COLUMBIA, Mo. • Before Maty Mauk could dig into his dinner at a LongHorn Steakhouse on Saturday night, his unofficial quarterback coach launched into his postgame breakdown. His older brother Ben, a former quarterback at Wake Forest and Cincinnati and at one time, the holder of every significant Ohio high school passing record, wanted to go over some plays from Missouri’s 36-17 win over Florida, his younger brother’s first start for the Tigers.
Not just a couple plays — most of them.
“He’s got a freakish mind,” Maty Mauk said of Ben, who led Cincinnati to 10 wins as a senior in 2007. “I felt like he knew every play that we ran. We’re sitting there after the game eating and he’s like, ‘Remember that draw you ran? You ran outside, but did you see the hole you could have cut up in? Did you see the safety on the interception?’ I was like, ‘Can we just do one play at a time?’”
In the aftermath of Mauk’s first start there was plenty to digest — plus his postgame celebratory steak dinner.
With James Franklin out for three to five weeks because of a sprained shoulder, Mauk’s first test became what MU coach Gary Pinkel considered the most grueling environment a first-time starting quarterback has faced on his watch. Florida’s defense was widely considered one of the nation’s best, and Mauk had to face the Gators under the pressure of maintaining Mizzou’s undefeated march through the first half of its schedule.
It wasn’t a perfect performance — his single-game passer rating of 122.8 was lower than all six of Franklin’s previous outings — but considering the magnitude of the game, his coaches and teammates were impressed. The Southeastern Conference agreed. Mauk was named the league’s freshman of the week Monday.
Against the Gators, Mauk, who broke his brother’s national passing records at Kenton High School, completed only half his throws (18 of 36) but threw for 295 yards with a touchdown and an interception, the fourth-most yards for a freshman in team history.
Compared to some of the best quarterbacks in the SEC, Mauk’s starting debut was as good as any passing performance against Florida’s defense the last three seasons. He threw for more yards and posted a better passer rating than Georgia’s Aaron Murray produced in his last two starts against the Gators.
His numbers also exceeded Alabama AJ McCarron’s production against Florida as a sophomore in 2011. Last season, in his first career start, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel threw for 173 yards and posted a passer rating of 125.1 against the Gators — in 20-17 loss at home.
Mauk didn’t outplay Franklin during their spring and preseason competition for the starting job, but Pinkel’s coaches saw enough from the redshirt freshman to stick with an aggressive game plan, even against a loaded Gators secondary.
In practice, Mauk prefers to attack defenses deep, sometimes to a fault.
“If he’s got a chance to go downfield, it’s going downfield,” Pinkel said. “Now, sometimes that’s not good. Last week in practice it was third and 3 and he’s throwing it 45 yards downfield to (Dorial Green-Beckham). It was incomplete.”
In the spring, Missouri’s coaches talked to Mauk about pocket patience and letting his receivers run their routes before he began to scramble. He scrambled early a few times Saturday, but for the most part coaches were pleased with his decision-making. The one time Mauk broke loose out of the pocket he scrambled 17 yards for a touchdown.
“We don’t want to take that (scrambling) away from the guy,” quarterbacks coach Andy Hill said. “That’s something he has an advantage with. ‘Do your stuff. Do your fundamentals. Get in your drop, look downfield and if things aren’t there, then be Maty Mauk.’ … He’s a guy that has that ability, so you don’t want to hamstring him.”
After reviewing film of Saturday’s game, Mauk said he needed to get rid of the ball quicker in the pocket, especially on his second-quarter interception. He was “a half-step late on a few things,” he said.
Mauk faces another challenge Saturday when No. 5 Missouri (7-0, 3-0 SEC) puts its unbeaten start on the line against No. 20 South Carolina (5-2, 3-2) and the country’s most celebrated defensive player, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Before meeting with reporters Monday, Mauk watched film of Clowney and the Gamecocks’ defense with his offensive linemen, a group that held up without a sack against Florida’s pass rush Saturday.
“You just have to have a feel (for Clowney),” Mauk said. “When you’re going back and you see him breaking under, you’ve got to know where you’re going to go before he gets there. I have faith in our guys.”
After dinner with his family Saturday, more than 300 congratulatory text messages were waiting for Mauk on his phone. By Sunday morning, he was thinking about his second career start. Clowney was coming fast.
“That’s the challenge,” Hill said. “You want to revel in all the coolness and everyone doing the (Gator) Chomp. You want that to live in your mind forever. But the truth is, the faster you get rid of it the better off you’re going to be this week.”