Pinkel says his sophomore QB has the "it" factor
If Missouri center Evan Boehm had any doubts about the definition of a “gamer” he learned it by watching quarterback Maty Mauk.
On Oct. 12 against Georgia last season, Mauk got his first taste of SEC play when starting quarterback James Franklin went down with a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter. Mauk entered the game on a third-and-6 and promptly picked up a first down on a six-yard run.
Mauk oversaw the final two touchdowns in the 41-26 win over the Bulldogs, but he could hardly claim player of the game status. The biggest pass play when Mauk was in the game came from wide receiver Bud Sasser on a 40-yard touchdown. The second Mizzou touchdown came on a short field after an Aaron Murray interception.
In other words, Missouri didn’t put too much on the shoulders of a redshirt freshman quarterback. That would change the following week against Florida.
The week of practice didn’t go as smooth as it would under the seasoned veteran Franklin. Boehm and his teammates tried to encourage Mauk — do the things that go you here and so on. Running back Henry Josey told Mauk to “just be a kid.”
Mauk offered some odd reassurance: He wasn’t a great practice player, but he’d be a playmaker once he was in the game.
Boehm was flabbergasted.
“What does he even mean by that?” Boehm said. “You practice how you play. That’s what I’ve been taught.”
In Missouri’s first possession against the Gators, Mauk proved his point in 27 seconds. He completed a 41-yard pass to L’Damian Washington which had a personal foul tacked onto the end of the play. On the next snap, he completed a 20-yard pass to Sasser for a touchdown.
Mauk’s first two passes set the tone for a 36-17 win over Florida in his first of four starts in place of Franklin. Mauk’s 3-1 record helped Missouri to become the surprise team of the SEC East.
With Franklin departed, Missouri will expect more of the same from Mauk as the Tigers defend their division title. In a league with limited quarterback experience returning Mauk may be the next star at the position.
His high school statistics at Kenton (Ohio) — a national record 18,932 career yards — only scratch the surface of what Boehm expects from his quarterback.
“Maty Mauk will surprise everybody, every week with something you’ve never seen from Maty,” Boehm said. “Whether good or bad.”
Now, that’s an intriguing way to describe a quarterback, a position where consistency in the ultimate virtue.
“He’s a playmaker,” Boehm said. “You saw it in Johnny Manziel. You saw it in AJ McCarron. You saw it in Aaron Murray. They weren’t perfect 100 percent of the time. They made their mistakes, too. Maty’s going to make his mistakes. It’s the way you bounce back. That’s what makes Maty a good quarterback.”
Boehm isn’t the only one throwing around the Johnny Football name. No one is expecting Mauk to turn into a Heisman contender or SEC record breaker overnight, but Mauk and Manziel share a something-out-of-nothing ability.
“I modeled my game after him,” Mauk said. “He can turn anything into something. He can change a game so quick by making plays. I feel like that’s something I can do.”
Mauk finished last season completing 51.1 percent of his passes for 1,071 yards, but he also showed burst of electrifying play as a passer and a runner. Beyond his hot start against Florida, he rushed for 114 yards and passed for three touchdowns against Tennessee and passed for five more scores against Kentucky.
The numbers, though, are only part of the reason for optimism in Columbia.
“He’s just got the ‘it’ factor,” said coach Gary Pinkel, who has a long track record of above-average quarterback play at Missouri. “He’s a winner. Players know it.”
For Missouri to continue to contend in the SEC, Mauk will have to be the focal point for the Tigers.
Missouri loses its top three receivers from last season, including the dismissed former No. 1 overall prospect Dorial Green-Beckham. no returning player has caught more than 26 passes. The Tigers return two running backs who combined for 1,286 yards but lost top rusher Henry Josey.
Mauk acknowledges the questions surrounding the receivers from the outside, but he remains confident in the top returning targets.
“I can throw to (Darius White) and expect him to catch it every time,” Mauk said. “And Bud Sasser is somebody that I’ve been playing with that I love. He runs tremendous routes. Jimmie Hunt didn’t show what he can do. He’s got that speed. We need to find who is going to be that fourth and fifth receiver.”
The key will be Mauk, who has four starts under his belt entering his sophomore season.
All that experience could add up before Missouri opens SEC play at South Carolina, the only team to defeat the Tigers during the regular season.
“You could tell that after every pass Maty makes,” Boehm said. “His confidence just goes up more and more and more.”