Could Maty Mauk's lack of progress hinder Mizzou's offense this season?
Second only to Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott in career touchdowns, Maty Mauk is one of few notable returning quarterbacks in the SEC this season and to the casual fan, is seen as an extreme positive in a league short on experience under center.
For Mizzou, Mauk’s presence could actually backfire and be detrimental from a development standpoint on offense, a unit whose best player in 2015 wears No. 32, not No. 7, and carries the football.
Put consecutive division titles to the side for a second and examine Mauk’s numbers against the good teams he’s played against.
Glancing at Mauk’s film, most of the time, it’s not pretty.
Notice the full-length game film, not the highlights. I’m referring to the routine plays we don’t see in a nice, clean package wrapped in graphics. The five-yard outs that often sail incomplete. The manageable third downs that somehow transform into frantic scrambles and eight-step drops that devolve into disarray.
No one’s questioning Mauk’s moxie as a football player, evidenced by several — what one could label “gutsy” — outings.
But from a passer’s perspective, the knocks on Mauk are lengthy.
He holds onto the football too long when his first read is blanketed. His decision-making comes into question when flustered. And he rarely stays in the pocket long enough for routes to finish, and when he does, often refuses to set his feet, plant and throw.
All of these elements lead to bad quarterbacking against quality defenses and Mauk’s 2014 season proved it. He threw one less interception than Bo Wallace, a guy who locks onto targets as if he’s playing 7-on-7.
It was that bad at times.
Remember the early-season stretch against South Carolina, Georgia and Florida? At one point, the Tigers couldn’t buy a first down — 0-for-18 for during their worst stretch — and the blame fell on Mauk. He was too confident in his legs and preferred minimal gains to the sideline leading to punts rather than shots down field.
Mauk’s struggles were quickly dismissed, however, because Mizzou kept finding a way to win — to Gary Pinkel’s credit.
In terms of Mauk’s future at the position, to be an efficient quarterback at the next level one must — above all else — be accurate. That’s why a player like Russell Wilson, who may not have the physical skill set of a Matt Stafford or Joe Flacco, can be successful.
Wilson’s 63.1 career completion percentage puts him in the second tier of NFL quarterbacks, but it helped him sign a multi-year extension as a franchise player. Any number below 55 percent for quarterbacks means they’re destined for arena league stardom, and that’s where Mauk sits at the moment.
Only two SEC quarterbacks with at least five starts ranked behind Mauk from an efficiency standpoint last season — LSU’s Anthony Jennings and Florida’s Jeff Driskel.
He didn’t show the improved, well-rounded repertoire we expected to see after he flourished in limited time as James Franklin’s primary backup and spot starter as a freshman, nor did he strike fear in opposing defenses.
Instead, despite the production increase, Mauk regressed as a quarterback.
How can that be considering his touchdown total of 25, the second-highest in the East behind South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson?
Ignore the fact more than half of that total (14) came during the first four games of the season against non-conference competition. Mauk’s lack of consistency snap-to-snap limited the Mizzou offense and ultimately kept the Tigers from posing any real threat to Alabama in Atlanta, the team’s second straight pasting in the SEC title game.
Mauk has simply never been accurate with the football, posting a completion percentage of 53.4 last season and 51.1 as a freshman. Those totals ranked near the bottom of the SEC consecutive years and last season, handcuffed the Tigers’ overall firepower and rhythm offensively.
Mizzou averaged 367 yards per game last fall, second-worst in the league in front of the putrid carousel of quarterbacks at Vanderbilt. Mauk’s inconsistency affected the Tigers’ tempo and led to more turnovers at the position than the year before.
Is it fair to say he’s looked even worse this spring? Reports haven’t been positive out of Columbia, Mo., with misreads and interceptions dominating ledes in reference to Mizzou’s lackluster showing thus far. It’s part of the reason the Tigers still aren’t getting their due in the media despite consecutive division crowns while uber-talented Georgia and upstart Tennessee get pub.
Mauk didn’t throw his first touchdown passes of camp until this week, a few days before spring drills conclude.
It’s an enigma that continues to frustrate Pinkel, quarterbacks coach Andy Hill and offensive coordinator Josh Henson who may have no choice but to turn to competitor Eddie Printz early next season.
Printz is a third-year sophomore who fits the pro-style mold with a firm grasp of the offense, but he has struggled as well this spring. Printz did show promise during Mizzou’s second scrimmage on Tuesday, completing seven passes for 52 yards in a two-minute drill against the No. 1 defense, but there’s still a long way to go from a game-ready standpoint.
Mauk has proven he can win in the SEC and it doesn’t have to be pretty, but at what point do the Tigers go in a different direction if it means more consistent play under center? From an outsider’s view, that is what’s keeping this team from being championship-caliber.
Saturday’s final scrimmage is big for Mauk, Mizzou’s starter by default. If things go South, an ensuing quarterback battle in August could be the Tigers’ best-suited course of action.