Missouri's SEC run rests on Maty Mauk

All it took was a harmless pitch out of bounds by quarterback James Franklin to conjure up feelings of déjà vu for Missouri's football team.

He made a smart decision, but paid for it by getting slung to the ground by two Georgia defenders early in the fourth quarter last Saturday. Franklin hopped up and jerked his right arm a couple of times. On the next play, he passed up an opportunity to sprint upfield on a designed run, cutting left toward Georgia's sideline for a 4-yard gain.

"We had no idea what was going on," center Evan Boehm said. "You see James with a wide-open field and two defenders in front of him, and he sprinted towards the sideline. We were kind of drawn back, like there is something wrong with James. Then we saw him run to the sideline and take his helmet off and we knew it's time for Maty (Mauk) to come in."

After a timeout, Mauk, a redshirt freshman, faced a third-and-6 from Mizzou's 45-yard line. With an empty set, Mauk took the snap, paused, and ran for the first down, slipping through a couple of tackles along the way.

Two plays later, a double pass resulted in a 40-yard touchdown pass from Bud Sasser to L'Damian Washington, giving Mizzou a 34-26 lead that it never relinquished.

With Franklin on the sideline, shoulder wrapped, Mauk completed all three of his passes for 23 yards, including a long of 20 to Dorial Green-Beckham. Mauk wasn't asked to do much, but that changes now.

"I'm not the type to get nervous," Mauk told reporters earlier this week. "I usually get a little hyped."

With Franklin out three to five weeks with a separated right shoulder, Mauk is now the guy, and the 14th-ranked Tigers (6-0, 2-0 SEC), who were so hot, have to turn to the youngster to get through the meat of the SEC schedule.

"It's hard to lose a leader on the field, but at the same time, we know that he [Franklin] wants to be out there and it might make us play harder, knowing that he can't be out there," wide receiver Marcus Lucas said. "We're going to play for him.

"We have another quarterback coming in and we have full confidence in him. I don't think there's going to be any letdown."

And there can't be. Mizzou topped Georgia but now faces Florida, which owns the nation's third-ranked defense, on Saturday before hosting No. 11 South Carolina. If Missouri is going to stay in contention for the SEC East, Mauk has to grow up in a hurry. He entered the Georgia game with just three career pass attempts for 18 yards, which all came in Week 1.

Now, his first test as the Tigers' starter comes against a Florida defense leading the SEC in pass defense (152 yards per game), rush defense (83.3) and total defense (235.3).

"It might be the best defense in the country," Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said. "I don't think you worry about that. I don't think you do that. You have to trust the people around you."

Mauk has plenty around him. Mizzou is one of three SEC teams with three receivers who have gained more than 300 receiving yards, including Washington and Green-Beckham, who rank fifth and seventh in the SEC in receiving and have combined for 854 yards and 11 touchdowns.

"The timing might not be completely there right now, but as receivers, we're going to have to make that extra play," said Lucas, who has 301 yards and a touchdown on a team-high 30 receptions. "We're going to have to make plays for him to get his confidence up."

Missouri also has three running backs with 350 or more yards on the season. Mauk also ran a similar offense in high school as offensive coordinator Josh Henson runs now. He can extend plays with his fight and might be a tad faster than Franklin. Lucas also said he's made some big throws from the pocket in practice.

"He was a parade All-American coming out of high school there in Ohio, and a guy, who athletically, can do everything that they want to do," Florida coach Will Muschamp said of Mauk.

Lucas said the Tigers' momentum hasn't dipped with Franklin sidelined, mainly because of the trust they have in Mauk, who arrived at Mizzou with comparisons to Brad Smith attached to him.

The first test is Florida, and while Lucas respects that defense, he still likes what his offense has, even with Franklin out.

"We're scoring a lot of points on offense so we're just going to use the things we've been doing and we're going to attack them with everything we've got," he said.

"I think we have a good chance of exploiting what they do. We have so many playmakers on the field. I like our guys against them."