COLUMBIA, Mo. • A winter’s growth of reddish brown whiskers covers the face of Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk, giving the sophomore a grizzled look beyond his 20 years.
Since the end of the college football season, Mauk has aged into one of the Southeastern Conference’s more seasoned quarterbacks. A league loaded with veteran passers last year bid farewell to its stars after the 2013 season, including Texas A&M’s 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, Georgia’s Aaron Murray, the SEC’s all-time leader for touchdown passes, and Alabama’s two-time national championship winner A.J. McCarron.
Missouri replaces a departed starting quarterback, too, in James Franklin, but the Tigers are fortunate to return two QBs who have started multiple games, including Mauk, who salvaged MU’s SEC Eastern Division championship season when the Tigers won three of his four starts last fall.
As Mizzou holds its first full spring scrimmage today on Faurot Field, nobody has officially declared Mauk the starting QB, but nobody’s talking about an open competition either. That is, except for the backup candidates pushing for a promotion.
“I’d like to think all the quarterbacks are thinking the same thing: We want to be the starter,” redshirt freshman Trent Hosick said. “I know I am.”
They’ll have to wait their turn. Through three weeks of spring practices, Mauk said he’s taken every series with the No. 1 offense. A redshirt sophomore this fall, Mauk has carried himself like the starter since the offseason began, quarterbacks coach Andy Hill said.
“The one thing about playing quarterback, whoever’s in the driver’s seat, whoever’s the starter at quarterback, I think he always has snappier answers,” Hill said. “He has more confidence. He plays that way. That’s been true for Maty this spring.”
Mauk is expected to lead the top unit again today as the coaches narrow their focus on determining the order behind him. Injuries to Franklin each of the last two years required Missouri to start its backup QB four times both seasons. In 2012, Corbin Berkstresser, then a redshirt freshman and now a junior, played behind a scrambled offensive line and struggled delivering first downs, much less touchdowns. He missed the final stretch of the regular season with a knee injury, but he’s back this spring and coaches have raved about his progress.
Hosick and fellow redshirt freshman Eddie Printz also are in reserve, along with freshman Marvin Zanders, who enrolled at the semester break. Printz, more of a pocket passer than the other options, created a buzz with a strong preseason camp last year. Hosick, who rushed for more than 3,600 yards his last two years at Staley High School in the Kansas City area, might be the most intriguing of the bunch. Since he arrived on campus last year Mizzou fans have wondered if Hosick could ultimately switch positions and use his running skills elsewhere. Tailback? Fullback? Linebacker? Safety?
The 6-1, 225-pound Hosick has another idea. Quarterback.
“When it comes down to it, being a quarterback means facilitating drives, last time I checked,” he said. “Moving the ball down the field. So, whether you’re running the ball or throwing the ball, as long as you’re moving down the field and scoring touchdowns, that’s being a quarterback.”
For now Hosick has found other ways to contribute. He’s on three kicking game units: punt return, kickoff and kickoff return.
“I told Coach (Gary) Pinkel — he asked me if I’d be OK playing special teams — and I said, ‘Coach, I’m excited to help you make history by being the first starting quarterback playing special teams,’” Hosick said.
Mauk is every bit as confident in his ability to command the offense. Among the nine returning SEC quarterbacks who threw at least 130 passes last year, only Auburn’s Nick Marshall posted a better passer rating (143.2) and averaged more yards per attempt (8.3) than Mauk, (143.1, 8.1). Mauk’s single-season passer rating ranked No. 5 all-time for Mizzou quarterbacks who started multiple games in a season.
But Mauk is hardly satisfied with his production. His completion percentage (51.1) lagged behind almost every starter in the SEC. Also, Hill said Mauk has gotten better at resisting the urge to give up on his progressions and flee out of the pocket.
“Last year, I wasn’t as ready as I am now,” Mauk said. “I mean, I was, but now I’m stepping up in the pocket, going through my reads. And once I do that, that’s when you’ll see me get out and try to make something happen.”
“I expect him to really have a huge improvement,” Pinkel said. “You expect him to just elevate his game.”