Missouri coach Gary Pinkel used a similar strategy with James Franklin and with Chase Daniel, slowly immersing a promising backup quarterback into the game-day fire with a few series here or there the year before those players were expected to ascend to the starter’s job.
It’s no surprise that Pinkel has decided to do the same thing with redshirt freshman Maty Mauk.
Mauk (6-0, 200) was a two-time Gatorade player of the year as well as a Parade All-American during a record-breaking high school career at Kenton High School in Ohio. Most fans know by now that he graduated as the all-time national high school record-holder for passing yards (18.932), touchdowns (219), completions (1,353) and total offense (22,681).
He’s the future of the Tigers at quarterback — both Franklin’s successor and an insurance policy should the talented senior get injured again.
Perhaps more than his predecessors, Mauk needs these drives. He needs a few snaps, need to be thrown to the wolves a few times and get a feel for the speed of the game. That means Mauk will continue to some snaps in almost every game.
"It’s good for him to get out there and get going," Pinkel said. "I think that he’s a good player and we’ll most likely continue that. We’ll make that decision every Thursday."
Pinkel told the Tiger Club of KC during its weekly meeting Tuesday that under first-year offensive coordinator Josh Henson, who joined Missouri as the co-offensive line coach in 2009, the goal is play with the fastest tempo in the nation on offense.
That puts quite a burden on Mauk, who doesn’t get the bulk of the reps behind Franklin yet is still expected to execute at breakneck speed.
Against Toledo, it didn’t work so well.
Pinkel had decided before the game to give Mauk the first series in the second quarter, but he’d probably rather have picked a better time and place in hindsight.
Missouri led only 10-6 and took over at its own 18. Franklin had thrown an interception on the previous drive and Toledo had some momentum, so it was a tough spot to put Mauk into the game.
Henry Josey ran three yards on first down before Mauk was sacked on back-to-back plays and, in a panic, threw the ball to the sideline as he was thrown to the turf for a 12-yard loss on third down.
Mauk was a bit overwhelmed. That much was clear. Making his reads and commanding the offense remains a work in progress.
"Maty, the clock was running down low and he wasn’t giving me the hand, so we had to go fast," center Evan Boehm said. "I snapped the ball without Maty even giving me the hand, so I was scared that Maty wasn’t even looking."
That’s not unusual for a young quarterback. Deciphering complex college defenses is a massive step up from high school. The crowd is much bigger and more intense. The players across the line are bigger, stronger and faster, so everything is more difficult.
But Mauk’s best hope is to feel that fire.
The best way for him to learn is to line up and take a few lumps. The wisdom of Pinkel’s decision to play him is unquestionable given the success Daniel and Franklin had after they were finally turned loose with a taste of Saturday football on the resume.
Only time will tell if Mauk lives up to the high standard those guys have set, but he’s got plenty on his resume to suggest he can emerge as a worthy successor in the great Tigers quarterback tradition of late.
Let’s just hope Pinkel find a few moments where he can let Mauk taste success on the field as the season goes along.