Missouri has scored 64 points in its past two games — 29 against Georgia and 35 against South Carolina. However, it felt like the Tigers left a ton of points on the table, which is made worse by the fact that they lost both games.
Also complicating things are the struggles of star QB Drew Lock, who hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since Week 3 at Purdue, and the absence of senior WR Emanuel Hall, who is dealing with a groin injury.
While the running game has been humming along — with Damarea Crockett, Larry Rountree III and freshman Tyler Badie leading the way — the passing game has plummeted. So, who is to blame for the Tigers’ struggles through the air? Is this a Lock problem, or should we look to first-year OC Derek Dooley?
The case against Dooley
Until arriving in Columbia, Dooley had never called plays at any point of his college or professional coaching career. That’s why the decision to hire him as the offensive coordinator this offseason raised eyebrows, and that’s why we need to take a long look at him now.
Dooley has kept the running game going strong, but the regression in the passing game without Hall is certainly concerning. Freshmen WRs Jalen Knox and Kam Scott have shown flashes of brilliance — does Dooley not trust one of them to try to stretch the field like Hall did?
Instead, the Mizzou offense now seems to feature the same sort of middle-depth routes, but without Hall taking the top off the defense to give those underneath patterns room to develop. Another problem is that the Tigers are finding themselves in third-and-long far too often. Against South Carolina, they faced that situation 7 times and converted exactly zero of them.
The Mizzou offense seems to lack rhythm, and that’s a sign of play-calling that doesn’t necessarily make sense. He’ll need to put together better game plans and get Lock going early in games moving forward.
The case against Lock
Lock has thrown 11 TD passes in 197 attempts, or 1 every 18 throws. Last season, when he set the SEC single-season record with 44 TD passes, his ratio was 1 every 9.5 throws.
Yes, Lock is missing his favorite target in Hall, but teams deal with key injuries every season. If the Philadelphia Eagles had just folded up shop when QB Carson Wentz went down last season, they never would have won the Super Bowl.
Without Hall, the Tigers’ offense is lacking the sort of deep threat that demands the attention of two defensive backs. That means Lock has less room to throw, but he’s also missing throws that he normally makes.
Though he still has the occasional rocket that shows why he is a likely first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, he’s also missing many receivers low or throwing it behind them. Against South Carolina, he also had two passes that should have been touchdowns — one to Albert Okwuegbunam and one to Johnathon Johnson — dropped. That’s one reason he ranks last among SEC starters in red-zone completion percentage (7-for-26, 26.9).
Lock needs to play better and show why some analysts think he should be the No. 1 pick. Great players make great plays, and we haven’t seen enough of that from Lock the past two games.
While both get their share of the blame, this seems to be more of an issue with Dooley at this point. Lock has nowhere to throw more often than not.
When he does have an open receiver, he’s missing them more often than we’re used to seeing, but Dooley needs to get Lock into the flow of the game better than he has been.
If there’s ever a good time to play Alabama, this weekend could be it. Trevon Diggs is out, so the Tide’s young and inconsistent secondary must replace another starter, making them even younger and less experienced.
Alabama’s secondary has playmakers — the Tide lead the SEC with 10 interceptions, including 4 returned for TDs — but they’ve also allowed 9 TD passes. That’s already one more than the Tide gave up all of last season.
Arkansas threw 3 against Alabama last week, the most the Tide have given up in a game since Deshaun Watson threw 3 to beat them in the 2016 National Championship Game.
If Missouri can give Lock time, there’s an opportunity to do some damage, but it’ll be important for Dooley and Lock to get in sync.