Stepping in against a ranked Florida team for a senior captain who was enjoying a terrific season in helping lead Missouri to an unbeaten record wasn’t an easy task.
While redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk, who stepped in for James Franklin, drew headlines for his performance against Gators, true freshman Aarion Penton had an equally impressive performance, stepping in at cornerback for E.J. Gaines.
Franklin and Gaines are both seniors and both captains, and both sat out the victory against Florida last Saturday.
Penton recorded his first career interception, broke up another pass and finished with three tackles, including one for a loss.
“He stepped up and made a lot of great plays, plays on the ball and as far as making tackles,” senior cornerback Randy Ponder said. “He had a tackle for a loss, and he just stepped up. That shows the type of team we have.”
Penton, a St. Louis native who graduated from Christian Brothers College High School last spring, surely was nervous, but he didn’t play like it.
“They knew I could do it,” Penton said. “I pick balls in practice all the time. I just had to come out, stay focused and be prepared. That’s what it was, just full out focus.”
Well, that and a monster pass rush that made life a little easier for the secondary by rattling Gators quarterback Tyler Murphy.
“There’s no doubt they make it easier, but it’s like (defensive coordinator Dave Steckel) always says, we work as a unit,” Penton said. “With their pressure and us playing hip-to-hip, it’s just a win-win.”Other story lines
Missouri redshirt freshman Maty Mauk was terrific in his debut as the starting quarterback. He completed 18 of 36 passes for 295 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Mauk, who also ran for a 17-yard touchdown, showed uncommon poise. The fifth-ranked Tigers need another strong performance from Mauk against No. 20 South Carolina.
•TOP DEFENSIVE ENDS:
South Carolina junior Jadeveon Clowney is the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but he might not even be the best defensive end on the field Saturday. Missouri senior Michael Sam is certainly having a better season. Sam leads the nation in sacks. His nine sacks are tied with Clemson’s Vic Beasley, while his 13 tackles for loss rank second behind Wake Forest’s Nikita Whitlock (13 1/2).
•NOT SO SPECIAL TEAMS: South Carolina ranks last in the Southeastern Conference in punting, averaging only 32.3 yards per kick, and kickoff return average (18.3 yards). The Gamecocks also rank 10th among the conference’s 14 teams in punt return average and have the second-fewest field goals (six). Of course, Missouri allows a conference-worst 26.7 yards per kickoff return.