In any given game, Missouri sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk can be exasperating and exhilarating.
Sometimes, he can do it all at once, venturing something he never should even consider that, in fact, works.
Or works out, anyway.
First, he’ll be infuriating with his sheer recklessness. Then he’ll stay eerily upbeat thanks to a fascinating cross between obliviousness and resolve.
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And then he almost certainly will resuscitate his game and team, which is 14-4 with him at the helm after a 33-17 victory over Minnesota on Thursday in the Citrus Bowl.
The Mauk phenomenon was on emphatic display against the Golden Gophers — against whom Mauk lobbed an apparently air-headed interception on his first pass of the game and managed to hurl another into tight coverage just more than 2 minutes later.
But those were trumped by the signature moment of the game for MU and the amok Mauk: his 18-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that was punctuated by barging into the end zone through three Gophers.
“I was like, ‘Oh, don’t do that,’” senior left tackle Mitch Morse said. “Then I thought, ‘Well, it’s the last game of the year. Might as well.’”
The last of the three, safety Derrick Wells, was left crumpled to the ground with a concussion administered by Mauk, who briefly stood over him screaming in a pose reminiscent of Muhammad Ali roaring over Sonny Liston.
This won’t have the historical resonance of that, of course, but it was an iconic moment in Mauk’s career, just the same.
He flexed, preened and screamed. Something primal — but nothing in particular, he insisted.
Mauk “just yelled. Like a lion. Like a tiger in a jungle, I mean,” tailback Marcus Murphy said. “I mean, that’s the only feeling you can get after you make a big play like that.”
Perhaps adding some symmetry and symbolism to the play, it had been Bell who had intercepted Mauk’s errant first pass.
Not that Mauk had known as he lowered his shoulder into him.
“No,” he said, “but I’m glad I know now.”
So by now we know this about Mauk:
He’s more gritty than glittery, more someone who seems to find ways to survive than simply thrive. He tends to create his own dramas and dilemmas.
If all that can’t be refined, then it’s hard to relish the idea of Mauk holding the job for two more gut-churning seasons … especially when there already seems to be a groundswell of hope that Lee’s Summit star Drew Lock is the heir apparent ASAP.
But Mauk is going to have plenty to say about all this.
Because you can’t say he’s not a winner and a leader whose teams responds to him. MU finished 11-3 this season and has won a school-best 23 games during over the last two seasons.
There are a lot of reasons for that, but Mauk absolutely is part of it.
Especially in the crucible of clutch situations, like his 20-yard run before throwing his first touchdown pass and his TD run that proved the game-winning score.
“That’s Maty being Maty right there, taking chances,” said receiver Bud Sasser, who had two touchdown receptions from Mauk. “He’s not about to dive into the end zone. He’s going to lower his shoulder.
“It doesn’t matter what size you are. … If he feels like you’re trying to challenge him, he’s going to accept that challenge. He’s going to take you head-on.”
And keep going … and going … and going, just like he did after drinking too much liquid as he cramped in the second half following a hit to the back of his calf.
“I don’t want to say throw up,” he said. “I drank way too much electrolytes, and my stomach was too full and had to let some of it back out.”
That same admirable resilience, alas, is barely distinguishable from the persona that likes to gamble even with a weak hand.
So he’ll just, well, throw up the ball sometimes. To Sasser, for instance.
“If he’s not open, he’s going to go up and make a play with the football,” Mauk said, “and I just have to give him a chance.”
That mind-set explains the two touchdowns he threw on Thursday.
And also why Mauk threw more interceptions in one season (13) in the Gary Pinkel era at MU than any other quarterback except Chase Daniel (18) in 2008 — when Daniel also threw 114 more passes, 528, and for 1,687 more yards (4,335) and 14 more touchdowns (39) than Mauk.
Not showing up in the box score was another interception Mauk threw on a two-point conversation attempt … and two other passes he threw that appeared close to being plucked and returned for touchdowns.
Those miscues and near-breakdowns aren’t all on him, necessarily, even if it’s tempting to believe that.
“There’s a lot of other thing that happen out there,” Pinkel said.
Just the same, they go on Mauk’s ledger.
And just the same, Mauk shrugged off his issues … as usual.
“That just comes back to the mental conditioning coach (Pat) Ivey does. I don’t think people really understand how much that stuff helps, the positive affirmations, the moving on to the next play,” Mauk said. “All that stuff might sound kind of cheesy and stuff, but it really does work:
“I pushed it out. I blocked it out. Because that’s going to bring your confidence down.
“And, you know, I can make the throws; I’ve just got to do it.”
Now, the selective amnesia seems to be good in the moment for Mauk.
Trouble is, it leaves you wondering if he’s learning or just forgetting and destined to repeat the same patterns.
For his part, Mauk says he’s working to better balance all that.
“For sure,” he said. “But that’s the game of football. You’ve got to be able to take shots, and sometimes maybe it turns out bad.”
Hearing those words might be enough to induce ulcers in offensive coordinator Josh Henson, not to mention MU fans.
Unsettling as he might be, though, Mauk simultaneously has been making himself tougher to replace.
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com