Pinkel, players have faith in Mauk to lead No. 24 Mizzou

By Christian Clark, KBIA Sports

Missouri vs. Florida football, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2013 at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo. Photo by Karen Mitchell

Maty Mauk (7) will lead the Missouri Tigers at quarterback in the season opener Saturday. Photo by Karen Mitchell

For just the fifth time since 2003, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel will have a new starting quarterback under center to start a season.

Redshirt sophomore Maty Mauk earned the role after going 3-1 in place of injured starter James Franklin last year. The Kenton, Ohio, native completed 51 percent of his passes for 1,0171 yards and 11 touchdowns in the Tigers’ 12-2 campaign.

This year, Mauk will attempt to navigate an entire season as No. 24 Missouri’s starter, a task that begins Saturday against South Dakota State at Faurot Field.

“He’s a very natural leader,” “He’s a very non-threatening leader, you know,” Pinkel said, adding that Mauk is a natural leader with a good work ethic.

“Players like him. And then, obviously, it’s a position where you’ve got to produce. But there’s not question, our players believe in him. I believe in him.”

If the 6-foot, 195-pound Mauk is to build upon his success from a year ago, he’ll need to establish a connection with a group of fairly inexperienced receivers in Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White — a group that’s made 16 total starts between them. The trio of seniors combined for 55 receptions, 690 yards and three touchdowns last season.

They will try to fill the void left by L’Damian Washington, Dorial Green-Beckham and Marcus Lucas, who together combined for nearly 70 percent of the Tigers’ total receiving yards and 80 percent of the total receiving touchdowns.

“Maty will take his shots,” said senior running back Marcus Murphy, who is also expected to receive significant playing time as a slot receiver. “That’s just the kind of guy he is. He’s a playmaker. He wants to make the best plays. I think he’ll be comfortable, be able to shift in the pocket and make the right reads. I’m ready to see what he has.”

Missouri opens against an FCS opponent in South Dakota State, a team that finished 9-3 last season. The Jackrabbits, currently No. 10 in the FCS poll, have opened their season against an FBS opponent each year since 2008. Though the Jackrabbits have gone winless in all six contests, Pinkel spoke cautiously about overlooking them.

“I think we’re not good enough to overlook anybody, number one,” Pinkel said. “Number two is you find out about your team. This is about how we play, not about who we play. You can point to anybody — it’s not about how they play or who were playing.  It’s about how we play. If you’re that kind of team, I think a lot of good things can happen.”

Senior running back Zach Zenner headlines a balanced South Dakota State offensive attack. The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder has rushed for 2,000-plus yards twice in the last two seasons, becoming just the second FCS player ever to do so. Zenner has even found success against bigger, badder FBS opponents, running for 380 yards combined against Nebraska and Kansas.

“I didn’t even know that,” Missouri defensive end Markus Golden said. “That’s the thing about it. That’s Nebraska. That’s Kansas. You Said Kansas, right?”

“Yeah, that’s Nebraska and Kansas. We’re Mizzou. So we’ll see Saturday.”

NOTES
By The Associated Press

Line: No line.

Series Record: First meeting

WHAT’S AT STAKE
Moving on minus nine players who were in NFL camps this summer and lightly regarded in SEC once again, Missouri gets a warmup game. The defending SEC Eastern champions are picked to finish fourth. The Tigers are 13-0 against FCS competition, the last 10 under coach Gary Pinkel with an average score of 50.5-7.5. South Dakota State reached second round of FCS playoffs last year. The Jackrabbits are ranked 10th in the FCS coaches poll, picked to finish second in the Missouri Valley and playing up for the seventh straight year. They’re 0-6 so far, losing 59-20 at Nebraska in 2013.

KEY MATCHUP
Missouri’s unproven wide receivers against the South Dakota State secondary. The top three producers are gone, with Bud Sasser (26 catches) and Jimmie Hunt (22) the top returning targets for Maty Mauk, who was 3-1 as stand-in starter last season.

PLAYERS TO WATCH
South Dakota State: RB Zach Zenner has rushed for 2,000 yards in consecutive seasons. He’s the second player in FCS to do that and needs 218 yards in senior season to become Missouri Valley career leader.
Missouri: TB Russell Hansbrough gets first starting shot after gaining 685 yards with four TDs as backup. DE Markus Golden had 6 1/2 sacks last season.

FACTS & FIGURES
Both schools tied school record for victories last year. Missouri won SEC Eastern Division and South Dakota State was second in Missouri Valley. … South Dakota State coach John Stiegelemeyer has 118 wins entering 18th season, two shy of the school career mark. … Jackrabbits are 4-6 in openers since moving up from Division II to FCS in 2004. … Pinkel has 102 wins, most in school history, entering 14th season.

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