The sophomore gunslinger hasn’t been the best example of consistency this season.

Maty Mauk’s year got off to a scorching start when he threw 14 touchdowns in his first four games, including a five-touchdown performance on the road against Toledo.

Since then, things have been less specatcular — five touchdowns and six interceptions in the six games following, but all five touchdowns have come within the last three weeks.

Perhaps a sign Mauk is getting back in a groove?

“He played pretty good [against Texas A&M],” head coach Gary Pinkel said of his quarterback on Wednesday’s teleconference. “He had that one bad throw — it actually slipped out of his hand a little bit, had that interception — but I thought he really managed the game well in that environment, which is important to do because that dictates the whole offense.”

Last week’s performance was key for Mauk to gain some confidence before this upcoming matchup against Tennessee. Prior to playing Texas A&M, Mauk had struggled in his road SEC games against South Carolina, throwing no touchdowns and completing less than 36 percent of his passes in both games.

He handled himself well in front of a raucous environment at Kyle Field and will need to build on that success when he’s playing in front of another 102,000-plus at Neyland Stadium Saturday night. His offense — as well as the team’s postseason hopes — are riding on him.

Because of Mauk’s inconsistent play throughout the season, we’ve seen a very hot and cold Missouri offense — twice the Tigers have been held under 150 total yards. Last week against the Aggies, they had their best performance of the season, racking up 587 yards of offense.

When facing Tennessee, however, one of the reasons why it’ll be paramount for the Tigers to have a repeat performance of last weekend is because of the offense on the other sideline. With Joshua Dobbs as the starter in the last few games, the Vols averaged 47.5 points per game, including a 50-point performance last week against Kentucky.

Mauk’s capable of that kind of output but can often run into some issues, thanks to his ability to extend plays when pressure and tendencies to try and make a big play on every snap. While this has led Mauk to be more turnover-prone and less accurate, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones sees Mauk’s appetite for the big play as a positive for Mauk. And it makes it that much harder to stop him.

“His biggest strength is his competitiveness,” Jones said during the teleconference. “Every play, he wants to make something happen. He’s able to keep alive, whether it’s with his arm, scrambling or scrambling and running the football. He’s a fierce competitor.”

Tennessee’s defense will be without two players this weekend — senior linebacker AJ Johnson and redshirt sophomore defensive back Michael Williams.

However, the Vols’ pass defense has been impressive for much of the season. Only twice have the Vols surrendered more than 300 passing yards in a game this season.

Missouri’s offense hasn’t thrown for more than 300 yards in a game since Sept. 20, against Indiana. Nevertheless, the unit has some momentum rolling after the Texas A&M game and will need as equally strong of a game from Mauk and company to keep the Tigers’ win streak and postseason hopes alive.

(h/t to David Morrison for transcription of teleconference quotes)