You can throw all the stats you want at Maty Mauk, but the Missouri quarterback is not going to flinch.
You can point to a difficult stretch of games last fall—South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida—where nothing seemed to work for Mauk. In those SEC games he completed only 27 of 73 passes (36.9 percent) with no touchdowns and five interceptions.
You can point out that Mauk threw 13 interceptions last season, second only to Bo Wallace of Ole Miss.
You can point out that Missouri’s offense ranked next to last in the SEC in 2014 at only 367 yards per game.
You can finally point out that Mauk was 12th in the SEC in completion percentage (53.4 percent) and over his career is right around 52 percent.
You can throw all of those numbers at the junior and he’ll counter with these two:
That’s Mauk’s record as a starter for the Tigers.
That’s the number of SEC East championships won by the Tigers with him playing quarterback.
“I’m going to take wins over stats,” said Mauk during SEC Media Days in July. “I’m not a guy who is going out there for stats. I’m here to win football games.”
And that he has done. Two seasons ago as a freshman, Mauk came off the bench when starter James Franklin was hurt. He was 3-1 in games played including a 41-26 win at Georgia. Therefore, Mauk played a big role in getting Missouri to its first SEC championship game, where the Tigers lost to Auburn.
As the full-time starter last season, Mauk overcame that difficult three-game stretch and was solid the rest of the way as the Tigers finished 7-1 in the SEC and made their second straight trip to Atlanta, where they lost to No. 1 Alabama.
As we noted above, Mauk’s numbers will not impress you. But in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, Mauk found ways for Missouri to win. When Missouri needed clutch wins at Texas A&M (34-27), at Tennessee (29-21) and at home against Arkansas (21-14) to clinch the division championship, Mauk got his team over the finish line.
“Honestly, when he’s in crunch time, he’s at his best,” said Pinkel, in this 15th season at Missouri. “He’s delivered since he’s been a player for us. We just need more consistency at the position, more consistency on offense. I think it starts with him.”
Mauk admits that over the past two seasons his play at times has been “sloppy.”
“The main thing for me is becoming more consistent,” said Mauk, whose 414 passing attempts last season was second only to South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson. “Last year, I had my ups and downs. We won but sometimes it was sloppy and don’t want it to be sloppy. The main thing is that I don’t want to just talk about it. I want to go out there and do it.”
The reality for Missouri is that if the Tigers are going to defy the odds and get to Atlanta for the third straight time, Mauk has to step up his game. The Tigers have won 23 games the past two seasons by relying on an opportunistic defense with future NFL players up front.
Gone are defensive linemen Shane Ray, Markus Golden, and Matt Hoch. Also gone for this season is Harold Brantley, the Tigers’ best returning defensive lineman. Brantley, who started 10 games last season, was seriously injured in an automobile accident in June. He suffered a broken leg which required surgery and well as ligament damage to his knee.
Also gone is defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, who became head coach at Missouri State. He was replaced by Barry Odom, who played at Missouri, served as an assistant to Pinkel, and has spent the last three seasons at Memphis.
So it looks like Mizzou is going to need more from its offense which means the Tigers need more from Mauk. But Mauk has to find some new weapons.
Receivers Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt, and Darius White collectively caught 147 passes for 2,073 yards last season. Only one returning player—tight end Sean Caulkin—caught more than nine passes last season.
Missouri lost versatile running back Marcus Murphy (924 rushing, 28 catches) but return a 1,000-yard rusher in senior Russell Hansbrough.
Because of those losses the SEC media picked Missouri to finish third in the East Division behind Georgia and Tennessee. Only 20 of the 225 media members who cast ballots voted for Missouri.
Mauk made it clear that Missouri is not worried about getting respect. The Tigers, he said, are only concerned about making it back to Atlanta.
“We are back-to-back SEC (East) champs and we are coming for a third,” said Mauk. “We are going to be ready. It’s not even a respect thing anymore. We are going to be disrespected, we are going to be on the bottom of everybody’s polls. It’s something we can’t control so we aren’t going to even worry about it.”
Next stop: South Carolina.