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Unless you spent a few Saturdays wearing black and gold in Columbia, MO, you may be surprised to find that the NCAA leader in passing touchdowns was Missouri’s Drew Lock.
The junior exploded in 2017 with 44 touchdowns and 9.5 yards per attempt to go along with 3,964 yards and only 13 interceptions.
After a rocky freshman season for Lock, Josh Heupel was brought in as offensive coordinator to revamp the Missouri offense. As a sophomore with Heupel, Lock put up more than respectable numbers: 23 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and 7.8 yards per attempt. But even after a promising season, it was hard for Lock to garner any national attention among the elite class of quarterbacks who lined up to play college football last fall.
All he did was find the end zone more than anyone else.
Let’s hope that Lock doesn’t suffer the same fate as Sam Darnold. On the heels of a superb 2016 season, the Southern Cal quarterback regressed statistically in 2017, as his completion percentage dropped almost four points and his 31-to-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio dipped to 26-to-13.
Lock will have to deal with the pressure of being a top quarterback going into his senior year, and, unlike Darnold, he’ll have to do it with a new offensive coordinator.
Gone to UCF are Heupel and his super spread, super deep shot attack. In comes Derek Dooley, fresh off his stint as receivers coach of the Dallas Cowboys for the past five years. Changes to the offense are inevitable.
Heupel brought a variation of the old Baylor offense to Missouri with startling success. The Tigers' offense ranked a lowly 120th in offensive S&P+ the year before Heupel arrived. With the new OC, Missouri jumped to 42nd overall and then to a whopping 14th this past season.
Heupel’s offense is based on wide splits by the receivers, a heavy dose of RPOs in the run game, and deep vertical routes to create explosive plays in the passing game.
The Tigers' base run game sets up everything they want to do on offense because their personnel dictates how teams can defend them. Mizzou was pretty much always in 11 personnel (a tailback plus a tight end/H-back). Instead of the classic zone read, Heupel often had the H-back block the formerly unblocked end. This puts the quarterback’s read on the linebacker, who’s seeing a run action but has a slant route coming for him.
Here it is against Vanderbilt:
This is a similar concept against Tennessee:
Lock also had the freedom to sling the ball out wide to his receivers on quick hitch routes when their cornerbacks were backed off. In a lot of cases, this was good for a remarkably easy 6 yards.
From the 11 personnel look, the passing game from Heupel features mostly half-field reads and, within that, mostly deep shot passes. Lock’s arm complemented these throws, as he could generally hit his receivers down the field in stride.
One of Heupel’s favorite plays is his outside choice route concept from a two-receiver split.
Really, there is only one place the ball is going: to the outside receiver. The inside player’s route is designed to keep the safety from cheating over. The outside receiver is either going to take off on a straight line vertical route if he feels he can beat the defensive back over top or hit the brakes and settle down on a curl/hook route if the defensive back is playing too high.
Heupel also found ways to get receivers wide open in the middle of the field off certain forms of deception. You could almost find one of these throws in every game for Mizzou last year.
When Lock had to throw to covered people in the middle of the field things were a little dicier. I detailed one of those throws on Twitter here:
But then Lock does this and you're like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ pic.twitter.com/XLdZiTK2km— Seth Galina (@SethGalina) April 22, 2018
It’s hard to believe that Dooley will keep the simplicity of the Heupel offense (that ship has probably sailed to Orlando, FL). A cursory glance of the Missouri spring game shows a lot more versatility in concepts.
Will the wide receiver splits return? Probably not.
Will Dooley call outside choice every play? Probably not.
However, if Lock can take the next step and become a more well-rounded passer who shows the ability to master Dooley’s NFL concepts, the sky is still the limit for a senior who has the potential to be one of the top quarterbacks taken in next year's draft.