COLUMBIA, Mo. — Since Missouri quarterback Drew Lock arrived in 2015, the Tigers have shown two different identities: a team that blows out opponents and one that loses in all sorts of ways.
Missouri’s better side trounces nonconference opponents, while its lesser side folds at the sight of Southeastern Conference foes.
The Tigers are 3-17 in conference play since Lock took over behind center, yet the same team has averaged 48.8 points against nonconference teams over the past two seasons — including four performances of more than 60 points.
After a pair of blowouts against nonconference opponents Idaho and Connecticut this season, the Tigers will face four consecutive SEC teams to finish the year. Starting with Florida (3-4, 3-3) on Saturday, Missouri (3-5, 0-4) is looking to change its conference identity.
The Tigers showed improvement in their last two SEC games despite losing both on the road. Missouri came within a touchdown of Kentucky and scored 28 points on Georgia’s stifling defense.
“You hate to come off of a positive from a loss, but the things that we did to (Georgia) that others may not be able to do, I think that’s a positive,” Lock said.
The junior quarterback threw for 253 yards, four touchdowns and an interception against a Bulldogs defense that came in allowing just 10 points per game.
The one-game sample contrasted with Lock’s substantial struggles against SEC teams in his career. Before turning it on against Kentucky and Georgia, Lock had averaged just 186.5 yards passing and 15 touchdowns and 19 interceptions against conference opponents. He sees that trend changing with Missouri’s encouraging performances lately.
“My personal confidence has always stayed the same. I’ve always felt like I was the big dog, the best quarterback in this conference,” Lock said. “I think having more confidence in the people around me is what has changed.”
Lock’s supporting cast has helped him out recently. Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam has scored five touchdowns in the last two games, and receiver Emanuel Hall hauled in more than 100 yards against both Kentucky and Georgia.
Missouri’s combination of rushers has averaged more than 5 yards per carry in the last four games, despite being mostly shut down by the Bulldogs.
“When you look at the play of a quarterback when you’re able to run the football, and you’ve got 10 guys around that spot playing really well,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said, “the quarterback usually plays well.”
Each of Missouri’s four upcoming opponents — Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas — has struggled mightily this season. Arkansas just picked up its first win in four games against Mississippi last week. Florida has lost three games in a row and fired coach Jim McElwain on Sunday. Tennessee has dropped four in a row. And Vanderbilt is on a five-game losing streak.
“Last year, we won two late-November in-conference games,” Odom said. “The challenge of doing that and getting back on that side of it, this team is starting to figure out what it takes to prepare the right way throughout the week.”