Missouri already trailed by a touchdown when Maty Mauk and the Tigers offense took the field for the first time in Saturday’s SEC championship game.

Mizzou called for a pass on its first offensive snap, and Mauk spotted an open receiver heading toward the sideline. With plenty of time in the pocket, he found his receiver and unleashed a throw that … (pause for effect) … fell three yards short.

Mauk’s bounce pass was a sign of things to come Saturday, as the Tigers quarterback completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in a rocky performance against a dangerous Alabama defense.

The sophomore signal-caller connected on just 16 of his 34 pass attempts against the Tide, and he amassed 168 of his 272 yards through the air on just four bizarre completions.

His four most productive passes came on broken plays resulting in Mauk running for his life, chucking the ball deep, then watching as his wideouts bailed him out with a string of spectacular catches. For a time, that was the full extent of the Missouri offense — the “heave and pray,” if you will.

But beyond those four completions, Mauk completed just 12 of 30 throws (a 40 percent completion rate) for 104 yards.

That’s all. The end.

While the “heave and pray” kept Missouri alive for much of the game’s first three quarters, it never convinced anyone Mauk was capable of completing a comeback against the Tide.

He overthrew receivers. He short-armed receivers. He led them too far and threw behind them. Yes, a few of those receivers let their quarterback down with some inexcusable drops, but if you were keeping score at home you already know the offense’s greatest faults began and ended with Mauk’s right arm.

He opened the game by completing just 2 of 9 passes. From that point on, Alabama made sure it forced the Missouri offense to move the ball through the air, selling out to stop a potent Missouri rushing attack that might have let Mauk off the hook. The Tigers ran for just 41 yards on 23 carries, and just as Alabama had hoped it became patently obvious their only chance at moving the football would be with the good ol’ forward pass.

With that, the team birthed the “heave and pray.” After stymying Missouri’s rushing attack, Alabama relentlessly pursued Mauk, forcing him to run from sideline to sideline like a chicken with its head cut off. That chaotic scrambling almost always led to some sort of a heave (and corresponding prayer).

Those prayers may have been answered four times, but they were left unanswered far more often.

Don’t let the numbers deceive you — Mauk was not good on Saturday. He was adequate in escaping a seemingly inescapable pass rush, but abysmal as a passer and as a game manager. Alabama dared Mauk to make plays to beat it, and Mauk made Alabama look smart for doing so.

It would be unfair to blame the entire loss on Mauk, but he didn’t do much to help Missouri’s cause. A heave and a prayer worked more times than it should have, but not enough to top the No. 1 team in the nation.