The way Blaine Gabbert’s Missouri career ended did nothing to enhance or decrease his legacy as a Tiger quarterback. If anything, it crystallized the complicated relationship for all time.
On December 28, 2010, Missouri took on Iowa in Tempe's Insight Bowl, and against a stellar pass defense that included Micah Hyde and Tyler Sash, Gabbert went off. The junior from Ballwin completed 41 of 57 passes for 434 yards and led a brilliant charge back from an early deficit.
Mizzou trailed the underdog Hawkeyes 17-3 midway through the second quarter but finally began to get on track. Gabbert completed three straight passes to T.J. Moe for a combined 42 yards, then hit Jerrell Jackson for 26 and Brandon Gerau for 10 to set up a 10-yard Henry Josey TD run to make it 17-10.
It was 20-10 midway through the third quarter when Gabbert got rolling again. Three straight completions to Michael Egnew gained 45 yards, and Gabbert scored from seven yards out to make it 20-17. Less than four minutes later, Mizzou was on top. Kevin Rutland picked off a bomb and returned it to mifield, and after a couple of nice Kendial Lawrence runs, Gabbert and Egnew connected first for a defensive pass interference call and first down, then a three-yard touchdown. 24-20.
Iowa's Marcus Coker ended up the star of the game wiht 33 carries for 219 yards, but much of that success came early. After scoring 17 points in their first four drives, the Hawkeyes had managed just three points in their last five, and a Jarrell Harrison interception with 8:25 left in the game put the dagger in Gabbert's hand.
On what could have been his capstone drive, Gabbert found Moe for 11 and 12 yards, then completed short passes to Wes Kemp, Jackson, and Moe to give Mizzou a first down at the Iowa 29.
Everything was set up according to plan, but with under six minutes to go, Gabbert rolled left and fired, thinking he would hit Kemp releasing upfield for a big gain. Kemp didn't release upfield. Instead, Gabbert's pass was picked off by Hyde, who eventually weaved his way 72 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. On Mizzou's response drive, Moe caught a tough fourth-down pass in Iowa territory, but replay overturned the completion and said the ball had hit the ground. (Many of us disagreed.)
Iowa won, 27-24, and one of Gabbert's best games finished as his career did: with a sense of something missing. Mizzou had four drives stall out in Iowa territory, and two were the result of interceptions.
Mind you, Gabbert did just fine at Mizzou. He took the reins from Chase Daniel, the greatest QB in school history, and kept things moving forward. He battled a nasty ankle injury and weathered a losing streak to help Mizzou to 8-5 as a true sophomore in 2009, and despite the what-ifs, he was a big reason why the Tigers surged back to 10-3 in 2010.
Gabbert declared for the NFL Draft after the Insight Bowl. It was the right decision, of course. He was considered a top-10 prospect, and when you have the chance to make top-10 money, you take it. You can finish your degree later. Gabbert could have benefited significantly from another year of seasoning, another year of attempting to hone his pocket presence, but his right arm earned him a lot of money regardless. And seven years later, he is still in the league and still earning some starts here and there. There are worse lives, worse legacies.
“Legacy” is a complicated thing, a word we tend to save for quarterbacks. Sure, there are plenty of exceptions. Josey left a legacy. Current defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. could, too. Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander. Markus Golden. Spoon. Et cetera, et cetera.
Still, a majority of the time, we deploy the word while talking about the signal callers. “Legacy” is used almost universally as a positive when talking about any other position; QBs leave a legacy no matter what, good or bad.
A legacy doesn’t make you any money, and Drew Lock’s impending stay-or-go decision should and will be made to a large degree with dollars in mind. Lock is reportedly still weighing whether or not he should jump into the 2018 NFL Draft, and that’s not a call you make based on how fondly your college fan base will remember you.
Lock’s decision is a complicated one, as he revealed on Tuesday.
Watch: #Mizzou quarterback Drew Lock says he got his draft grade back, and he was told to stay for his senior season.— Andrew Kauffman (@AndrewABC17) December 26, 2017
"I'm actually still considering it due to things I have heard otherwise."
Web Extra : https://t.co/cwKMqCVQNt pic.twitter.com/5pmJofksyh
The NFL’s draft advisory board evidently told him he wasn’t a first- or second-round prospect, therefore basically advising him to return to school.
Some negative feedback Lock received with his draft grade concerned Mizzou’s style of offense and his room for progress on intermediate passes.
“We throw it deep most of the time,” he said. The negatives “were things I couldn’t necessarily put on film.”
Fair or unfair, it appears Lock has been given the “system quarterback” label. That’s fair in some ways — Missouri certainly ran a system that you don’t see much in the pros — and silly in others. Mizzou “throw(s) it deep most of the time” because Missouri is really good at throwing deep. Lock and primary targets Emanuel Hall and J’Mon Moore were dynamite, especially over the last half of 2017 when Hall emerged. Playing to your strengths shouldn’t be considered a drawback, right?
