Missouri almost certainly wouldn’t be prepping for the SEC championship game without redshirt freshman Maty Mauk, who stepped in and led the fifth-ranked Tigers to three wins in the four games when senior quarterback James Franklin was out because of a sprained shoulder.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel hasn’t forgotten and said he plans to play Mauk at least one series — as has been the Tigers’ custom throughout the season — against No. 3 Auburn on Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
“We’ll make that decision Thursday, but we intend to do that,” Pinkel said during a news conference Monday.
Coming off a 5-7 thud in its first season in the Southeastern Conference, the Tigers’ stirring turnaround nearly tanked before it truly got started.
Missouri dominated the first half at then-No. 7 Georgia, but the Bulldogs had rallied within two points early in fourth quarter when Franklin left the game after being driven into the turf on his throwing shoulder.
If the Tigers, who led 28-26 when Mauk entered the game and went on to win 41-26, hadn’t finished off the win against Georgia, Pinkel’s program doesn’t win the SEC East title.
Likewise, if Missouri doesn’t beat Florida, Tennessee or Kentucky, all games Mauk started and for which he was chosen as the SEC freshman of the week, it would be South Carolina getting set for a 3 p.m. kickoff with Auburn — and a possible (though still unlikely) shot at the BCS National Championship game with a win.
Mauk also started Missouri’s only loss, a double-overtime defeat against South Carolina.
“Having a backup quarterback for one-third of your season and coming out of it 3-1, almost 4-0, is pretty remarkable,” Pinkel said. “We’re very, very fortunate.”
Franklin was playing at an exceptionally high level when he went down. He had completed 132 of 195 passes (67.7 percent) for 1,577 yards and 14 touchdowns with only three interceptions. For the year, Franklin has completed 162 of 242 passes (66.9 percent) for 1,952 yards and 16 touchdowns with four picks.
Mauk, who rushed for more than 100 yards against Tennessee, was almost as good. He completed 60 of 117 passes (51.3 percent) for 933 yards with 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions during the final 10:53 against Georgia plus those four starts.
“Honestly, for him to be able to come in and play at that level, to keep our team going, our offense playing at a consistently high level — not a great level, but a high level — I think that was critical for us,” Pinkel said. “We didn’t have our starting quarterback in the SEC for one-third of the season. I think for him to go in and play, to maintain some degree of consistency, was really important for us.”