By The Associated Press
Maty Mauk throws during the game against Florida on Oct. 19, 2013.
COLUMBIA — Missouri quarterback James Franklin looked good in pre-game drills and could be back from a shoulder injury next week. Coaches used that to prod backup Maty Mauk against Tennessee.
The redshirt freshman made his third start in place of Franklin, and it was his best by far. Coach Gary Pinkel said Mauk was told he was on a short leash.
“We kind of scared him a little bit,” Pinkel said after Missouri whipped Tennessee 31-3 Saturday night. “If anything got fuzzy, he was out of there.”
Franklin, a senior, has missed three starts since injuring his shoulder early in the fourth quarter of a victory at Georgia. Mauk entered that game with Missouri up by only two points and finished off a 41-26 victory.
Pinkel was optimistic Franklin would be back next week. He thought Franklin could have played in a limited role if needed against Tennessee.
“I think he’s going to be very close next week,” Pinkel said. “We think it’s very possible he’ll be ready.”
Mauk struggled a bit early, and made sure to credit everyone for the surge that put the game out of reach by halftime. Missouri (8-1, 4-1 SEC) had a 24-3 cushion over Tennessee (4-5, 1-4) at the break
“Once we got things going and got our tempo up, you could tell,” Mauk said. “We were just running our plays.
“Hats off to everybody, but we still have not played our best game.”
Missouri rushed for 339 yards, and Mauk kept Tennessee defenders guessing.
“He would find the open receiver, he would find it if it we had a kink in our coverage,” Tennessee defensive back Brian Randolph said. “If there was nothing there, he would take the ball out and run with it.
“It was definitely a little bit frustrating.”
Missouri moved up one spot to No. 9 on Sunday. The Tigers play at Kentucky on Saturday.
Mauk emulated Franklin with his legs, rushing for 114 yards on 14 carries. He was on-target with his arm, too, throwing three touchdown passes in the first half.
“A couple of times the backers would blitz, and I am obviously not going to stand back there and take a shot,” Mauk said. “It was the time to get out and run, and I got what I could get and got down. Whatever we needed to do, that was my focus.”
Mauk threw one touchdown pass in each of his first two career starts and entered the Tennessee game with 22 yards on 21 carries.
“It’s only his third game,” Pinkel said. “Certainly, he’ll get better and better. He does make plays, we all know that.”
Pinkel had some post-game sympathy for Tennessee, which gave freshman Joshua Dobbs his first career start in place of injured Justin Worley. Dobbs threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.
“You lose your starting quarterback and got to go with a younger player, your team’s different,” Pinkel said. “You all will say ‘Well, you’d better have a great backup,’ and well, that’s good.
“But you see it all over the country, so I feel bad for him because I’ve been there before.”