Still, Lock has proven in 2017 that his decision-making could still use further honing, and like Gabbert, his case for being drafted basically includes a) a cannon for a right arm and b) a relatively small sample of success.
Granted, his raw numbers drastically exceed Gabbert's. If you add together Gabbert's most indelible performances (Illinois, Nevada, Kansas State, and Iowa State in 2009, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Kansas State, and Iowa in 2010), you end up with a lovely 70 percent completion rate but only a 161.9 passer rating.
Even including Missouri's miserable start, Lock has produced a 169.4 rating for this year as a whole, but he still struggled quite a bit early in the year, just as he did against most defenses with a pulse in 2016. And even during Mizzou’s six-game winning streak, there have been plenty of all-or-nothing tendencies that might scare some scouts. In the first three games of the streak, against Idaho, UConn, and Florida, he completed a wonderful 77 percent of his passes, but in his last three his completion rate was back down to 51 percent.
Consistency in the efficiency department would help Lock’s stock quite a bit. But he seems to understand something that we sometimes forget: returning wouldn’t automatically improve things, especially with a new offensive coordinator hire on the horizon.
“That’s why I’m again waiting to make a decision, to see who we possibly could get for an offensive coordinator.
“What could I necessarily squeeze out of him? What could I learn from him, rather than jumping ahead, possibly missing the opportunity to learn from a great mind that may have been in the NFL, may have coached really good NFL quarterbacks?”
Jedd Fisch’s name seems to be rising to the top of the OC candidates pile, and it’s not hard to see why. For one thing, the 41-year old Florida grad helped to drastically improve UCLA’s offense this year in his first season out west. He further burnished quarterback Josh Rosen’s draft stock, as well.
For another reason, no matter what offense he actually runs, he has pro-style cred.
Jedd Fisch, the interim head coach at UCLA, visited one of Missouri’s bowl practices in Columbia. He is a candidate to replace Heupel.
Fisch runs a pro-style offense, and he was the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offensive coordinator from 2013-2014. He also worked with the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens.
That Fisch is considered to run “a pro-style offense” tells you something about how blurry that label really is. Watch these Rosen highlights against Stanford and look at the screen shots below.
Aside from the fact that a couple of these formations involve a tight end with his hand on the ground, there really isn’t all that much difference between UCLA’s alignment and what we got used to seeing from Missouri this year. Beyond that, from these formations Rosen averaged a healthy 13.3 yards per completion this year — not Lock-level explosive but certainly above average.
If Fisch were to come in and introduce some of the concepts that the NFL is looking for, all while maintaining similar formations and a high tempo — while Mizzou ranked fourth in my Adj. Pace measure this season, UCLA was still a healthy 24th, higher than the “pro-style” label would suggest) — then I’m guessing that would qualify as something important that Lock would “squeeze out of him.” It wouldn’t be a guaranteed success, but one could certainly see that arrangement working out pretty well.
At the moment, signs point to Fisch, and since Fisch’s stint as UCLA interim head coach ended on Tuesday night and Missouri’s season ends tonight, I’m guessing we probably won’t have to wait much longer to find out if Fisch is the guy.
On Tuesday, Lock told reporters, “We are a very good team right now. We’re not losing much. Those are all positive aspects that would then lead me to come back.” It really does sound like he’s just making sure the new OC would have something new to offer him, and then he’s all in.
If the Texas Bowl is Lock’s final game in a Mizzou uniform, he’s still leaving a positive legacy. He was Gary Pinkel’s last quarterback and Odom’s first, and he was in the starting lineup long enough to be the face of both Mizzou’s brief fall and its 2017 rebound. He was Missouri’s first all-SEC quarterback. He was prolific as hell.
With a return in 2018, however, he would give himself the opportunity to both burnish first-round draft credentials and put together the final chapter that the unrequited Gabbert never had. I’ve been wrong before, but I’m betting he does just that.
By the way, if this was all too tl;dr, my apologies — just read David Morrison’s take instead. It’s much shorter and basically says the same thing:
The last answer is most interesting to me here. When asked what board said he could improve, Lock kind of puts it on the perception that the offense just throws deep all the time. https://t.co/tUOVuEAWHy— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) December 26, 2017
Even if you're not a system quarterback, when your system is kind of based on running up to the line and letting it roll...maybe you get characterized as a system quarterback.— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) December 26, 2017
It's like we said in the season preview Zoulogy podcast with Ian Boyd: if you've got kind of a gimmicky offense -- even if it's a gimmick that works really well -- it can be hard for NFL scouts to see past that to individual talent.— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) December 26, 2017
If Mizzou brings in Jedd Fisch, or someone who can run a more NFL-type pass game, and Lock keeps blowing people up next year, I feel like that would erase all doubts. If he struggles adjusting, maybe it would confirm them.— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) December 26, 2017
Also: kudos to Lock for being so open about it. His grade, how he doesn't necessarily agree with it, not exactly sugarcoating the reason for it.— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) December 26, 2017