On a noisy mid-October night last season in Athens, Drew Lock always seemed to have an answer. Neither the Georgia defense nor the 92,000 screaming fans could stop the talented Missouri quarterback.

Georgia would score, but then Lock would throw a touchdown pass. First, he answered to make it 7-7. And then 14-14 and then again at 21-21. The unbeaten Bulldogs, a few weeks from being ranked No. 1 in the country, couldn’t shake the talented QB.

Lock threw a fourth TD pass late, but by then, the rout was on. Georgia manhandled the Missouri defense all night in rolling up 696 yards, its most ever in an SEC game and the second-most in school history.

The Dawgs were lucky Drew Lock couldn’t play defense.

Georgia won that night, on Oct. 14, and Lock finished with 253 yards passing and those four scores. He was brilliant in the 53-28 loss where he defensive colleagues let him down. And since then, Missouri has won nine consecutive regular-season games. The team that everyone likes to forget about in the SEC East is suddenly scary again, looking for a big win once again to define a season.

Lock is back, ready to host the Bulldogs Saturday (Noon ET; TV: ESPN) in Columbia. He’s still there, and he’s still scary. So far this season, the Tigers are 3-0 and Lock is 78-for-113 passing for 1,062 yards, with 11 touchdown passes against just one interception. Only one Power 5 QB has thrown more TD passes this season.

The Bulldogs, now No. 2 in the latest AP poll, are ready for the challenge.

“It’s fun. I love it. That’s why people come to play at Georgia,” safety J.R. Reed said Monday. “That’s why I came here, is to play this good of competition. It’s great teams that can pass the ball, like Drew Lock, who might be a first-round pick, a first-round quarterback. That’s always fun. I love the challenge.”

It will be, without question, a challenge for the Bulldogs, especially on the road. Lock just might be the best quarterback in the country. Georgia coach Kirby Smart has nothing but respect for the senior who will be a sure-fire high pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

“I don’t know if his arm can get any stronger. He can make every throw. He threw the ball outside of the stadium last year on us,”  Smart said. “I think the biggest thing is his maturity level, his confidence. He’s seen the coverages. He’s seen the checks. He understands where he wants to go with the ball. He’s got as fast of release as I’ve ever seen. He can get the ball out so quick, and he does such a good job of keying your defenders and knowing where to go with the ball.

“You can tell they really work hard on it, and I think he’s just more mature. I think anytime you play in this conference and you go to the venues he’s gone to, to have three years under your belt or being in your third year, it makes it a lot more comforting. He throws the ball with purpose. And he puts them in the right play a lot, and he’s a really good athlete. The guy takes off running on his some zone reads, he keeps the ball and he exposes people. He runs for 20 and 30 when he takes off and does it. He just doesn’t do it very often. You can tell he’s a good athlete. So I got a lot of respect for him, and you can tell the way he runs and scrambles and throws the ball he’s a competitor.”

Lock has played well so far, and that 11-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio is the first sign of that. In wins against Tennessee-Martin, Wyoming and Purdue, the Tigers have scored at least 40 points in every game.  The offense is scary good, but that Missouri defense still leaves something to be desired. Georgia should be able to score at will, but the way Lock is playing, they might need to.

The Bulldogs, they remember. Point for point.

“Yeah, we’re focused 100 percent on Missouri because we know what they’ve done and we know how we felt during the game last year,” Smart said Monday. “There were some times they were really explosive on us, and we’ve got to go out and focus on playing these guys.”

Georgia is the prohibitive favorite to win the SEC East, but the most logical contenders so far are Missouri and South Carolina. The Dawgs beat Carolina 41-17 on the road two weeks ago, keeping veteran quarterback Jake Bentley in check.

And now comes another veteran QB, one with a better arm, better vision and a huge desire to have a big game on a national stage. Georgia, despite being 14-point favorites, should be concerned.

Very concerned.

Smart knows the challenge, and he refuses to look past the Tigers. He understands the daunting task at hand.

“As far as the rest of the SEC East or SEC, I can’t tell you. I’m not concerned with it,” he said. “I’m really focused on the challenges that Missouri presents, which is really big, physical players, an experienced quarterback, a tough place to play. All the combinations that you look for, they’ve got good players at each position.”