COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri quarterback Drew Lock is a different player than he was a year ago, and he’s eager for the opportunity to prove it.

The season opener at West Virginia on Saturday will be his first chance to show his improvement.

Following Maty Mauk’s indefinite suspension in 2015, Lock became the first freshman quarterback to start for Missouri in two decades. He was 2-6 in eight starts, completing 49 percent of his passes while amassing 1,332 yards, four touchdowns and eight interceptions. In a year marked by turmoil, including the threat of player boycotts and coach Gary Pinkel’s retirement, Missouri finished a dismal 127th out of 128 FBS teams in scoring at 13.6 points per game, the worst in school history.

Lock said the Tiger’s 28-3 loss at Arkansas_Pinkel’s last game_was the low point of his season.

“I guess that made me a better, tougher person mentally,” Lock said. “I’m thankful for that now and I’m through it and it’s behind me.”

Though it may not have been an enjoyable experience, Lock said the experience did help acclimate him to the level of competition.

“You hear that practice makes perfect all the time, and I truly believe that I can look back at last year, I can think of it as just a huge practice year, in the sense of getting reps, seeing what the league is like, seeing what Division-I college football is like,” he said.

Lock knows he has to improve his numbers from a year ago, and gave specific reasons why he feels confident heading into his sophomore campaign.

“I think we’re just more sound as an offense as far as what our jobs are and what the little things are we have to do to make our jobs easy,” Lock said. “Really, just pitching and catching the ball. Just being in the right place at the right time when you’re supposed to be.”

In addition to improving mechanics or stats, Lock is also focused on honing his leadership role.

“I feel like last year, I didn’t communicate very much,” Lock said. “I was kind of a guy that kind of stayed to myself. Ran the play, watched it after practice and kind of talked about it with coach. But instead, I’m actually going out there, I know what I’m doing, I know what they’re supposed to be doing, and I’m correcting it on the field with them.”

Though only a sophomore, Lock has more experience than the majority of the quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference. Only four quarterbacks in the conference have made more starts than Lock, all of whom are older.

“You have to have experience to become a leader,” Lock said. “I feel like I had a pretty rough experience last year to where people know that I’ve been through it.”

Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel has seen improvement in Lock since arriving during spring camp.

“I think he’s got a much better understanding of defense,” said Heupel, who coached current NFL quarterbacks Landry Jones and Sam Bradford at Oklahoma. “I think he’s got a much better understanding of fundamentals and things that he needs to do to be successful on a consistent basis.”

Lock said the offense has several goals this season, but is focused primarily on making smart plays.

“Making the right plays when we need to,” he said. “Just not playing scared. Just attacking the defense. Instead of more so being on our toes reacting off them, we’re going to hopefully come out and play super hard and make defenses react to us.”