Vahe Gregorian

Tigers have full faith in Maty Mauk

Updated: 2013-10-15T16:30:10Z

By VAHE GREGORIAN

The Kansas City Star

— As daunting, intense challenges go, it might be tough to outdo what Mizzou redshirt freshman Maty Mauk encountered Saturday at Georgia:

With more than 90,000 in the stands at Sanford Stadium, with Georgia mounting a spirited comeback from an 18-point deficit to trail just 28-26, senior quarterback James Franklin sprinted off the field because of a shoulder injury and quarterbacks coach Andy Hill told Mauk to start warming up.

Tight from not throwing since before the game, Mauk threw a few times and then was thrown into a third-and-6 predicament.

In his 20-plus years of coaching, Hill has seen any number of reactions in such instances.

“I’ve been on the sideline when guys have been in panic situations, when they get cotton-mouthed and wide-eyed and ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing?’” Hill said.

And Mauk couldn’t help but feel the flickering flutter of a butterfly. He had thrown just three collegiate passes, all against Murray State, and had every reason to wonder how to cope with the moment.

All that started to evaporate when the offensive line gathered around him, each man putting a hand on him and reassuring him.

Still, there was the matter of the next step: playing.

“When we jogged out there, I kind of looked around,” he said. “There wasn’t an empty seat. It was all red, except the corner where our (Mizzou fans) were. I got there, I gave (the team) the play, and I took a deep breath.

“And I said, ‘It’s go time; I’ve got to be me.’”

Mauk churned for just more than 6 yards and a first down on his first play.

“That’s what built my confidence for the rest of the game,” he said.

It helped, too, that two plays later he fired an overhead lateral to Bud Sasser, who threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to L’Damian Washington.

“It kind of took a lot of stress off me, (the) ‘What’s he going to do?’” he said, adding, “My confidence was up, and that play really kind of set me where I’m back to playing ‘me’ and I’m not just in there to hand the ball off or anything like that.”

The Tigers went on to win 41-26 as Mauk set up another touchdown with his 20-yard pass to Dorial Green-Beckham.

So, as sad as it is that Franklin will be out for an estimated three to five weeks, that needn’t mean what had been shaping up as a special season for Mizzou simply is snuffed out.

Because that fire-forging on Saturday arguably changes the way the previously green Mauk should be viewed as the 14th-ranked Tigers prepare for their game Saturday against visiting No. 22 Florida, which has the nation’s fourth-best scoring defense.

“He’s probably going to make some mistakes, like all kids do,” MU coach Gary Pinkel said. “But the big thing is you don’t want him to be a robot out there. You want him to be able to do what he does and play quarterback the way he plays quarterback.”

Which is to say …

“He’s not as big as James, but he’s probably quicker and probably top-end has more speed,” said Hill, noting his versatility. “He’s got a great arm. He’s tremendously skilled in throwing the football, but he also can get out and create on the run.”

Most of all, he’s poised, partly by temperament, partly by his experiences as a two-time Ohio player of the year who, playing for his father in high school, set national records for career passing yards (18,932) and touchdowns (219).

Hill knew that before Saturday. But he couldn’t be sure, either, until Mauk stepped into the cauldron.

But Hill was encouraged by Mauk’s smoothness even before his first play when he blocked out the distractions and noise and got signals out properly to the line, those vital touches that could have made things come unhinged if those around him were left rudderless.

Now those players are rallying for him.

Left tackle Justin Britt had lunch on Monday with Mauk, lifting him up, Mauk said. Before interviews later in the day, center Evan Boehm greeted the swarm of reporters awaiting Mauk and playfully announced, “Only one person at a time.”

“Maty’s a playmaker just like James is a playmaker, and Maty can get the ball into playmakers’ hands like he did on the deep ball to Dorial (Green-Beckham),” Boehm said later, adding, “We’re excited to get out there Saturday and prove to everybody that Maty isn’t going to hold our team back.”

Mauk, of course, proved that some last week in a harsh environment. Now he’ll have to prove it against a much better defense and in a somewhat new role. He’s “the guy” now, all week.

This has different implications, and it won’t all be smooth. But at least Mauk has demonstrated that he’s equipped to handle severe trials, and that gives MU ample hope that this season still can be special.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com.

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