After a cold start, Mauktober transitioned pleasantly into November.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk missed his first four targets but picked it up with both his arm and his legs from there on out. He finished with 163 yards through the air and 114 more on the ground as No. 10 Missouri (8-1, 4-1 SEC) handled Tennessee (4-5, 1-4 SEC) 31-3 Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.
“We didn’t start out very good,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “I think we might have thrown four incompletions right away for whatever the reasons, but then we came bad and made some plays, and he (Mauk) makes plays. He did it with his feet, and he also did it down field with his arm.”
Mark ran for 27 yards in his first two career starts. He ran for a game-high 114 yards on 13 attempts Saturday night.
“He’s a dual-threat quarterback,” senior receiver L’Damian Washington said. “He’s not really seen as a dual-threat, but if he has to tuck the ball and run, he does a pretty good job.”
Mauk wasn’t the only one eating up yards on the ground for Missouri. The Tigers rushed for 339 yards, their second-highest output of the season and their second-highest total in Southeastern Conference play by 94 yards.
The Tigers ran the ball 54 times compared to 25 passing attempts.
“It feels like we have a lot of trust in the offensive line,” sophomore center Evan Boehm said. “And once we got that ball rolling, it’s something special to have. Having 339 total yards of rushing was special to us five because last week we didn’t do the things that we wanted to do.”
Mauk and the offense got on track after the Tiger defense stopped the Volunteers on fourth-and-5. Missouri went 64 yards in 13 plays, concluding with a 9-yard touchdown catch by sophomore receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. Green-Beckham caught a screen pass on the left side, and then ran across the field before crossing the goal line on the right side.
“I saw it (the end zone) from the corner of my eye and I saw everybody rolling to the left side so I felt like ‘OK, if they’re going to run that way, I might as well run to the right side if that’s where nobody is and so it came open, and I ran in there for a touchdown,” he said.
Missouri stayed on track during the second quarter, posting 236 yards of offense in the frame. Sophomore Andrew Baggett hit a 24-yard field goal and Mauk added touchdown passes to seniors Washington and Marcus Lucas.
Both players and coaches talked about Mauk’s running lanes. They said he was running downfield when he would take off instead of running from side-to-side.
“Once Maty felt the pressure, he didn’t go laterally, he went down the field,” Boehm said. “He did a great job tonight with extending plays and keeping the plays alive and keeping drives alive.”
Junior Russell Hansbrough extended the lead in the third quarter on a 26-yard touchdown carry. He finished with 61 yards on seven carries.
Missouri extended its streak of games with a turnover when senior cornerback E.J Gaines intercepted a pass in his first game back after missing two games with a quadricep injury.
Mauk hit Washington with a 26-yard touchdown pass on the very next play. Washington was all by himself in the end zone as Mauk scrambled to his right after being flushed out of the pocket.
“The whole time I’m thinking ‘please don’t drop the ball,’” Washington said.
The Tigers got the ball deep in their own territory with 4:04 left in the first half. Missouri put together a 7-play, 85-yard drive, which concluded with a 40-yard touchdown pass to Lucas down the middle.
“(That play is) something we have been working on in practice, we knew that play would work,” Lucas said. “Maty put up a great ball and it just comes down to making plays.”
After missing a 24-yard field goal in double overtime last week, Baggett hit his first attempt of the half, which coincidentally came from 24 yards. His second attempt was a 28-yarder to finish the half. He hit the left upright, just as he did last week.
The kick came from essentially the same position as last week’s, on the left hash mark from 28-yards out. Baggett said he thought about that when he went to kick it.
“I couldn’t hit that (the upright) if I tried; I promise you that.” Baggett said. “Maybe that’s the problem, I guess. I really wanted that to go in.”
Mauk finished 12-25 for 163 yards and three touchdowns. His previous career high for touchdowns in a game was one.
The lack of production on third down hindered the Volunteer offense. Tennessee converted on just two of 13 third down situations and also failed to convert on the two times it went for it on fourth down. On the contrary, Missouri converted on 10 of 19 third down attempts.
“I think coach Stec (defensive coordinator Dave Steckel) was just switching up the calls and confusing the young quarterback back there, so he had a game plan for them and I think we put it out pretty good,” Gaines said.
Missouri will travel to Lexington, Ky., to face Kentucky next weekend before getting its second bye week of the season. Pinkel said it’s “very possible” starting senior quarterback James Franklin will be ready for next week’s game.