HOOVER, AL--Gary Pinkel acknowledged on Wednesday that in an ideal world Maty Mauk would not have started four games during the 2013 season.
"The bad news is we lost our starting quarterback for four games in the fourth quarter against Georgia," Pinkel said.
But as with virtually any situation, there was some good news after James Franklin went out with an injury and remained on the shelf for Missouri's next four games.
"The good news is we had a redshirt freshman that came in and played at a high level," Pinkel said. "That experience obviously I think helped him tremendously."
That redshirt freshman is Maty Mauk. He is now a third-year sophomore, the starting quarterback and the unquestioned leader of the Tiger offense.
"I think it would be a lot different," Mauk says of the chance to play last season. "It really slowed down quick. By the end of the first half of the Florida game, I felt like it was almost like high school again. Like, hey, you're going out here being Maty Mauk. You're not just going out here trying to manage the game, you're going out here to win. I really took the next step there."
And win he mostly did. Mauk won three of his four starts, the lone exception a 27-24 double-overtime loss in which Mauk's defense conspired with him to surrender a 17-0 fourth-quarter lead and the Tigers missed a chip-shot field goal that could have sent the game to a third extra session.
"I think Maty's proven himself a year ago he can play at this level. He competed at the highest level in all of college football," Pinkel said. "Obviously we've got to block for him, we've got to catch for him, we've got to run the ball, all the things that help the quarterback. I think Maty Mauk has a lot of ability."
But in 2014, Mauk will shoulder much more responsibility. With that, he knows he has to improve on a 51.1% completion percentage from last season. But when Mauk talks, he speaks not of the difficulty of improving, but more of the simplicity of what his job will be in his sophomore season.
"From a leadership standpoint, that's a big thing that stands up. I have to get these guys rallied behind me," he said. "Our offense, we're going to be explosive and we have the playmakers to do it. My job is to get the ball to those guys as quick as I can."
Leadership isn't a question with Mauk. Never really has been.
"I think he's a very natural leader. I knew that when he was in high school. He was one of those guys that he loves to play football, loves to compete," Pinkel said. "He's a winner. Players know it. He's a remarkable competitor. They know it. They respect the way he leads 'cause he leads in a very, very positive way. We're very fortunate to have a young player like him. That's why he did so well last year when we threw him in there as a freshman."
During his 30-minute press conference, Pinkel used a buzzword when talking about Mauk: "He's just got the 'it' factor." The coach said that about another young quarterback who had even less experience than Mauk at the time. Chase Daniel went on to become the most prolific quarterback in school history. Both may have "it," but what Daniel had that Mauk does not yet is a proven receiving corps.
The Tigers lost 167 catches, 2,468 yards and 25 touchdowns from the now-departed-for-various-reasons trio of L'Damian Washington, Marcus Lucas and Dorial Green-Beckham. In their places are Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White, who combined for 690 yards and three touchdowns on 55 receptions in 2013. Not that Mauk sounds like the void in returning production concerns him.
"I've been with them for a while now," Mauk said of the trio. "When I can know a receiver like the back of my hand like I really do Jimmie, Bud and Darius, that's kind of scary for a defense."
To supplement those three, Pinkel spoke frequently of using different personnel sets. He discussed increasing the use of the tight ends and using tailbacks like Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough in the passing game more often. Mauk spoke more of newer faces, namely freshman wideouts Nate Brown, DeSean Blair and Lawrence Lee, with whom he has worked out often over the summer.
"This class is kind of different. These guys know their roles and they're expecting to play. They're going to keep getting better. And whatever I can do to make them better, if it's throwing three times a day, I'll do it," Mauk said. "I expect Nate Brown and Lawrence and DeSean to do big things this year. Whether they redshirt or not is still not known, but I know they're going to work as hard as they can to get themselves mentally and physically ready."
But the quarterback is the cog that makes it all go. Mauk's mere presence at SEC Media Days indicated his importance to this team. A sophomore with four career starts and all of 133 passing attempts under his belt is not often tabbed as one of a school's three representatives at such an event.
"It really shows the level of expectation he (Pinkel) has," Mauk said. "That puts a lot of pressure on you but I like pressure and I expect everybody back at home, they know that, hey, Maty, you're the offensive leader and we need you to be great."
And, like all quarterbacks, Mauk measures greatness in just one way.
"I don't have any personal goals. I'm a sophomore, I have three years left. That stuff will take care of itself. My goal is to go game by game and win as many as we can."
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