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Josh Heupel and the Missouri offensive line made Drew Lock’s job awfully easy against Florida

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And I’m really going to miss Ish Witter.

NCAA Football: Florida at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

1. Best. Bye week. Ever

We always like to talk about bye weeks as cure-alls. Just get to the bye week, get some rest, and turn your season around. At best, they’re typically worth an average of a point or two on your next performance, but at this point it’s hard to ignore that Missouri had just about the best bye of all time a few weeks ago.

  • First four games (pre-bye): 6.7 yards per play, 25.5 points per game
  • Last five games (post-bye): 7.0 yards per play, 45.4 points per game

If you take out the three cupcake games (Missouri State, Idaho, UConn), the pre and post differences become even more stark.

  • First three P5 games (pre-bye): 5.1 yards per play, 10.0 points per game
  • Last three P5 games (post-bye): 7.0 yards per play, 35.7 points per game

Damn.

I’m not going to say the difference has been all Drew Lock or anything, but his own production has improved at an even more rapid rate.

  • Drew Lock, first four games: 70-for-133 (53%), 1,115 yards, 10 TD, 6 INT, 138.8 passer rating
  • Drew Lock, last five games: 106-for-157 (68%), 1,680 yards, 21 TD, 2 INT, 199.0 passer rating

From a passer rating standpoint, he’s basically gone from being Purdue’s David Blough to OU’s Baker Mayfield.

2. Emanuel, revelation

Emanuel Hall’s own emergence has obviously aided in this transformation. He was banged up and/or behind Dimetrios Mason on the depth chart early in the year, and when Mason left and Hall got back to 100 percent ... kaboom.

  • Emanuel Hall, first four games: 5 catches, 104 yards
  • Emanuel Hall, last five games: 21 catches, 500 yards, 4 TD

This was basically like adding a 1,000-yard receiver to your depth chart during the bye. That’ll make a difference.

Lock has also barely been touched. Since the sack-and-strip that set up a Kentucky touchdown early in the game in Lexington, he’s been sacked just twice. His receivers are more frequently getting open, his line is protecting him, and the ball’s coming out of his hand quickly. Funny how that will make you pretty good.

3. The hosses asserted themselves

We’ve already talked about these players, and their recent improvement, a lot, but yesterday crystallized that this Missouri’s recent scoreboard surge wasn’t all because of the opponent.

Yes, this is the worst Florida defense in a while. But at the very least, Missouri showed it could play its game against a level of athlete far superior to what it had seen the last couple of weeks. The Gators still have a lot of play-makers. Those play-makers didn’t do much yesterday.

A lot of those play-makers reside up front, but I’d venture to say that Missouri’s offensive line had its best performance since, what, 2014 yesterday?

Not only did Lock not get sacked, but Florida produced a total of zero tackles for loss.

Let me rephrase: not a single Missouri play moved backwards on Saturday.

I don’t have a good way to search for how frequent that occurrence is, but ... it’s not frequent. Air Force entered Week 10 last in the country in TFLs but was still averaging more than three per game. This is college football—there are slip-ups in execution, and you move backwards occasionally. Missouri did not. That floors me. I just got tackled for a loss.

Mizzou’s run game allowed the Tigers to constantly move forward at least a little bit. In the end, Ish Witter and Larry Rountree III averaged about 5.2 yards per carry — most certainly good (and better than I expected), but not exactly Bryce Loveian or something — but the simple act of always moving forward at least a little bit set Missouri up for massive offensive success. It also meant Lock didn’t actually have to throw that much. Josh Heupel identified advantages and rode with them. Speaking of the offensive coordinator...

4. Josh Heupel just had his best day in Columbia

In theory, once you identify a couple of strengths or advantages, things your opponent absolutely has to account for, you should be able to get a step ahead in your play-calling. You know what your opponent is seeing, so you zag instead if zigging.

Heupel zagged like a champion yesterday. There’s no way Florida was prepared for a game plan that featured a lot of between-the-tackles running and a few Drew Lock keepers. And once it was proven that the run would work, Mizzou kept leaning on it until Florida did something about it. And eventually the Gators were too harried to mind the deep ball. Mizzou had Florida on a string.

We also saw Mizzou countering counters in the red zone. Confusing early interception aside — Lock’s only mistake of the day was his confident, assertive 20-yard strike to Florida’s C.J. Henderson in the end zone on the first drive — we saw Heupel playing a brilliant game of “You know that we want to go to Albert Okwuegbunam right now, but I know you know...”

Lock still targeted Albert O twice in red zone situations (one ball was poorly thrown and fell incomplete, and the other drew a pass interference), but the Tigers also unveiled some lovely wrinkles. The first touchdown came on a lovely catch by fellow tight end Kendall Blanton, one-on-one, in the corner of the end zone. The third touchdown was basically an Albert O route run by Witter out of the backfield. For obvious reasons, the Gators didn’t see that one coming.

This was Heupel’s most well-called game as Missouri offensive coordinator. Missouri is giving him some advantages to play with on the field, and he’s taking advantage of them.

5. I’m really going to miss Ish Witter

We’ve been passively condescending toward the senior running back for going on four years now. “I like Ish, but [compliment another running back who should obviously be getting Ish’s carries].” No matter how much we hear the coaches talk about his leadership, his blocking ability, etc., we basically respond with, “Yeah, and don’t get me wrong—I like him! But bench him for the rest of time.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a player max out his abilities like Witter has, especially over the last few games. With every carry he gets, he empties his bag of tricks to get every possible yard out of it.

Yes, this is in a way its own condescension — I’m basically saying he’s not as talented as other recent Mizzou running backs — but I really don’t want it to be seen as passive aggressive or anything. He isn’t as talented as other recent (and current) Mizzou running backs. But every single year, he has raised his production a good amount.

  • Witter in 2014: 27 carries, 101 yards (3.7)
  • Witter in 2015: 126 carries, 518 yards (4.1)
  • Witter in 2016: 162 carries, 750 yards (4.6)
  • Witter in 2017: 92 carries, 504 yards (5.5)

He was supposed to be a complement to Damarea Crockett this year, but Crockett’s been hurt. And even with Crockett healthy against Kentucky, Witter got a hot hand and finished with 17 carries for 139 yards. Since a nothing game against Georgia (in which Crockett got hurt), he’s carried 36 times for 197 yards (5.5) and three touchdowns. He was juking and bouncing and running as hard as he could all game yesterday, and while Rountree got the headlines for his three touchdowns, the staff still trusted Witter to carry two more times.

It’s really easy to get excited about a Crockett-Rountree backfield in 2018. I just perked up thinking about it right now. But I’m going to miss Witter; he is setting a standard with his effort and his all-out attempt to hit his own personal ceiling. If every future Mizzou back matches his effort, the Tigers are going to be in very good shape moving forward.

And in part because of Witter’s efforts, Missouri’s odds of getting Witter and other seniors to a bowl game are looking better and better. Kudos, Ish.