Missouri’s passing game had been in a steady decline for four straight games, but quarterback Maty Mauk and company halted the free fall Saturday in a 24-14 win against Vanderbilt.
Make no mistake, Mauk’s performance was still below average by his standards — 11 of 23 for 141 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions — but perhaps the struggling passing attack finally bottomed out and officially is on the rebound.
“This week, there’s nothing you can do but get better,” Mauk said. “I was just in there talking to (senior wide receiver) Bud (Sasser) about it. We’ve got the right mind-set, and we’re ready to attack this week.”
Mauk had been a combined 27 of 73 for 249 yards with five interceptions and no touchdowns against South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
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He’d completed less than 43 percent of his passes and threw for fewer than 132 yards in all three games.
The culmination came in a remarkable 42-13 win against the Gators when Mauk finished six of 18 for 20 yards with an interception.
But after hooking up twice with Sasser for touchdowns against Vanderbilt, including a game-clinching 25-yard rainbow to the back corner of the end zone with 2:05 remaining, the needle is pointing up again as Missouri prepares to host Kentucky at 3 p.m. Saturday on the SEC Network.
“I don’t think he lost confidence, but I think he got frustrated like we all did,” Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. “It always helps to go out and have success. He had some success Saturday. He played well. He made a nice throw at the end of the game to help ice the game for us. My goal for him is just to continue to improve and keep getting better as we go into this stretch of these last four games at the end of the season.”
The completion percentage remains too low, as does the yards per attempt. But after the worst stretch of offensive football in Missouri coach Gary Pinkel’s 14-year tenure, it was a welcome step in the right direction.
“Obviously, he did some really good things and made some big plays like he’s been making in the past,” Pinkel said. “He did a really good jobs stepping up in the pocket a few times, so we’re making some progress there.”
Mauk also added seven carries for a season-high 58 yards, another sign that he’s playing with something of an edge again.
On the injury front, Missouri will probably be without Darius White again.
White missed two games with a groin strain then injured the opposite groin in practice last week and sat out against Vanderbilt.
He is listed as questionable and has a “less than 50 percent chance to play,” Pinkel said.
White could return after the bye week in time for the Tigers’ game Nov. 15 at Texas A&M.
Pinkel also offered his most declarative statement to date regarding sophomore running back Morgan Steward, who has been sidelined since early August with a hip injury.
Missouri hoped to get Steward back before the end of the season, but that no longer appears likely.
“I’m hopeful, but I think it’s doubtful,” Pinkel said. “Our big thing is we’ve just got to get this thing healed.”
Steward, who exhausted his redshirt season in 2012, isn’t eligible for a medical redshirt unless he misses another season because of injury.
Quarterback Maty Mauk’s stats the last five games
Sept. 20 vs. Indiana
Sept. 27 at South Carolina
Oct. 11 vs. Georgia
Oct. 18 at Florida
Oct. 25 vs. Vanderbilt