Missouri’s rushing stats improved at Arkansas State compared to the season opener, but those 134 yards in 33 carries can be deceiving.
Quarterback Maty Mauk did much of the damage with 10 carries for 75 yards.
“He bailed us out in a lot of ways,” Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said.
It’s great that Mauk stepped up against the Red Wolves. He’s a gamer and willing to sacrifice himself for victory.
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“If they need me to, I’m going to,” Mauk said. “Whatever they tell me to do, I’m going to do and give everything I have for it — whether that’s running the football, throwing the football, handing it off.”
It’s also a dangerous proposition for Mauk.
Last season, Mauk’s separated throwing shoulder went from bad to needs-two-shots-per-game-to-function bad because of a hit along the sideline late in a win against Kentucky.
Against Arkansas State, he got smacked in the helmet and was bent over backwards and slammed in the knee by another defender on separate carries.
“I’m banged up, but it’s football,” Mauk said. “You’re going to take hits. I feel fine. (Head athletic trainer) Rex (Sharp) and them are going to get me right. Most of it’s just some bruises and stuff, so it’s nothing I’m worried about.”
Missouri must find the right balance with Mauk. He’s obviously the most experienced quarterback on the roster and boasts a 16-4 record as the Tigers’ starter.
Freshman Drew Lock, his tipped interception against the Red Wolves notwithstanding, looks the part of a capable pocket passer, but Mauk brings a different dimension with his legs.
“That kept the defense on their toes big time,” senior center Evan Boehm said. “They didn’t know if Maty was going to run or the dropback or take off. It kept some linebackers in there and helped us open up the run game.”
Missouri’s run game can use all the help it can get at the moment, so Mauk’s running will remain critical — maybe not against Connecticut, but certainly as the Tigers move into SEC play.
For all his warts, Mauk has a knack for coming through in the clutch. He’s consistently done it with strong fourth-quarter performances for Missouri, including last week when he had four carries for 38 yards in the final period.
“Quarterbacks, the great ones, they do that,” Pinkel said. “Things aren’t going well, but you find a way. How many times have you seen that? He finds a way in the fourth quarter to help us win football games.”