COLUMBIA, Mo. — Long before he ran his own college football team, Gary Pinkel attended an NCAA convention featuring legendary coach Bear Bryant. One thing Bryant said that day has forever stuck with Pinkel. It applied to his Missouri Tigers on Saturday.
“He said that every win’s a great win,” Pinkel said.
It rarely was a thing of beauty, but considering the depths Mizzou’s offense had plunged to the past few weeks, Pinkel could only interpret Saturday’s 24-14 victory against Vanderbilt as progress.
The Tigers (6-2, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) piled up 385 yards, their most prolific output in conference play, albeit against a Vandy team that’s winless against teams not named Massachusetts or Charleston Southern. Mizzou averaged just 182 yards of offense in SEC games against South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. By that standard, the offense became a one-day juggernaut against the Commodores (2-6, 0-5).
— Maty Mauk, Mizzou QB
Maty Mauk threw his first touchdown pass of SEC play and added his second in the game’s final two minutes, his best performance during what’s been a shaky month for Mauk, a redshirt sophomore.
He completed 11 of 23 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns, an adequate complement to a ground-oriented approach that gained 244 yards on 46 carries.
“The main thing is, yeah, we’re not fully back to where we were,” Mauk said, “but we’re starting to execute.”
By snapping Mizzou’s two-game home losing streak, Mauk might have put a muzzle on the mob of fans calling for backup quarterback Eddie Printz. His stat line looked more like an average half of production for Mizzou quarterbacks of past years, but Mauk rarely looked skittish or reckless.
“He was playing more comfortable,” right guard Connor McGovern said. “I remember he came off the sideline and said, ‘Man, I stepped up [in the pocket]. That felt good.’ That’s what we’ve been trying to get him to do because it makes it easier on us when he steps up. … As a team, it was a step in the right direction, especially for the offense. Everybody played better this game.”
Mauk did just that, leading a 10-play, 70-yard drive, finished off by Bud Sasser’s 25-yard touchdown catch in the back corner of the end zone, a rare knockout punch by the Mizzou passing game. The Tigers had outmuscled Vanderbilt along the line of scrimmage up to that point — Marcus Murphy ran for 93 yards on 16 carries and Russell Hansbrough added 87 yards on 19 touches — but Pinkel and offensive coordinator Josh Henson didn’t lose faith in their quarterback’s ability to score through the air.
Mauk seemed every bit as relieved to finally kickstart the passing game.
“I put the ball up and Bud made a tremendous play and came down with it,” Mauk said. “That’s what we need. We need to see that spark again, and it’s starting to come back.”
After the game, Mauk told Sasser that he called his shot before the snap.
“He called ‘touchdown’ out loud at the line,” said Sasser, who finished with five catches for 74 yards and both of Mauk’s passing TDs. “That’s Maty for you, man. But he made the play.”
He made plays with his feet, too, rushing for a season-high 58 yards, including a 36-yard gallop down the right sideline on a quarterback draw on third-and-15 in the third quarter. A play later, Mauk zipped a 13-yard TD to Sasser, his first touchdown in 87 passes against SEC competition. That extended Mizzou’s lead to 17-7.
“I thought the pressure on Mauk all day was good,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “The issue was letting him escape to his right. We talked about making him escape to this left instead of his right because he’s more dangerous that way as a runner and a thrower. He made plays when his team needed it.”