Some might say No. 14 Missouri was the Southeastern Conference’s best kept secret going into the season.
Missouri’s best kept secret going into Saturday’s 36-17 win against Florida was a play call.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk’s 41-yard completion down the right sideline to senior L’Damian Washington on the first play from scrimmage started Missouri’s offense as well Mauk himself as he filled in for the injured James Franklin.
“When did I decide on that play? Wednesday afternoon after he completed it like three times in practice,” Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson said.
The redshirt freshman knew the secret and couldn’t stop thinking about it Friday night.
“All night last night, I was just picturing in my head that L’Damian was going to score a touchdown, or at least make a big play out of it,” Mauk said.
Mauk finished his first career start with 295 yards passing, 131 more than any other quarterback this season has put up against the Gators. He went 16-32 with one passing touchdown, one rushing touchdown and an interception.
After a targeting penalty tacked on 15 extra yards to Washington’s reception, Mauk threw a 20-yard touchdown over the top to senior receiver Bud Sasser, giving Missouri an early lead.
“I knew Bud was going to come down with it, so I just threw it up and let him go get it,” Mauk said.
Missouri threw on its first eight snaps. Henson said it sent a message that the air attack wouldn’t be grounded with Franklin on the sideline.
“I felt like the offense needed to know that we weren’t going to change anything,” Henson said.
Mauk performed well, but facing Florida serves as a rough welcome to college football. The Gators ranked third in pass defense entering Saturday. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said it was the toughest first test he has ever given one of his quarterbacks making a first start.
“I’ve never had a quarterback thrown into that kind of environment against, not a good defensive football team, a great defensive football team,” Pinkel said. “He looked like a seasoned veteran out there.”
Despite Pinkel’s assessment, Mauk didn’t play mistake-free. He stared down receivers, leading to an interception along with two near misses in the first half. Mauk’s interception would have been returned for a touchdown, if not for a tackle by junior tailback Henry Josey.
“I saw the corner go off, then (he) kind of jumped it,” Mauk said.
The interception highlighted a second quarter, in which Mauk went 5-13. He turned it around in the second half, completing eight of 13 passes for while running for a score as well.
After Missouri recovered a fumble at the Florida 17 with less than seven minutes to play, Mauk ran the ball to the left side, walking a tightrope of green field turf as he stayed in bounds before crossing the goal line into the end zone to put the game out of reach.
Just after the score, Mauk’s good friend and center Evan Boehm hoisted the quarterback in the air.
“That’s something special that you’ll live with forever,” Boehm said.