Column: Drew Lock gets first collegiate start

Lock went 21-28 for 136 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his first career start.
Missouri Tigers quarterback Drew Lock (3) makes a throw on Saturday, Oct. 3 against South Carolina.

Five months ago, Drew Lock wore a cap and gown and smiled for photos at his Lee’s Summit High School graduation. Saturday, he started at quarterback for the back-to-back Southeastern Conference East defending champions.

On national television. Against a Steve Spurrier-coached South Carolina team. With 66,751 people watching and the hopes of a third consecutive conference title on his shoulders.

Lock, the first true freshman quarterback to start for the Tigers since 1995, got his first career victory in his first career start. He threw 21-28 for 136 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-10 victory over South Carolina. He started in place of junior Maty Mauk, who was suspended last Tuesday.

The freshman quarterback completed 16 passes in just the first half, as many as Mauk’s game-high this year. In the opening half, Lock went 16-19 with 108 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Eighteen of Lock’s 21 completions went for less than 10 yards, as the Tigers slowly but steadily moved the ball down the field against the Gamecocks. On his first touchdown drive of the game, Lock was nimble on his feet for a nine-yard run on fourth down, then he found Nate Brown in the end zone for an eight-yard score just moments later.

Later in the half, he threw a perfectly placed bullet to Brown for a nine-yard touchdown.

After the clock struck zero, after he embraced his teammates and talked with fans, the freshman found his father in the stands. A year ago, he could never have imagined this. But here Lock stood, a victorious SEC quarterback at the ripe age of 18, able to beat a Steve Spurrier South Carolina team, but barely able to grow facial hair.

“You always think about playing (college football) and it finally comes,” Lock said. “Now I started and actually won a game. You can’t really put it into words.”

He’s a freshman. He’ll make mistakes. Flailing back near his own goal line, Lock nearly took a safety in the first quarter. In the third quarter, a poorly thrown ball nearly got picked off within his own 20-yard line.

But in terms of decision-making, Lock impressed more than Mauk did in his first four starts. There were no “why-did-he-throw-that” passes outside the pocket. No “what-was-he-thinking?” bombs downfield.

Instead, the game plan was to throw consistent, short passes. Lock excelled, making smart throws and never trying to do too much.

His second half numbers (5-9, 28 yards) were less impressive, but he was able to move the offense down the field (important) and not turn the ball over (very important). Coach Gary Pinkel said they ran a more conservative, clock-bleeding offense in the second half.

On the ground, Mauk is clearly superior. He can escape the pocket about as well as any quarterback in the conference. However, once the redshirt junior leaves the pocket, he can be a liability in the throwing game.

Lock, while not the most aggressive runner, can do it when needed. He made a number of short, necessary, runs to pick up first downs, none more crucial than a third-and-short on the final drive to keep the clock moving.

The week prior to the biggest start of his football career, Lock only went to Chipotle twice.

Usually the true freshman quarterback out of Lee’s Summit High School goes three to four times each week, but knowing the publicity he’d be getting, he thought maybe he should take a break from the limelight.

He also deleted his Twitter account. But in his Introduction to Leisure Studies class, he couldn’t avoid the attention.

“One class actually clapped for me,” Lock said with a boyish smile. “Hats off to Dr. Vaught for throwing me out there.”

It’s hard to avoid that attention when it’s a historic event. Saturday marked the first time in SEC history that two true freshman quarterbacks started. It was also Pinkel’s first run at it.

“That was the first time in my 39 years as a coach that I started a true freshman (at quarterback),” Pinkel said after the game.

Pinkel said he wouldn’t evaluate personnel immediately following a game, but some point in the next few days, the coach will have to make a huge decision.

It’s been a tough week for Mauk with his father’s surgery and suspension, but Pinkel has to make the decision that will fare best for his program. There’s no question the true freshman is the future of Missouri football, so why put off the inevitable?

Let the Drew Lock era begin.

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