COLUMBIA - In August, many wondered whether Drew Lock would play this year for Missouri. Now, it's his team.
The true freshman has started at quarterback the Tigers' last four games, all in Southeastern Conference play, and Sunday the job became his indefinitely when the team suspended junior quarterback Maty Mauk for the remainder of the season. Mauk's previous four-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team policies led to Lock starting in the first place.
"If you lose your starting quarterback, obviously it affects your football team," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "But bottom line, you've got to overcome it.
"We have a young player that's playing, and he's doing a lot of good things. That puts a remarkable amount of pressure on a young player that was playing high-school football (last year), but at the end of the day, we don't asterisk anything. We don't have excuses. Our job is to go win football games."
Lock won his debut as a starter, 24-10 against South Carolina. Missouri hasn't scored a touchdown since, and has lost to Florida, Georgia and Vanderbilt to fall out of contention for a third straight SEC East title.
Lock played in at least one drive in each of Missouri's four games before Mauk's suspension. In relief duty, Lock was 15-of-25 (60 percent) for 225 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Since taking over as starter, Lock has completed 62-of-127 passes (48.8 pct.) for 538 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
After a 21-of-28 outing against South Carolina in which he threw two touchdowns, Lock has failed to complete 43 percent of his passes in any of his last three games.
"He's not gotten off to the best start like Maty did," center Evan Boehm said. "Maty came in and blew the world away, but Drew's a dang good quarterback, too, and he's a special kid, and he's going to be a special player here finishing off the year and in the next couple years."
Mauk, like Lock, was thrust into SEC play in his first season as a Missouri quarterback. He had to start four games his redshirt freshman year in place of injured senior James Franklin. Missouri won three of the four games, with Mauk throwing five touchdowns to two interceptions. Mauk's play became stagnant after 2013, however. In his 10 SEC games since, all starts, he has completed just 49 pecent of his passes, averaging fewer than 200 passing yards per game and throwing 10 touchdowns to seven interceptions.
In Mauk's four games this season - three of which were against non-Power 5 conference teams - he failed to throw for more than 181 yards in a game.
Lock, meanwhile, worked his way up from de facto sixth-string quarterback in fall camp, put up gaudy numbers in three scrimmages and earned a chance to forgo his redshirt season. He was named the backup quarterback in front of Missouri's opening game against Southeast Missouri State.
Lock noted Sunday his first season at Missouri has lacked the stability to which he grew accustomed at Lee's Summit.
"In high school, I started my sophomore year," he said. "That was my team for three years. Coming in here, only playing one or two series a game and then (I shifted) to being the guy, (wondering) "Do they really think I'm fully a leader?'"
The uncertainty of his role has been heightened by Mauk's suspensions. The junior's long-term status was unknown week to week after his Sept. 29 suspension. He was reinstated Oct. 25 before being suspended again a week later.
"No one really got a stable feel on what was happening," Lock said of Mauk's situation. "Then we found out he came back, and now it's happening again. I don't know, it's just kind of weird."
Receiver J'Mon Moore said the confusion as to when - or if - Mauk would return likely weighed on Lock's mind.
"Just being a competitor and having somebody as good as Maty right behind you (breathing) on your neck is just a feeling, knowing that you could have somebody come back instantly off of suspension," he said. "So I'm pretty sure he thought about that in the back of his mind."
Though Moore expressed concern for Mauk, he said the struggling offense could benefit from not having to wonder who its quarterback would be for the forseeable future.
"We know who's going to be out there," Moore said, "so we can work on getting that timing together that's just been missing lately."
Mauk participated in the team's lone practice during his time between suspensions, and Moore said he had expected the junior to start Thursday against Mississippi State. But Mauk's brief return to the team might not have been the most helpful thing for the offense, Moore said.
"He was just here, you know what I mean? Everything was good," Moore said. "He was in there working, working on things, with him and Drew. Now he's gone. So we're like taking steps forward, and then we're getting knocked back a little bit."
Missouri has yet to say who would step in at quarterback if Lock went down. Sophomore Eddie Printz and redshirt freshman Marvin Zanders are listed as co-backups on the team's depth chart. Printz was the team's backup behind Mauk last year, though he attempted just one pass. Pinkel previously said the team would use both players as a backup but did not elaborate on the specifics.