conduct the tempo this season, playing to the strengths of the team’s greatest strength — Lock — will likely take precedent. That means at least semi-frequently operating a hurry-up offense.

“It’s going to be up to us in the secondary to win that game,” Reed said.

Florida’s David Reese II, a junior linebacker who led his team with 13 tackles against Missouri despite a 45-16 loss in Columbia last year, remembers how promising a start his Gator defense got off to before Lock and the Tigers began to unravel it.

“Our first series we had them three-and-out,” he recalled. “Our second series, we caught an interception.”

Then came those 45 points, a total that left Reese more disappointed with the Gators’ effort than wooed by how far Lock could throw a football. But in recalling his disdain, he even paused to take note of the Tigers’ offensive talent.

And the X-factors to that offense were the same, to everyone who was asked. Lock, then tempo.

One arm and a lot of legs.

“If you don’t get pressure on him it’s going to turn into that 7-on-7 game.” Ramirez said. “You don’t want that with Drew Lock, because he’s gonna air that ball out … They can turn it on any time, and they’ve got some good backs back there as well. They’ve got a lot of mischief to their offense that people don’t really know about. And they can open that up if you can’t stop the pass. You have to make it one-dimensional.”

And even then, Lock isn’t a bad option as the lone dimension. Ramirez learned the hard way in that 48-45 loss. Now Arkansas knows. So does everybody else.

“He commands his offense,” Ramirez said, “so I really respect him.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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