Week three report card: Grading the MU offensive position groups against Purdue

Not even the ever-efficient Tiger offense was without minute vulnerabilities in a wild 40-37 win.
Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam celebrates after catching a 2-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter of Missouri's 40-37 win over Purdue on Sept. 15, 2018. Jared Fisch

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Missouri’s offense went through the ringer to overcome a memorably bad defensive outing and bring the Tigers a 40-37 win over Purdue Saturday night.

Here’s a comprehensive report card of each offensive position group.

Quarterback: B+

Drew Lock: 26-43, 375 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception, 152.1 QBR

Lock showed his hand — really, his humanity — late Saturday night when he made a crucial, fourth-quarter mistake in the red zone, a mistake that ideally was supposed to be staved off as deep into the season as possible: his first interception.

Panicking at the lack of open intended receivers, he rolled right and lobbed one up toward the right sideline. Purdue freshman Kenneth Major went up and came down with it at the 10-yard line. Missouri had been poised to regain a two-possession lead, but instead the Boilermakers marched the other way to tie it up.

“You have to let it go,” Lock said, brushing it off. “Who cares about it?”

But Lock’s near-fatal gaffe had been in the making throughout the evening. He put up inflated numbers again, namely another three touchdowns, but those watching closely may have noticed a few lapses in judgement that didn’t occur the first two weeks. Looking his receivers was especially problematic.

On a second-quarter red zone series, Lock’s eyes were on senior Emanuel Hall’s slant route all the way, so much so that his throw was easily broken up at the goal line, and was in danger of being picked. On a third down not longer after, he had Hall in mind again, but was pushed out left and had to adapt and throw across field to Nate Brown for an incompletion.

Lock's completion percentage saw a significant drop after two near-perfect outings to start the year, and telegraphing his receivers was a large part of that.

There will be no room for that against Georgia next week if Missouri wants to stick with the Bulldogs, but it would be unfair to ignore Lock’s Heisman moments Saturday as well.

Those included a perfect read and throw to Jalen Knox on a skinny post route in the first half. It turned a third down into a 59-yard touchdown. Lock also scrambled on a read option for another touchdown with his feet.

Most notably, he kicked the game-winning drive into gear with an escape that turned into the defining play of the night. He was chased outside the pocket on a second-and-10 that seemed bound for a sack, but, perhaps learning from his impatience on the pick, he scanned the field while scrambling and found Tyler Badie near the line of scrimmage to turn a broken play into 20 yards.

“Drew can do anything,” Badie said. “I’m confident that he can make miracles happen, and that’s what he did.”

Running backs: A-

Larry Rountree III: 23 carries, 168 yards, 7.3 yards per carry

Damarea Crockett: 6 carries, 17 yards

Tyler Badie: 12 carries, 61 yards

The wheels on Missouri’s emerging tailback went roun’ and roun’ Saturday night.

Larry Rountree III started the first series for the Tigers and kept racing from there. His first carry went 7 yards. His next went 18. That was already the longest of the season so far by a Missouri running back.

“I got caught,” Rountree said of that run. “I shouldn’t have got caught. But honestly, I did think that opened it up, because that puts the defense on the hills because we’re a quick offense.”

He broke his own record with a 32-yard scamper in the second quarter, then again in the third with one of the most important runs of the night. Purdue had kicked to tie it 27-27, capping a 17-0 run, and Missouri was faced with punting on a third-and-3. But Rountree maneuvered his way 52 yards down the right sideline on a pitch play to help set up a go-ahead touchdown.

As Rountree pointed out, Purdue playing a three-by-three set on occasion allowed the run game to open up and find holes more than it had been able to the past two weeks.

But oddly enough, it was his freshman counterpart who beared the load for the final possession. Badie had five touches on the game-winning drive, taking four carries for 26 yards and tallying another 20 yards on that catch-and-run reception from Lock.

“[Badie’s] smart; in the running back room, he’s writing notes,” Rountree said. “Tyler’s gonna be special for sure. He’s probably smarter than me as a freshman.”

Badie hasn’t even been slated among the two primary starters for Missouri so far, a role that’s been shared by Rountree and Damarea Crockett.

But Crockett’s evening was underwhelming, as he became overshadowed by Rountree early on then saw few chances the rest of the way. Missouri’s second series consisted of three Crockett carries up the gut for a total of 8 yards and a quick three-and-out. How much this week’s running results will impact who gets the most carries going forward is unclear, but Rountree made the best case to lead the way, and Badie may have even overtaken Crockett.

