Brandon Allen and Maty Mauk know full well that their respective 2015 seasons have to be better. No player wants to be complacent, especially in a league as treacherous and cannibalistic as the SEC, but these two quarterbacks are out to reinvent themselves in a year when their teams' runs will be greatly determined by their play.
It might sound cliche that two quarterbacks in college football's toughest conference want to get better, but really, these two held their teams back at times last season. Yes, Missouri surprised everyone with another double-digit-win season and a second straight SEC Eastern Division title, but the Tigers mostly road the coattails of a tenacious defense, and Arkansas' running game and defense were at the center of the Razorbacks' seven-win success.
"Right now, I want to do whatever I can do to step my game up to the next level, but at the same time I gotta do whatever I can do to help Mizzou win football games," said Mauk, who will be a redshirt junior this fall. "That’s my job."
The good thing is that they harp on their own failures and shortcomings. When talking to both, there wasn't a tone of satisfaction coming from either when they discussed their individual play last season. There was a clear feel of redemption, and a renewed sense of urgency.
"If we get the passing game going, we’re going to be a real tough offense to stop," Allen said.
It was almost as if these quarterbacks were just along for the ride at times. Mauk, who was tremendous during his month-long relief duty as a redshirt freshman in 2013, struggled to find any sort of consistency in SEC play last fall. He completed just 48.9 percent of his passes and threw nine touchdowns to seven interceptions in league play. Allen was only slightly better, completing 54.5 percent of his throws with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Neither averaged 190 passing yards a game last season.
Both quarterbacks point to their play first, as they should, but they also understand the situations that restricted high passing numbers. For one, Mauk played the final six games with excruciating pain in his throwing shoulder. He suffered an injury to his acromioclavicular joint during the Kentucky game on Nov. 1, and was forced to play through pain the rest of the season.
Though Mauk didn't require surgery, he said the pain was unlike anything he'd ever experienced and thought it worsened with every throw and hit. Mauk hates putting some of the blame for his play on his shoulder, but it's clear it affected him. He didn't have the accuracy or strength to consistently complete the deep ball, and failed to stand tall in the pocket at times for fear of taking another hit, so he often scampered around too soon when things broke down. He said he found himself pressing and forcing throws that were hindered by lost arm strength.
"Obviously I was in pain, but I just wanted to go out and do everything I could to help Mizzou win," Mauk said.
"That was the first time I’ve actually had pain. ... I was hurting, I’m not gonna lie."
Mauk says he's pain-free now. He's also lighter and faster after shedding nine percent body fat during the offseason. His physical transformation and confidence in his arm have him flying around in practice, while still being able to sit in the pocket and properly disect the defense. With no pain to worry about, Mauk has been guiding a young receiving corps with more confidence.
"I feel really good," he said. "This is the best I’ve felt for a few years, honestly. My whole body just feels great. Now, I can really step my game up and get better."
Allen operated a more run-heavy offense, so his arm wasn't needed as much. However, forcing the ball was a big issue for him, too. Allen only threw five interceptions, but his low completion percentage can be attributed to a lot throwaways, he said. Allen admits to failing to hit his check-downs enough last season, which cost the Hogs at key points during games, especially third down, when he completed 46.8 percent of his passes and threw three interceptions.
"He has to be at his best when it’s at its most difficult moment in the game, and I think he’s really taken that challenge and ran with it," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said.
Allen is also immersing himself into new offensive coordinator Dan Enos' playbook. Enos' past offensive success at Central Michigan has Allen excited, especially because the passing game should open up a bit more. Already very comfortable with his new coordinator's offense, Allen is taking more chances in practice and building confidence.
"Getting through all your reads and progressions, hitting more check-downs is always going to bump that percentage up, but you always have to be able to take those shots when they are there," Allen said.
So far, both quarterbacks have taken the proper steps toward revivals. In a league void of veteran quarterbacks, these two are putting last season behind them and forging new and improved paths.