Missouri redshirt freshman Maty Mauk’s debut as a starting quarterback began with a confidence-building 41-yard heave down the visitors’ sideline to senior L’Damian Washington.
It ended, for all intents and purposes, with Mauk aloft in sophomore center Evan Boehm’s arms in the north end zone during the fourth quarter of the 14th-ranked Tigers’ 36-17 rout Saturday against No. 22 Florida at Memorial Stadium.
A sellout crowd of 67,124 watched Missouri, 7-0 and 3-0 in the SEC, beat a ranked opponent in back-to-back weeks for the first time since 1973 led by Mauk, who went 18 of 36 for 295 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
“If you watched him play in high school, that’s what he looked like almost every game,” Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said. “The bigger the game, the better he played.”
The throw to Washington had been planned since Wednesday “after he completed it like three times in practice and looked really good,” offensive coordinator Josh Henson said.
It was only the second play longer than 40 yards Florida’s vaunted defense had allowed all season. The Gators also lost starting safety Cody Riggs for the game because of a targeting penalty on the play.
Mauk staked the Tigers to a 7-0 lead on the next snap with a beautifully thrown 20-yard touchdown lob to junior Bud Sasser 22 seconds into the game.
Florida, 4-3 and 3-2 in the SEC, never led as the Tigers’ defense roughed up Gators junior quarterback Tyler Murphy, claimed three turnovers and racked up 11 tackles for a loss in a dominant performance.
Senior defensive end Michael Sam led the way with his third three-sack performance of the season for Missouri, which also got sacks from Kony Ealy, Shane Ray and Matt Hoch.
“It’s no surprise to us, because we know we can stop the run and get after the quarterback,” said Ealy, whose sack jarred the football loose for an Andrew Wilson fumble recovery. “ We had our game plan down pat, we went out there and we executed and it went as planned.”
With the victory and other results around the SEC, Missouri owns a two-game lead in the loss column in SEC East division.
Throughout the week, Missouri, which outgained the Gators 500-151 in total offense, insisted it wouldn’t change its offense and didn’t expect to be limited by Mauk.
Henson put his money where his mouth was on the first snap.
“To come out and complete that pass from the gate and get a targeting penalty on top of it, that really does something for your offense and your confidence, especially with a young quarterback like Maty Mauk,” Washington said.
The Tigers’ defense then forced a three-and-out, but Marcus Murphy, who was later knocked from the game by a blow to the head, muffed the ensuing punt.
That led to Frankie Velez’s 23-yard field goal, but that was the only offense the Gators mustered before halftime.
Thanks to two sophomore kicker Andrew Baggett’s record-tying five field goals, a 43-yard bomb late in the first quarter and a 19-yard chip shot midway through the second quarter, Missouri built a 13-3 halftime lead.
Florida’s Solomon Patton returned the opening kickoff of the second half 100 yards — it was actually closer to 105 from where he caught it in the end zone — for a touchdown, pulling within 13-10.
But Missouri reestablished a 10-point lead on its first third-quarter drive when junior Henry Josey, who finished with 136 yards on 18 carries, scored on a 6-yard run.
Baggett, who tied the all-time Missouri record with five field goals, pumped the lead to 23-10 with a 39-yard kick midway through the third quarter.
The Gators pulled back within six on its best drive of the game — a six-play, 70-yard march late in the third quarter capped by freshman Kelvin Taylor’s 20-yard touchdown, but the Tigers countered with two more Baggett field goals.
That’s when sophomore Shane Ray smashed Tyler Murphy from behind — the second straight week he’s had a blindside sack for a fumble — inside the Gators’ 20-yard line.
Mauk tight-roped down the sideline for a 17-yard touchdown after the turnover and wound up in Boehm’s arms as the Tigers celebrated.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Mauk said.