When somebody throws 44 touchdowns in a season, a lot happens.
His name is etched in the record books, he’s showered with praise, and his draft stock skyrockets.
Most importantly, expectations rise.
Missouri quarterback Drew Lock, who had the fourth-most passing yards in a single-season (3,964) in SEC history last year, has been shouldering the burden of heightened hopes this season, and his recent performance has reflected that. Two games have gone by without Lock throwing a touchdown – a stat that would’ve been unfathomable during his historic run last season.
Regardless, Alabama knows the talented senior will pose a difficult challenge Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“I don’t know how many quarterbacks are better than him in the country,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “But he’s got to be one of the best.”
Said UA safety Deionte Thomspon: “Drew Lock is hands down one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, if not the best.”
Lock picked up this season right where he left off, collecting yards by the bunches and racking up touchdowns. Through his first three games, all Missouri wins, Lock completed 69 percent of his passes for 11 scores and an average of 354 yards per game.
Things then changed.
In his last two outings, both losses, Lock’s completion percentage dropped to 48 and his average passing yards per game slipped to 213.
The answer is complicated as to what caused the sharp drop-off. Along with Missouri’s last two games being against stingy SEC defenses, Lock has been without the field-stretching services of the Tigers’ top wide receiver, Emanuel Hall. Add on a third-quarter monsoon in his last game against South Carolina and it’s not hard to imagine a statistical downturn.
Not all potential reasons behind Lock’s recent tribulations are negative. Missouri’s emerging rushing attack has led to the alleviation of some of the scoring pressure from Lock’s cannon of an arm.
“They’ve got a great offensive line, they can run the ball whenever they want,” Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams said. “They can run the ball; they can score it. I think they had four rushing touchdowns on Georgia.”
That they did.
While Missouri’s offense has struck a closer balance between running and throwing, Lock has still let more passes fly than any other quarterback in the conference. There’s no question the Tigers are going to air it out. The biggest question is will the Crimson Tide be able to stop it when they do.
Lock wasn’t the only one bearing expectations coming into the season. Alabama’s inexperienced defensive backs harbored their own, and have mostly surpassed them.
Against Arkansas last Saturday, however, the group was dealt a blow when starting cornerback Trevon Diggs sustained a broken foot. Transfer Saivion Smith is slated to start in his stead. Smith was in Alabama’s first-team secondary for the first few games of the season but was replaced by freshman Patrick Surtain II against Ole Miss in the season’s third week.
Defensive back play will be critical to Alabama’s success against Lock. Maintaining defensive communication may be even more important when facing Missouri’s quick offense.
“The way that (Lock) can get the ball out of his hands is very fast,” Thompson said. “The way they move, they average a play every six seconds after the ball is snapped.”
As a result of this breakneck speed, Missouri currently averages the third-most plays per game (87.8) of any college team, according to teamranking.com.
“It’s going to be a fast-paced game,” Thompson said. “We have to get lined down, get the call, communicate and be ready to play.”