|Saturday, December 8
Updated: December 9, 3:02 AM ET
Mauck replaces Davey, leads Tigers to SEC title
By Wayne Drehs
ATLANTA -- At first glance, the scene looked normal. LSU quarterback gets cornered by local radio affiliate outside of locker room after leading team to shocking upset victory.
Only Rohan Davey, the Tigers' record-setting signal caller and focal point of its potent offense, was nowhere to be found. Standing in his place was 22-year-old freshman Matt Mauck, a scattered blend of excitement, happiness, confusion and shock.
Mauck, who led his team to a 31-20 upset of Tennessee and was named championship game MVP, looked lost. This was all new to him. He had little clue that he wasn't supposed to talk to the media until after coach Nick Saban talked to the team, so when a local radio affiliate asked for a live interview, the former Indiana Mr. Baseball obliged.
Then a member of the LSU PR team walked by. "Mauck!" the administrator yelled while grabbing his jersey and pulling him away. "Not now. We gotta get inside."
Looking like a little boy who had run amok at an amusement park and was just found by his mother, Mauck shrugged and mouthed the word "Sorry."
He didn't know any better. Before tonight, he was just another minor league baseball player who traded in his bat and glove for shoulder pads and a face mask.
But not anymore.
After replacing an injured Davey in the second quarter and leading LSU to victory, eliminating Tennessee from a shot at the national championship in the process, he'll be remembered as the man who created a living nightmare for the anti-playoff BCS.
"I don't know what to say," Mauck said. "I was a little nervous at first, but just tried to remain as calm as possible and not lose the game for us. I just didn't want to commit the mistake that would hurt us."
He did more than that, scoring two rushing touchdowns in the win. Not bad for a guy who hasn't played in seven weeks and whose media guide bio reads more like the back of a baseball card than blue chip high school quarterback.
But he wasn't the only sub to shine. Second-string running back Domanick Davis also filled in admirably for stud tailback LaBrandon Toefield, rushing for 78 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
LSU lost its starting quarterback and starting running back and still beat the team that bullied Florida last week and knocked off the Tigers earlier in the season. Go figure.
"If someone would have bet me that we would have lost Ro and Toe in the second quarter and still would have come from behind to win the ballgame, I wouldn't have believed it," offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher said. "You would have taken all my money."
Lucky for Fisher, nobody approached him for that bet at halftime, when things looked pretty grim. Not only was the team trailing 17-10, but they had just found out Davey and Toefield would be out for the second half.
Mauck, an athletic, three-sport star in high school and a former catcher in the Chicago Cubs minor league system, had already subbed for Davey in the first quarter and scored on a four-yard run. So Fisher, who had built his entire game plan around the relatively immobile Davey and the running of Toefield, scrapped everything.
"We just got rid of our original game plan and tried to do things that we knew Matt could do," Fisher said. "He's athletic, he can run, so we set up our game plan to take advantage of those skills."
It worked perfectly. Putting Mauck in the shotgun, he ran up the middle, around both ends and even completed a few rollout passes. That opened things up for the LSU running game, which struggled mightily in the first half.
"One thing led to another and the next thing I knew, we were keeping them off balance and had quite a flow going there," Fisher said.
The result was that LSU would score on four of its five second-half possessions -- twice on field goals by John Corbello, and once each on touchdown runs by Mauck and Davis.
Nothing Mauck did was overly impressive. His final numbers, 5-of-15 passing for 67 yards and 12 carries for 43 yards, hardly read like the stats of champions. Yet there was only one number that mattered -- the final score.
"Everyone dreams about doing it," Mauck said. "But for it to actually happen is something that is very, very special to me."
Before this, Mauck said his biggest athletic accomplishment was leading his high school baseball team to back-to-back state championships. That was in 1996 and 1997. He posted a 10-0 pitching record with a 1.20 ERA in those years with a .306 batting average.
But after playing three seasons of average baseball in the Chicago Cubs organization, he decided to head back to college.
"How well did I hit in the minors? I didn't," Mauck said. "That's why I'm back here."
Mauck was recruited by Saban when Saban was the head coach at Michigan State, so he followed the coach to LSU. Now, some four years since that first recruiting letter arrived, Mauck is paying big, big dividends.
Before tonight, he had appeared in just two games, completing 13-of-26 passes for 157 yards. He had never thrown or ran for a touchdown.
Yet against the Vols, in a nationally televised game with huge implications, he played with the poise of an established veteran.
"He did a fantastic job for them," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "We saw him on film during the week and we knew that he was mobile. But I couldn't believe his poise. We hit him a lot and he kept getting back up. He showed a lot of composure in a big-time game."
Said Mauck: "That comes from my parents and my coaches growing up. I always learned to stay calm in tense situations. I was a little nervous at first, but once I was in there for a few plays everything felt comfortable."
If only he could have said that about the postgame interview setup.
"It definitely takes some getting used to."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com.