When Drew Lock took the field for his first offensive series as Missouri’s starting quarterback, he felt significant pressure. He was about to live out a dream, against an SEC team to boot, and it was a lot to handle.
“I definitely was spinning a little bit to say the least,” Lock recalls. “I had to take a couple deep breaths and realize what was actually happening in my life at that moment. I was getting ready to have the whole state on my back to get one of our first SEC wins of the year. I really wanted to get a first down and we did not. We went three-and-out.”
Lock joked that when he jogged back to the sideline, he actually had more confidence after the unsuccessful series than he did before the game because he thought “OK, I made it back off the field alive and I didn't mess up,” he said.
The Tigers wound up scoring on the next drive and eventually went on to win, beating South Carolina 24-10 in Lock’s starting debut on Oct. 3, 2015. But it was one of only a few bright spots in a season that turned the other direction as the Tigers won only one of their final seven games to finish the year 5-7 overall.
After consecutive seasons of SEC East championships and double-digit victories, failing to qualify for a bowl led to a lot of frustration for the Tigers.
“There was definitely a lot of that,” Lock said. “I knew I could have performed better and wanted to but there were a lot of pieces that didn't fall in place. I could have made a lot of different plays and played a lot better and that's the rough part about it: knowing that you can do so much better. At the end of the season you have to wait a long offseason and a long summer to prove that you can.”
Lock, who took the place of quarterback Maty Mauk following a suspension that lasted the remainder of the season and eventually led to his dismissal, certainly took his lumps as a true freshman starting at the game’s most important position. He wasn’t the only one that struggled, though. A crop of inexperienced receivers did also, as did the offensive line and running game. It all added up to the Tigers averaging a SEC-worst 9.13 points per game in conference play.
But there was a different feeling around the team as the Tigers began spring practice last week, Lock said. With a new head coach (Barry Odom) and several new assistant coaches, there is some excitement present for the Tigers, who are aching to get back to where they were two years ago.
“It's a way different vibe,” Lock said. “It's uptempo, it's almost hard to describe. You almost have to be here last year and now to really understand how it feels.”
Lock said he’s encouraged by the work he’s seen put in by the receiving corps this offseason.
“It's almost crazy the work ethic I've seen,” he said. “I think it was almost good for us to go through this last year. Coming off of two SEC East championships, you kind of feel like you're top dog, you're doing the right things on and off the field and whatnot. Now we come in here off 5-7 and you have to start from scratch again, bust your butt all the time. That's definitely what our wide receiver group is doing. J'Mon [Moore] and Chris [Black] are doing some crazy things. There are a lot of guys that we haven't mentioned or you haven’t heard about that are coming to make plays.”
New Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel also brings a different approach that Lock has been happy to learn from.
“[He] has a great resume and has been there before, played this position, Heisman runner-up,” Lock said. “It's just a whole different aspect of the game that I'm excited to keep learning.”
The tone set by Odom, the 39-year-old who is making his head-coaching debut, is also noticeable. Having him be the one to succeed Gary Pinkel was a positive in many players’ minds, according to Lock.
“I think for one, it gave us a familiar face, which is very exciting,” Lock said. “Also, the manner in which he carries himself. He preaches getting stuff done and getting it done the right way. Now we're really preaching toughness as well. ... I would definitely say there's a different mindset, a different energy to the place.
“I'm extremely excited. I think we felt that [last week] in spring practice No. 1. We're excited to get out here and change things up and drooling at the mouth to make this year better than the one we had last year.”