Missouri looks for more offense against Kentucky
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Maty Mauk insists he’s never doubted himself. The Missouri quarterback promises to get the offense back on track for the final month of the regular season.
"We’re moving in the right direction," Mauk said. "There’s nothing to do except get better, and our guys are ready to do that. All it is, is repetition."
Speaking of confidence, Kentucky just showed its commitment to second-year coach Mark Stoops. The Wildcats (5-3, 2-3 SEC) have more wins this year than the past two seasons combined and were competitive in a two-touchdown loss to top-ranked Mississippi State week.
Stoops is signed through 2019 for a total of $21.75 million.
"Mark is guiding our program in the direction we all want it to go and we are proud to reward that," athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement.
Mauk threw for just 141 yards last week in a victory over Vanderbilt and completed just 11 of 23 passes, but threw for two touchdowns with no interceptions. Another positive sign was a season-best 58 yards rushing.
"I think Maty has always made plays with his feet," coach Gary Pinkel said. "Big plays ignite players and offenses and defenses."
The offense totaled one touchdown the previous two weeks, but Pinkel denounced chatter that Mauk had been discouraged as "blown way out of proportion."
Simplifying the game plan helps, too.
"You’re obviously trying not to put him in situations where it’s like he sitting there going, ‘Oh, my gosh. What is this?’" offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. "I know his stats don’t blow you away, but we also had two drops and one of those was another third-down conversion."
Mauk threw for a career-best five touchdowns last year against Kentucky, four to since-transferred Dorial Green-Beckham.
The Tigers (6-2, 3-1) had twice as many runs as passes last week and are likely to again emphasize the ground game again Saturday against the Wildcats. But Mauk said he won’t be afraid to air it out against a vulnerable defense that’s allowed 40-plus points the last two games.
"I’m going to be ready to take a shot, because now they’re going to be worried," Mauk said. "’Is he going to run? What is he going to do?’"
Things to watch for in Kentucky-Missouri:
LOOKING UP: Though the Wildcats have lost two straight, the 5-3 start remains the school’s best since 2008. The Wildcats had two victories last season and in 2012.
With a month to go, the Wildcats’ 253 points already tops any of the three previous season totals and the 31.6-point average is nearly two TDs more than 2012. Another statistical positive: They have 13 interceptions, 10 more than all last year, including three apiece by Marcus McWilson and A.J. Stamps.
Missouri won, 48-17, last year, yet came away impressed.
"I remember saying after that game, ‘Well, this team’s a lot better than I think they think they are,’" offensive lineman Mitch Morse said.
WHISTLE STOP: Missouri had 100 yards in penalties on 14 calls last week. That’s not normal for a program that stresses discipline.
STRONG FINISHERS: Missouri was 4-0 last November, far outpacing expectations on a run to the SEC East title. The schedule is favorable this year, with remaining opponents a combined 4-14 in conference play.
"Once you start getting that winning streak going, you just have to use that mojo that the team has going," wide receiver Bud Sasser said.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Kentucky’s Alvin "Bud" Dupree has 20 career sacks, most among active SEC players. He has four sacks this season and is six shy of the school career record by Oliver Barnett from 1986-89. Dupree has four sacks this season.