COLUMBIA — The boy with the golden arm spun around and threw a fist pump to the sky. Drew Lock had thrown a touchdown on Missouri’s second drive of the game, rolling to his right after a fake handoff and scanning back across the field in time to find a wide-open Nate Brown.
Missouri’s offense drove 51 yards in 11 plays on Lock’s arm and a rushing attack that made fans wonder what on Earth had gotten into the Tigers’ offensive line. Tailback Russell Hansbrough, finally near full health after being hampered by an ankle sprain for nearly a month, plunged the Tiger offense to the two yard line.
And after Lock, starting in place of suspended starter Maty Mauk, faked the run and sprinted right on the next play, a clearing opened up for Brown. Lock flung the ball toward him, turned to the Missouri bench and let out a mighty scream and that big fist pump.
“That’s a touchdown,” Lock said when he let it go. The Missouri bench exploded to greet him. Fans yelled, “Locktober,” in reference to the chant they hollered at Mauk when he first took the field for the Tigers.
“I let it all out,” Lock said.
The Tigers (4-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference), took an early lead they wouldn’t give up in a 24-10 win over South Carolina, perhaps Missouri’s most complete victory of the year.
“I think we’ve become a lot better football team,” coach Gary Pinkel said.
The quarterback looked calm. The offensive line looked solid. Running backs finally found open lanes. The defense was again dominant; in one third-quarter stretch, three Gamecock series ended in interceptions. Even the punt team returned a kick for a score, but a penalty negated the run.
After a month of iffy wins and an embarrassing loss a week ago at Kentucky, Missouri finally clicked, players said.
“We felt confident,” said senior center Evan Boehm. “I feel like we looked confident, too.”
After Lock’s first touchdown, Boehm slapped five with the quarterback and then lifted him up in the air. On Lock’s second scoring strike, another laser to Brown in the second quarter, Boehm — the only other member of the Tigers offense to start as a true freshman — stood up the South Carolina (2-3, 0-3 SEC) pass rush on an inside blitz.
When Lock took a sack at Missouri’s one-yard line in the first quarter, Boehm and the rest of the offensive line calmed him down by joking that the hit he took was a form of freshman hazing. (“If that’s what they had to do, that’s what they had to do,” Lock said.) Through the week, Boehm was one of Lock’s biggest resources, someone to go to with playbook questions or even how to handle a first-ever start in a game that had significant conference implications for the loser.
After the game, the two walked toward the locker room — and the throng of fans screaming for “Drew” — together. At halftime, Lock stood by the locker room doors shaking teammates’ hands, something Boehm has done in the past.
“There’s quarterback fundamentals and there’s quarterback mental fundamentals,” Pinkel said.
But that passing game and Lock’s hot start — he threw for 136 yards on 21 of 28 passing — were enabled by a rushing attack finally showing vital signs. The Tigers ran for 163 yards. Backup tailback Ish Witter had 98 of them, 44 more than his previous career-best, and scored a touchdown, the first from a Tiger running back all year.
“It was about time,” Boehm said.
Missouri held the ball for the game’s final 6:42 behind four runs from Witter for 27 yards and two more from Hansbrough. Even fourth-stringer Chase Abbington carried for nine yards.
“When the O-line opens up the holes, it’s not too hard,” Witter said.
“When everybody in the stadium knows you’re gonna run the ball and try to run the ball and get first downs and end this football game,” Boehm said, “there’s a lot of pressure on an offensive line. We did a great job.”
And after Hansbrough pushed through the South Carolina defense for a one-yard gain and a final first down, Lock, only 18 years old, soaked in his favorite moment of all: taking a knee to run out the clock. That last time he did that, he said, was months before his senior prom.
“Growing up, Steve Spurrier, South Carolina, the Gamecocks,” he said, talking about one of college football’s most well-known programs. “It’s kind of crazy to sit back and think, ‘Yeah, we beat those guys today,’ and I was the quarterback.”