Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson deserves a ton of credit for the way QB Maty Mauk came out firing during his first career start on Saturday.
The first-year coordinator allowed Mauk to unleash his nerves on the first two snaps by throwing a pair of vertical passes. The strategy worked perfectly, with Mauk connecting on both attempts, one of which went for a TD.
More importantly, Mauk – a redshirt freshman – made good reads and better throws.
The confidence from both parties injected a shot of confidence into the home team, which went on for a decisive 36-17 victory over Florida.
Mauk made some strong plays for the Tigers in the win. He seemed most comfortable throwing the ball downfield while also enjoying success making short drops and quick throws.
However, Mauk also survived some troubling decisions.
The redshirt freshman isn’t bulletproof, as suggested by his 18-of-36 line that featured the first-drive TD and an INT.
Mauk’s first near costly mistake came on a play when Florida DE Dante Fowler pressured and hit Mauk, who threw into traffic in the middle of the field. S Jabari Gorman dropped an easy interception.
Mauk followed that play with a delay-of-game penalty simply because he lost track of the play clock.
While there were several other passes indicating Mauk’s ability to have disastrous 4-INT performances, none seemed worse than his third-and-goal pass to Jimmy Hunt. The Tigers had the ball at the Gators 1 in the middle of the second quarter when Mauk threw a slant in the middle of the end zone toward Hunt. Jaylen Watkins jumped the route to get both hands on the pass, though he failed to catch it.
Watkins’ drop allowed the Tigers to kick a short field goal.
Plenty has been – and will be – written about Mauk’s strong first start. Considering the circumstance of making his starting debut in a critical divisional game against Florida, surviving with a win would have been a great job. Instead, Mauk played a critical role in the Tigers’ key win.
That doesn’t mean Missouri is as good with Mauk as it was with three-year starter James Franklin.
Mauk needs to make quicker, smarter decisions. He also needs to keep the confidence that the next throw will be a great throw – even after the inevitable interceptions.
Most freshmen play less like Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston and more like, well, freshmen.
Mauk is no different.
With Henson, a trio of outstanding receivers and an offensive line that mauled a strong Florida defense, though, Mauk has a great chance to be good enough to lead the Tigers to an SEC East crown.
All-SEC DT Sheldon Richardson left Missouri for the NFL last year yet the Tigers’ improvement along the defensive line is undeniable.
This year’s group limits opponents’ run games and, once the offense stakes it to a lead, pins its ears back to go after the quarterback. The defensive line, led by DE Michael Sam, leads the conference with 23 sacks.
When Missouri puts opponents behind the chains on third downs, it turns to its “money package,” which features Sam moving to the middle of the line and an additional pass rusher. That package gave Florida fits all day Saturday.
The Tigers battered and harassed Florida QB Tyler Murphy this weekend on their way to six sacks – three from Sam, who now leads the conference in that department.
Missouri’s constant barrage seemed to affect Murphy’s confidence as well. On several occasions, before the pass rush could even get to the Gators quarterback, Murphy rolled out of the pocket to avoid non-existent pressure.
Murphy finished the game 15 of 29 for just 92 yards and an INT – for a QBR of 3.0.
Late in the second quarter, Missouri’s defense came up especially large when Brian Poole returned QB Maty Mauk’s interception 25 yards to midfield. The Gators, who trailed 13-3 at the time, quickly drove to the Tigers 27-yard line.
Two plays later, Florida faced a third-and-11. Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel dialed up a rare blitz that enabled DL Kony Ealy to rush through the line and crush Murphy. Ealy forced a fumble that Andrew Wilson dove on to end the threat.
The Tigers defensive pressure set up the final score to ice the game as well. DE Shane Ray sacked Murphy on another third-down pass attempt, forcing a fumble. Harold Brantley recovered at the Florida 7 and Mauk scored on a scramble on the next play.
As long as Missouri can get after the quarterback without having to blitz, the Tigers will pose problems for opposing offenses – even with potential holes in the secondary.