With five wins in his six starts, Missouri has come to embrace the high-risk, high-reward style of sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk.
“I’m thinking aggressive thoughts and I’m going to take shots,” Mauk said.
“Sometimes, maybe it’s not going to work, but the guys that I have out there catching the football, I have no doubt that I can throw one up there and they’ll go make a play for me.”
Second-year offensive coordinator Josh Henson’s system encourages taking chances downfield, so it’s a good thing Mauk doesn’t mind unleashing them.
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“He’s a gunslinger and an exciting player to watch on the field,” senior left tackle Mitch Morse said. “He’s a high-risk, high-reward guy, but he’s also a very smart quarterback and he knows his stuff. He’s just not afraid to go for the big play.”
Mauk’s receivers expect it and flourish because of it.
“That’s Maty, man,” senior wide receiver Darius White said. “That arm Maty’s got. It’s unbelievable. Maty’s arm — he just gives you chances. That’s all I really can say. Maty gives you chances after chances after chances. He just wants you to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Mauk patterned his style — a hair-on-fire playmaking ability reminiscent of Packers great Brett Favre — after his older brother Ben, a former Cincinnati standout he studied intently growing up in Kenton, Ohio.
“There’s certain plays, you just never know when it’s going to come,” White said. “When it seems like there’s nothing there, he’s going to make sure there’s something there — even if it’s with his feet or if he’s scrambling. … He’s going to make a play out of anything.”
That’s the reward part.
In a 49-24 win over Toledo, Mauk fired five touchdowns, including a laser to Jimmie Hunt off his back foot for a 12-yard score, but the risk also was readily apparent.
Mauk forced a ball into double coverage for an interception, missed a read that would have led to a big-gainer for a free-running Sean Culkin and was picked off trying to throw a ball out of bounds — a miscue that briefly gave the Rockets a second wind.
Missouri’s staff is quick to forgive such mistakes.
“Perfection doesn’t exist in football,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.
Instead, the Tigers’ staff looks for benchmarks of improvement — big plays and third-down conversions.
“It’s eliminating some of the shanks,” Henson said. “I don’t know if you call it decision-making or it’s just repetition and getting more comfortable with what he’s doing so it works better. The only way to get better is to play, and I saw a huge improvement from week one to week two.”
Pinkel said Mauk must improve his reads, especially secondary reads, and better recognize defenses to take advantage of matchups. Mauk is still learning to manage the game — weighing a play that needs to be made against a risk that should be avoided based on down and distance, field position and time of the game.
“It’s just a work in progress all the time, but he’s going the right direction,” Pinkel said.
Mauk acknowledges there’s still a learning curve — “I’ve still got a lot of growing to do at the quarterback standpoint and I’m ready to take that challenge on,” he said — but he appreciates that Missouri’s staff has no desire tame him.
“It’s easier to coach a guy like (Mauk),” Henson said. “I’ve been around guys that were the other way — they’d throw an interception and wouldn’t throw the ball down the field anymore, because they were scared of throwing another interception. I’d much rather have a guy that we’ve got to rein back a little bit than a guy that we’re constantly trying to push forward.”
The Tigers accept Mauk for who he is as a quarterback.
One play, Mauk will throw a bullet to White in stride on a deep post, allowing him to split the safeties for a touchdown.
Several plays later, Mauk will recklessly heave a ball toward the sideline as he’s being spun to the ground for a sack, throwing a backward pass for a 7-yard loss that could have been much more disastrous.
“He’s a very poised guy, but he’s also aggressive,” Pinkel said. “What makes him a great player — he’s got a great arm and he can run, but he also is a great competitor. That’s what great quarterbacks are made of. He doesn’t look pretty all the time, but he’ll get better and better the more he plays and the more he learns.”
Mauk is also a positive force teammates can rally behind. He doesn’t dwell on his own mistakes and doesn’t castigate teammates for theirs — whether it’s protection breakdowns, poor routes or dropped passes.
“He’s really good at working with what he has, and he’s a very capable quarterback,” Morse said. “He makes our jobs a lot easier, because he’s able to work with what we give him.”
Mauk’s start vs. recent MU quarterbacks
Maty Mauk is off to a strong start in his Missouri career. Here is how his stats stack up against the previous four full-time starting quarterbacks in Tigers history in his first six career starts: