COLUMBIA, Mo. — When Mitch Morse’s cell phone buzzed Sunday, he recognized the number. It was a text from Maty Mauk, wanting to talk shop, demanding a get-together, pining to break down the baddest dudes that Florida had to offer.
And Morse thought to himself: Ownership. Cool. This is good.
“We’ve been talking to him (and) he’s just ready to go,” the Tigers’ junior right tackle said with a grin. “And it’s fantastic to see. You know, it’s going to propel us to one of the best weeks of practice we’re going to have this year, and we’re just ready to rock.”
The Mizzou Athletics Training Complex looked a happy place Monday, all sunshine, lollipops, rainbows, and bulldog pelts. Then again, a 6-0 record and the program’s first victory over a Top 10 team on the road in 32 years — a 41-26 trashing of Georgia between the hedges — tends to do that.
You ready for a dance with the best defense the Southeastern Conference has to offer, Maty?
“Yes sir,” the Tigers’ redshirt freshman quarterback replied. Then, without batting so much as an eyelid, he said this:
“We’ve got one of the best offenses, so we’re going to come right at them.”
And, well, so much for butterflies.
“Maty is Maty,” center Evan Boehmn said, chuckling. “(It’s) Maty being Maty. He loves to have fun, he jokes around with everybody, he does this and that. And usually, he’s not a quiet, shy kid.
“He likes to be all up in your face and talk to you all the time. And that’s something special to see.”
It’s something rare, too, especially in a freshman making his first collegiate start in a contest where the stakes are high enough to bring rain.
“Just thrown into the fire pretty quick, huh?” Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said of Mauk, who was tossed into the Georgia game last Saturday after starting quarterback James Franklin left the contest with a shoulder injury. “I thought he did a good job. I’m not surprised. He’s a pretty poised guy, so that’s pretty much like him.”
There’s a fine line between cocky and confident, one sometimes even the greats struggle to keep in check. Mauk was Mr. Football, Mr. Everything, as a prep signal-caller in football-mad, football-rich Ohio. He didn’t come to Columbia to hold Franklin’s clipboard; in his mind, this was always part of the master plan. It just didn’t happen quite the way he’d expected it.
“Offensively, me and James like the same stuff,” said Mauk, who to this point has tossed all of six passes in collegiate games, half of which came last weekend down in Athens. “He likes to run the ball, I like to run the ball. He likes to go deep … so, we’re both similar in that, and I don’t think I would expect anything (in the playbook) to change.”
No CliffsNotes. No streamlining. Pinkel insisted that the Tigers’ entire palette is at Mauk’s disposal; Mauk insisted that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
All of which is for the best, considering that, in theory, they’ll probably need it. Saturday at Faurot Field sets up as your classic irresistible-force-versus-immovable-object kind of cage match, at least on paper. Mizzou (6-0) comes into the weekend ranked among the top 10 in the nation in scoring offense (45.7, eighth), third-down conversion percentage (51.9, 10th), and first downs (164, tied for 10th); the Gators (4-2) reside among the top 10 in scoring defense (13.0, fourth); third-down conversion defense (27.1, eighth) and fewest first downs surrendered (84, tied for fourth).
Or, if you prefer, the Tigers are the tank, Florida, the concrete wall. After three hours, we’ll see which one is left standing.
“Last year I kind of struggled, didn’t know much (of the system),” Mauk said, “and now I know that playbook like the back of my hand, man.”
And when he isn’t poring over formations, he’s on the phone, circling the wagons, taking the reins. Mauk has even been trading texts with a cat who’s walked in his cleats — former Tigers quarterback Chase Daniel, now a backup with the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I was texting him (Saturday),” Daniel said of Mauk. “I just said, ‘Hey, just go in there, prepare like you have been — you’ve been preparing like you’ve been the starter, and it showed against Georgia, you played well. The team trusts you and just go out there and just hone in on all the details in practice.’ I told him the details are the big thing, and just keep your mind on one game.”
Daniel also told him not to worry about replacing Franklin, to just go out there on the big stage and be himself. Which, Maty being Maty, could prove very interesting indeed.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org