University of Missouri

Missouri’s success on scramble drills helps fuel unbeaten start

South Dakota State’s Jimmie Forsythe (left) and Austin Benson tried to catch up with Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk during a game last month.
South Dakota State’s Jimmie Forsythe (left) and Austin Benson tried to catch up with Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk during a game last month. Kansas City Star

It looks chaotic.

Quarterback Maty Mauk scrambles from danger as Missouri’s protection falters, trying to extend the play and make chicken salad out of, well, not chicken salad.

It’s called the scramble drill and the Tigers’ success in those situations has paid dividends in each game during a 3-0 start, but there’s more going on than the drawn-in-the-dirt vibe suggests.

“There’s scramble rules,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “When you scramble, your receivers all go to certain levels in the face of the quarterback, the way that the quarterback’s going and trying to find open space. There’s a little bit of design in a very undersigned type play, but there’s some method to the madness there.”

South Dakota State brought the house on a fourth-quarter blitz — the right corner and two linebackers came after Mauk, who sidestepped the rush, scrambled to his right then heaved a ball back across the field with a defender in his face for a 29-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Bud Sasser.

Receivers are taught to flow with the quarterback, but one receiver might work back toward him, while another floats deeper. It’s preplanned, so Mauk has a rough idea what to expect, but the receivers are allowed some freedom to try and find a gap in and create a throwing lane.

“Those guys get open, because they know he’ll find you and we have the opportunity for a lot of big plays,” Pinkel said.

During his high school days in Kenton, Ohio, Mauk worked feverishly to hone his scramble-drill abilities.

“At least once or twice a week in practice, we’d have one scramble drill where it’d be, ‘Hey, you scramble, go back and forth a few times and make sure that these guys are finding open areas and know what you’re going to do in certain situations,’” Mauk said. “We don’t do that in practice (at Missouri), but it’s something we did a lot during the summer and our guys are doing a really good job of following through with that plan.”

Late in the first quarter at Toledo, Mauk escaped to his right as the pocket collapsed. Senior Jimmie Hunt, who was running a corner route, worked back toward the front of the end zone, drawing two defenders, while senior Darius White broke off his route and settled in space behind Hunt. Nearing the sideline, Mauk spotted White and threw across his body for a 14-7 lead.

There’s a certain trust that Mauk has developed with his receivers when he’s flushed from the pocket. He doesn’t panic and neither do the Tigers’ pass-catchers.

“The main thing is they’re going to work with me,” Mauk said. “They’re going to find that open area and, if they have to sit, work with me, work opposite, they’re going to find that open area. … I’m running, but my eyes are always going to be downfield and I’ll find those guys.”

Looking to finish off a win at Toledo, Mauk went left on a designed rollout but wound up backpedaling to avoid pressure. Hunt tracked with Mauk and popped open behind a linebacker for Mauk’s fifth touchdown of the game.

Mauk’s offensive line also appreciates his Houdini acts when the pocket collapses.

“If you miss a block, he’ll make it right,” senior left tackle Mitch Morse said. “It’s like with the running backs. It’s nice to have a quarterback who’s able to move and make us not look as bad sometimes. It helps to know, if the defensive end gets wide, just widen him out more and create cutback lanes for Maty.”

There’s nothing more maddening for a defensive player than having a quarterback lined up in the sights for sack only to have him fit you for a clown suit by slipping away.

“It gives me some (Texas) A&M flashbacks of Johnny Manziel,” senior defensive tackle Lucas Vincent said. “(Mauk’s) fast and I’m like, ‘I’m too fat to be chasing you, man.’”

Missouri grabbed the early lead against Central Florida when Mauk spun out of the pocket to his left, leaving Knights defensive tackle Jaryl Mamea to face-plant on Faurot Field. When Hunt finally broke clear in the back of the end zone, Mauk fired a sidearm touchdown while still on the run.

Junior defensive end Shane Ray was just glad, for once, it wasn’t him.

“He definitely likes a little spin move on that backside defensive end sometimes,” Ray said. “He’s gotten me a couple a times. He’s a great football player. I’ve got to give him his credit.”

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @todpalmer.

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