ARLINGTON, Texas — Gary Pinkel needed to make a decision.
Would he put redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk back in for a second consecutive series after he had injected life into a struggling squad the previous drive? Or would he stick by his three-year starter in senior James Franklin, who struggled in the first quarter while playing in his final game of his collegiate career, just miles from where he grew up?
Ultimately, Pinkel chose not to shake things up. He went with Franklin, who, despite playing his worst statistical game of the season, led a touchdown drive to give the Tigers a late fourth quarter lead and helped secure Missouri’s 41-31 Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma State on Friday night.
Franklin had thrown for 33 yards and an interception in the first quarter, completing 4-of-16 passing attempts. With the game tied at seven, Mauk entered the game on Missouri’s first drive of the second quarter, something he’s done on a consistent basis this season in games started by Franklin.
Pinkel said after the game that the decision to play Mauk in the second quarter was made in a meeting during the week, following the same process he's done all year.
When Mauk made his scheduled appearance, he ran for 73 yards, including back-to-back 35 and 34-yard runs. He capped off the drive by dropping the ball just over the reaching fingertips of an Oklahoma State defensive back and into the hands of senior receiver Marcus Lucas for a 25-yard touchdown.
According to sophomore receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, the difference came from Mauk’s scrambling ability.
“The only thing that changed was just his speed,” Green-Beckham said. “Maty’s a good quarterback. He’s a fast quarterback. He sees things differently sometimes than most guys. He saw a big crease, and he knew. We all knew that his feet were going to be a big part of his game, so he just did what he had to do and just took off and ran and made good passes.”
Pinkel contributed Mauk’s success to outside factors, some which he said are hard for the casual observer to see.
“You can look at a quarterback and you can point at him, but there’s blocking, there’s protection, there’s routes,” Pinkel said. “There’s all those other things that most of you, most people probably can’t see all the time, and we know exactly why things break down.”
Franklin lost fumbles on consecutive series he played in the second half. Botched handoffs and pitches sandwiched Mauk’s only drive of the second half, giving Franklin all three of Missouri’s turnovers.
After the fumbled pitch on MU’s first drive of the fourth quarter, Franklin put together his best period of the game, throwing 5-of-10 for 81 yards.
With the Tigers trailing 31-27 with 4:55 to play, Franklin drove Missouri 69 yards, going 2-of-4 on the drive, including a 27-yard completion down the left sideline to Green-Beckham on third-and-10. One play later, junior running back Henry Josey gave the Tigers a three-point lead, which they wouldn’t relinquish.
Franklin wasn’t made available to reporters after the game, but the humble senior tweeted about the end to his three-year reign as starter on Saturday morning:
“Not nearly the performance I wanted to have for my last game as a Tiger, but I've been very fortunate to be on such a great team!”