Powered Up: No Fear
This is the 12th season I have covered Missouri football under Gary Pinkel. And after two weeks, I've come to the conclusion I've never covered a team with a quarterback quite like Maty Mauk.
Before I explain, let me say I don't have any idea if that's a good thing or a bad thing right now. I think it has the potential to be either one.
Mauk, to me, is a gunslinger in the true sense of the word. The only quarterback I can really remember that term being used to describe consistently is Brett Favre. I want to be clear that I don't think Maty Mauk is Brett Favre, one of the top ten quarterbacks in the history of the National Football League. But their mentalities on the field seem very similar to me.
Favre played 302 games in the NFL in his 20-year career. He threw 508 career touchdowns, the league record for however long it takes Peyton Manning to throw 15 more (potentially mid-third quarter against the Chiefs this Sunday). Dan Marino is in third, 88 behind Favre. He also threw 336 career interceptions. George Blanda ranks second on that list at 277.
Every week his team played, Favre was the story. The post-game narrative was that his team won because of him. Or lost because of him. Favre never saw a throw he couldn't make. He never saw a chance he wasn't willing to take.
I see some of that in Maty Mauk. He can make plays most Missouri quarterbacks of the last dozen years can't make simply because he is willing to try to make them. He can also fail to make plays most Missouri quarterbacks of the last dozen years wouldn't fail to make because they wouldn't try to make them. The kid one meme has dubbed "The Most Interesting Quarterback in the World" is most certainly entertaining.
I asked Mizzou offensive coordinator Josh Henson about Mauk's mentality on Monday.
"I think he's very aggressive," Henson said with a telling smile. "I don't think he's afraid of making throws. That's what you enjoy about him. I've been around some players before that maybe they were afraid, if they had a pick or two, they were afraid to come back and throw it down the field. I don't think he's got any of that in him."
Both ends of the spectrum have already been on display in the first two games of the season. Against South Dakota State, Mauk was in the arms of a defender being slung to the ground. He had no chance to do anything other than take a sack or pick up an intentional grounding penalty. Mauk winged the ball in the general direction of the Missouri sideline. It landed behind the line of scrimmage, thus creating a fumble. Fortunately for the Tigers the ball did make it out of bounds and no real harm was done.
Against Toledo, Mauk put up the best numbers of his career, going for 361 yards of total offense and six touchdowns. The most "Good Maty" play of the day was inside the Rockets' ten-yard line. He felt pressure, scrambled out of the pocket and looked as if he would run. As he neared the line of scrimmage, Mauk threw on the brakes, raised up and lofted an easy touchdown pass to a receiver whose defender had come forward expecting Mauk to run. Of course, in the same game, with Missouri comfortably ahead 35-14, Mauk tried to complete a desperation pass to the sideline when perhaps a throwaway would have been more prudent. The pass was picked, Toledo went down and scored and for the briefest of moments looked to have life in a 35-21 game. Mauk then stomped that life out as the Tigers scored the next 14 points.
It is the yin and the yang of Mauk. The refusal to give up on a play can create the fantastic as it did in his SEC Offensive Player of the Week performance on Saturday. Though it hasn't yet, that same willingness could burn Missouri as Mauk begins to face better, more athletic defenses.
"I think you can teach guys, this, look, let's not do that," Henson said. "But the next time it's wide open, he's not going to be afraid to throw it. I'd rather have a guy you've got to reign back than a guy you've got to push forward."
Mauk needs no pushing. That much he has certainly shown in his first six career starts. Will that change as he gets more experience? Or is that simply the quarterback Mauk is? Either way, it promises to be fun to watch. The Tigers and their gunslinger sit undefeated, welcoming Central Florida at 11 a.m. Saturday for the next duel.