COLUMBIA, MO. • Drew Lock might have expended more energy signing countless autographs at Faurot Field than he did during the actual Black and Gold game on Saturday.
By design, the public debut of Mizzou’s offense under new coordinator Derek Dooley didn’t reveal too many surprises and featured only a cameo from its biggest star, but Lock walked away from the spring finale knowing the Tigers’ season will be measured in the fall, not April.
“It’s fun. It’s a cool event,” Lock said on a chilly but sunny afternoon. “But it’s more of a production than something you look back and evaluate and say, ‘We’re going to be really good or really bad’ based on the spring game.”
With Dooley calling plays from the press box, third-year coach Barry Odom overseeing from the field and SEC Network broadcasting the 100-play scrimmage, the Tigers didn’t show off any exotic formations or alignments on either side of the ball. Dooley’s offense lined up almost exclusively with three wide receivers and a tight end on the field without a sniff of pre-snap shifts of motions. Defensively, the Tigers stayed in their standard 4-3 package and played basic coverages with little to no blitzing.
As always, the game plan will expand when the regular season kicks off in 140 days — against Tennessee-Martin on Sept. 1. For now, Odom insists he’s got a team that’s better than it was at any point during last year’s 7-6 season. Saturday provided some glimmers of evidence.
On a day the Black (offense) outscored the Gold (defense) 30-0, the Tigers opened with a couple sluggish possessions but finally found their footing with a 14-play, 88-yard touchdown drive. With the help of a couple drive-extending penalties by cornerback DeMarkus Acy — the team’s penalty leader in 2017 was hit for pass interference and holding on the series — Lock pushed the offense into the red zone.
Then Damarea Crockett, on his longest run of the day, rumbled 10 yards and dumped safety Cam Hilton to the turf with a stiff arm. Crockett, sidelined for the second half of 2017 because of a shoulder injury, came off the bench Saturday in a limited role and finished with 24 yards in six carries. Three plays later, Johnathon Johnson slipped loose from safety Joshuah Bledsoe at the line of scrimmage and snagged a 6-yard bullet from Lock in the end zone.
Lock’s day was done with that throw — he completed seven of 13 passes for 58 yards — but he’s seen enough the last six weeks to know he’s surrounded by a strong cast of playmakers. The Tigers were without starting wideout Emanuel Hall, who will undergo arthroscopic shoulder surgery on Monday and be sidelined for a couple months, but other skill players emerged.
Playing outside receiver for the No. 2 offense, Harry Ballard III zoomed past cornerback Tyrone Collins down the sideline and hauled in Jack Lowary’s 19-yard touchdown strike. Ballard, from McCluer North High, joined the Tigers at the semester break after two years at junior college. He wasn’t the only newcomer to visit the end zone. Dominic Gicinto, a speedy freshman from Raytown, Mo., ran a crossing route and snatched Taylor Powell’s 20-yard throw then outran the rest of the defense 45 yards for the touchdown.
Among receivers and tight ends, wideout J’Mon Moore is the only major contributor the Tigers have to replace from last year. Lock is convinced he’s got more firepower around him, including the backfield where Crockett and Larry Rountree III are the team’s new tandem.
“It’s freaky,” Lock said of MU’s offensive talent. “I know we talked a lot about J’Mon last year and Emanuel. But you saw a little bit of our backs today. Damarea ran really well. I know he was ready to get back on the field. He hasn’t seen a lot of game action since his injury. Larry has been an animal all spring. Our receivers, you throw anything at them and they’re going to make it happen for me, which makes it a lot easier. I think it’s going to be hard to scout us this year being able to go multiple tight end looks and pretty much everything in the book.”
There’s more talent on the way this summer, including the arrival of five freshman receivers, a freshman tight end, two freshman running backs and Oregon wide receiver Alex Ofodile, who plans to transfer after the spring semester.
After leading the Southeastern Conference in total offense each of the last two years, Mizzou had to replace the man at the controls of the unit — coordinator Josh Heupel left for the head-coaching job at Central Florida — but Dooley walked into a promising situation, if you ask his players.
“When the freshmen come this year, this will be the most experienced and most talented group we’ve had since I’ve been here,” senior wideout Richaud Floyd said. “To put that around Drew, we’ll have a really potent offense.”
Long before spring practices kicked off, Mizzou fans celebrated on Jan. 9 when Lock put the NFL on hold and decided to return . Only a sparse crowd witnessed Saturday’s dress rehearsal as the Tigers now head into the summer with depth concerns that underscore the urgency to develop more talent around Lock.
“If we want to be good on offense we’ve got to be able to run the ball and then all 11 positions they’ve got to make it easier for the quarterback,” Odom said. “We can’t just say, ‘Hey, Drew has got to go make every throw.’ That’s not realistic. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”