Receivers: B

Jalen Knox: 5 receptions, 7 targets, 110 yards, 1 touchdown

Emmanuel Hall: 4 receptions, 8 targets, 88 yards

Johnathon Johnson: 3 receptions, 5 targets, 49 yards, 1 touchdown

Nate Brown: 5 receptions, 8 targets, 48 yards

It wasn’t another night of Hall in the spotlight that made the Missouri receiving corps so effective this time around.

In fact, Hall missed most of the Tigers’ snaps with a groin injury that he said was lingering from the last week of practice. He played the first series and dropped a would-be touchdown pass. Given another chance, he made the catch for another would-be score but was pushed out of bounds before he could get a foot down.

“I tried to play in the first quarter, but it was hurting me too much,” Hall said. “But at the end of the day, it’s football. You’re gonna have injuries, and that’s why you have the younger guys.”

He had a redemptive 42-yard catch soon after on his favorite fade run, but indeed as he said, a younger name stole the show for most of the night while Hall sat.

That was Jalen Knox, a freshman whose highlight moment was the 59-yard touchdown catch on a third-and-7 in the first half. The throw was perfect, but so was the route and the catch. His connection looked reminiscent of Lock’s with Hall the last two weeks.

“When I came off on the line, I knew I had the little slant route that I ran,” Knox said of the touchdown. “I looked and saw the low safety. The corner was pressed, so I knew if I ran the route, I was gonna get a touchdown.”

That connection stayed on display as Lock at one point targeted Knox on the same route back-to-back plays, a simple turn-around that worked for 10 yards each time. Knox even showed off his agility with a sidestep to earn extra yards on one first down-gaining play. He was rewarded for his early success by being sent out for the final drive. Even though he wasn’t targeted on the series, Knox said it was an important experience to be a part of early in his collegiate career.

“It was fun,” Knox said. “This is the type of moment that you live for in college football. So much better than high school. It felt good just to be in that situation.”

Johnathon Johnson also sprinkled in some highlights, most notably an acrobatic 30-yard catch for a fourth-and-8 conversion. He was big on those crunch time plays; on an early third-and-9, he improvised a post to get open and receive a 21-yard touchdown from Lock, Missouri's first of the night.

But it was Hall who came out of hiding for Missouri’s final drive, taking in a critical 25-yard catch to move the Tigers into the red zone on his only target of the second half. He said he struggled to run due to the injury after making the catch, but it was worth it. Sitting on the bench through a back-and-forth game had been too difficult for Missouri’s leading receiver to bear.

“I actually approached [the coaches],” Hall said, “and was like: ‘I’m going in. It’s not even an option.’”

Tight ends: B-

Albert Okwuegbunam: 5 receptions, 7 targets, 36 yards, 1 touchdown

Not a ton to say here, except that the tight ends were utilized most for outside blocking this week, and they proved a helpful part of a dominant offensive line (more on that soon).

On the occasions that he was targeted as a receiver, Albert Okwuegbunam made the most of it, though. He ran a back corner fade and boxed out for a 2-yard touchdown grab from Lock in the first half, which is probably the kind of play and situation he’s best suited for. On one third-and-moderate, he pulled in a five-yard catch but was quickly wrapped up and kept short of a first down.

Speed and agility aren’t exactly what he’s out there for, at any rate.

Kendall Blanton was targeted just a couple of times, but he started working a consistent connection with Lock for moderate gains on the Tigers’ last drive of the first half.

Offensive line: A+

Allowed 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack

Darned near perfect.

The Boilermakers finally got a hand on Lock in the third quarter. They were whistled for roughing the passer on the play, and Lock had enough time to get off a good throw and complete the pass anyway.

That pretty much sums up the Missouri offensive line’s indelibly reliable performance on Saturday. It was the brightest spot in a lineup that received a wake-up call in many other areas. The line likely benefited from the let-them-play attitude employed by the referees all night, but if that’s the case, no problems with it. Case Cook recorded the team’s only holding penalty.

Even when Crockett stalled early on, the line wasn’t costing him any yards in the wrong direction. It paved the way for Badie on the final possession and gave Lock the time to find the freshman for a big play at the beginning of the drive.

That elite pass protection, especially on several third downs, is what stood out most. When Lock found Johnson for Missouri’s first touchdown, it was because he had eons to throw the ball in a crucial third-and-9 situation just outside the red zone. The time granted to Lock became the early difference between Missouri’s 10-7 lead and a 7-6 deficit.

And even though Lock’s cross-field heave to Nate Brown fell incomplete, he similarly had the extended time to scan for his backup option. On the fourth-and-8 that turned into a 30-yard pass, a late block saved Lock just in time for him to throw it.

Those are just a few of the examples. Not much needs to be said. Not enough can be said. In a game defined by its uglier aspects, the Missouri offensive line was beautiful.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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