Maty Mauk was on target and got flustered. He made many good decisions and a couple of poor ones. His final passing numbers Saturday weren’t gaudy but should keep him at or near the top of some national categories.
The good far outweighed the bad for Mauk, a sophomore who threw four touchdown passes in the Tigers’ 38-10 victory over Central Florida at Faurot Field, and a case can be made that he’s ahead of the developmental pace on the Mizzou quarterback assembly line.
Coach Gary Pinkel’s program has cranked out many good ones. Actually, all of them became all-conference caliber. The roll call started with Brad Smith and continued through Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert and James Franklin.
Each piloted a winner as a first-year starter, turning in identical 8-5 records. Smith, Daniel and Gabbert lost bowl games. Franklin won his. But they all arrived at the same place, flashing different strengths and reaching comfort levels in their own time. Daniel, the Chiefs’ backup, got there first.
Mauk appears to be on the accelerated track. Confidence is not an issue. There’s not a throw Mauk thinks he can’t make. In the second half as he was escaping trouble, Mauk — entirely capable of a scramble — pulled the Brett Favre shovel from the tool belt and completed a push pass to Russell Hansbrough.
The connection was part of Mauk’s best sequence, which started just after Tigers defensive tackle Josh Augusta, all 335 pounds of him, tracked down a pass that had deflected off a Knights’ helmet midway through the third quarter. Augusta leaped and snared his first college interception.
Missouri held a 14-10 lead at the time, and coach George O’Leary’s underdog Knights were intent on staying within striking distance deep into the fourth quarter. The scheme had worked in the first half, when Missouri had three possessions in the first 29 minutes. the second, Mauk didn’t see a safety on a deep throw and was intercepted.
But with the Augusta gift, Missouri was in business at the Central Florida 45 with the game to be taken.
Four plays later, the Tigers were in the end zone on a 21-yard strike to Bud Sasser. Opportunity seized.
“Maty makes plays; he makes them all the time,” Pinkel said. “He’ll get much, much better as a quarterback through experience. Sticking through his reads, managing the game, the down and distance. He’ll learn those things … and become a lot better player.”
A lot better than the current model would boost Mauk and the Tigers above that 8-5 bar. After a 3-0 start and considering how many remaining games in which the Tigers will be prohibitive favorites — starting next weekend with Indiana — bowl eligibility will be no issue.
Then it becomes a matter of how Mauk will handle the likes of SEC foes like Georgia, Texas A&M, South Carolina and Florida. He took snaps against all of those programs last year, beating Florida as a starter and collecting the save in relief at Georgia.
For good measure, throw in his touchdown pass in the Cotton Bowl victory against Oklahoma State.
The foundation for this season was set, and Saturday presented a bigger challenge than last week’s five-touchdown performance at Toledo. The Knights were Mizzou’s toughest nonleague foe, one that captured a BCS bowl trophy last season.
Halftime adjustments were required, and Missouri drew up more quick passes that required shorter drops and less decision-making.
“I think he calmed down in the second half and went through his reads,” Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. “We got some quick throws, took some easy gains.”
Combining his four starts for the injured Franklin in the Tigers’ division-winning 2013 season with this year’s totals, Mauk has tossed 23 touchdowns and five interceptions and has lost only one of those games, to South Carolina last season. He entered the day leading college football in touchdown passes and touchdowns accounted for (passing and rushing), and Pinkel sees more.
“As he gets better, it’ll be fun to watch,” Pinkel said.
The fun, at times, is already here. So are the victories.