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Mizzou offense erupts in home opener

Mizzou offense erupts in home opener

E Michigan Missouri Football

Missouri's Emanuel Hall, left, scores a touchdown as he gets past Eastern Michigan's Ross Williams, right, during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

COLUMBIA, MO. • Drew Lock called his shot and almost delivered.

After a crummy practice Wednesday, the Missouri quarterback gathered his offensive teammates and made a bold promise.

“This is 100 percent a true story,” Lock recalled late Saturday night. “I said, ‘I’m going for this record this week. And it won’t just say ‘Drew Lock touchdown record, passing record.’ It’ll say ‘2016 Missouri Tigers.’ That was a big thing for me.”

The record in Lock’s vision was 480 passing yards, Mizzou’s single-game mark set by Jeff Handy in 1992.

Lock nearly lived up to his pledge.

On the night Missouri shelved its quarterback rotation, Lock tied a school record with five touchdown passes and threw for 450 yards in the Tigers’ 61-21 win over Eastern Michigan. In his first appearance on Faurot Field since last year’s forgettable loss to Tennessee, Lock completed 24 of 37 passes and connected with 10 different receivers.

Only one quarterback in team history has gotten closer to Handy’s record: Blaine Gabbert threw for 468 yards against Baylor in 2009. That means Lock threw for more yards than Mizzou career leader Chase Daniel ever managed in a game. Daniel and Maty Mauk are the only other quarterbacks in MU history to toss five touchdowns in a game. Daniel did it four times, while Mauk did it twice.

Lock’s prolific night helped the Tigers (1-1) overcome another shaky performance by the defense — Eastern Michigan had 428 yards of offense — and produced the program’s first career win under head coach Barry Odom, who received the game ball in the locker room, delivered by senior linebacker Michael Scherer.

Odom admitted after the game he had some emotions walking onto Faurot Field for the first time as his alma mater's head coach, especially after seeing some former teammates around the stadium, including running back Devin West and quarterback Kent Skornia. 

"It means a great deal to those guys and even before that," Odom said after becoming just the second Mizzou head coach since 1958 to win his home opener. "I feel the responsibility to do it right because there’s so many people who’ve worked so hard to put this program where it is. I feel the opportunity to do right by them. I feel an opportunity by the state of Missouri and obviously our great university."

Odom will go for No. 2 next Saturday against visiting Georgia (2-0).

As the Tigers piled up their most yards since the 2013 opener and their most points since the 2012 opener, five different receivers grabbed Lock’s touchdown passes. For each one, it was their first career visit to the end zone.

“The coolest thing to me was throwing to those guys who had never caught the ball in the end zone,” Lock said. “Seeing their faces after they catch a touchdown is probably the coolest thing.”

As the Tigers tried to shake free from last week’s disappointing day at West Virginia, Lock had some help from his friends in front of a crowd of 51,192, the smallest crowd for a home opener in 10 years. Those who stayed home missed slot receivers Johnathon Johnson and Ray Wingo (St. Louis U. High) give the Tigers the electric playmakers they lacked last season, combining for eight catches for 240 yards with a touchdown each. Johnson added a 54-yard punt return touchdown. Emanuel Hall hauled in a 36-yard strike from Lock on the game’s opening possession. With starting tight end Sean Culkin out with a foot injury, Lock tossed TDs to both of his backups.

Last week, Lock targeted outside receiver J’Mon Moore 23 times on his 51 passes. Saturday, he spread the ball around more evenly. Nobody was targeted more than seven times. Moore had just two catches for 20 yards, while Chris Black, coming off a 100-yard game at West Virginia, didn't catch a pass.

"J’Mon and Chris had 100 yards last week, but it’s a tribute to the playmakers we have on offense," Reese said. "Not too many people know about them, which is good for us, but they will in the future. There’s a lot of people on the field who can catch the ball."

“It’s important that offensively a lot of it be dictated by what looks we’re getting from the other side,” Odom said. “The 12 guys we’re playing at receiver and tight end, they’ve got to be ready because we’re going to be aggressive in how we play.”

With Lock carving through the Eagles defense, Missouri's coaches ditched plans to play quarterback Marvin Zanders until Lock's night was done with six minutes left in the fourth quarter. 

"I’m still excited about what Marvin brings and what he can do," Odom said. "Drew was playing really well at that point and (we) kept with the continuity."

The Tigers cleared some running lanes, too. Without running back Alex Ross, lost with an ankle injury, Ish Witter pitched in some tough running between the tackles. On fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter, freshman Damarea Crockett followed behind 355-pound defensive tackle-turned-fullback Josh Augusta and raced 26 yards for his first touchdown. Augusta mauled two defenders on the lead block, taking them out with one paw each.

Missouri’s defense, though, continued to raise concerns. Eastern Michigan, a team that came in 0-53 all-time against power conference opponents, had no trouble moving the ball for stretches. The Tigers had just one sack.

Mizzou linebacker Joey Burkett returned an interception one yard for a defensive touchdown in the game’s final minutes, but for a change, the Tigers had to rely on their offense to create and sustain momentum. MU lost star cornerback Aarion Penton (CBC) with a shoulder injury early in the second half, though Odom said he would have kept playing if the score were closer.

The Tigers took a 33-7 lead into halftime with Lock already off to a career night with 289 yards and three touchdowns. The Tigers were fortunate to overcome two missed extra points by two different kickers, though Tucker McCann (O’Fallon, Ill., High) settled into the duties in the second half and made his last five attempts. After TD passes of 36, 87 and 19 yards in the first half, Lock connected with Wingo for a 52-yard score in the third quarter, then a 13-yarder to tight end Kendall Blanton.

Some Mizzou tackling issues led to EMU’s first touchdown as backup running back Ian Eriksen, in for injured starter Shaq Vann, diced the Tigers for a 32-yard screen pass then punched in a 1-yard TD. Mizzou answered with three touchdown drives. Witter got four straight carries in the red zone, finishing with a 1-yard dive into the end zone. Johnson added an 87-yard touchdown catch and run on a bubble screen, followed by a 19-yard scoring pass to tight end Jason Reese.

It took Missouri’s offense less than two minutes Saturday to do what took almost four quarters last week: score a touchdown. Lock connected with Hall on the game’s seventh play from scrimmage, a strike down the Tigers’ sideline to the streaking sophomore. The Tigers needed only 1:31 to zip 75 yards for the night’s first touchdown. And that was just the start.

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