Darren Hellwege, Sports Commentator
By Darren Hellwege
These are the times when being in sports media isn’t so much fun. Reporting — or, not — on the whole Maty Mauk/Drew Lock saga is a lot less fun then comparing Florida’s defense to South Carolina’s or theorizing why the Mizzou soccer team is scoring more or fewer goals. But, it’s obviously part of the job to talk about the less fun things as well.
To answer the question I’ve been asked about every 10 minutes the last two weeks—no, I do not know why Maty’s not playing. And I respect coach Gary Pinkel’s protection of his players. I don’t honestly expect him to tell us the non-legal transgressions of his players or how many gassers he made them run for ditching class, being late for a team meeting, or whatever. And as recent past experience has shown, in this day and age if there really was something bigger than that involved here, eventually we’ll find out.
So let’s stick to the football side of things with this thought, unpopular though it will probably be: No, Mauk’s suspension isn’t good news for Mizzou. All season I’ve heard from fans who thought Lock should be starting, and while they’re as entitled to their opinion as anyone, they should be careful what they wish for. Very few teams can toss overboard a quarterback who’s led his team to two division championships and the record Mauk possesses and give the reins to a true freshman without it eventually biting them in the butt.
No, Mauk wasn’t having a great season. He made at least one or two throws in every game that made you wonder if his eyes were even open. But he also made plays with his arm, his running ability, and his experience and guile that no freshman’s going to make. Drew Lock has a fantastic arm, and for an 18-year-old shows remarkable poise. While he won’t be able to make Maukian runs, he can take off and give you a first down with his feet. More importantly, he seems to have a real instinct for moving in the pocket, perhaps even wisely staying put when Mauk might have taken off running. With some experience, it looks like Lock may surpass Mauk and be one of the best quarterback’s in the Pinkel era — and given the number of Pinkel QBs currently playing pro ball, that’s saying something.
The purpose of 2015 is to win in 2015, not to get someone ready for the future. And I remain convinced the Tigers best chance of winning in 2015 is with Maty Mauk as the quarterback. Lock will probably be better, but the future tense there is key. He’s not better right now. We have no idea if Mauk will be back for the Georgia trip, if he’ll be back later in the season, or if we’ll never see him again. Seriously, I’m not messing with you, I don’t know and I doubt seriously anyone else in the press does. And I know for sure, 100 percent, take it to the bank that the people posting wild rumors on the Internet have no clue what the hell they’re talking about.
But if Mauk returns, there will be those who think he should be the second string QB behind Lock. I think that’s a mistake. If the Tigers are to return to the SEC Championship game, the experienced hand is the best choice. And then, hopefully, we can get back to reporting on the more fun aspects of being in sports media.
In other Tiger sports notes, don’t look now but the Tiger volleyball brain trust has done it again. Just two seasons removed from an SEC championship — and one year removed from a frustrating, disappointing dumpster fire of a 2014 season — the Tigers are 13-1 and in the season’s first RPI rankings came in at No. 11. If that’s not exciting enough for you, consider that with the major contributions this team is getting from transfer players Kira Larson, Courtney Eckenrode and Alexa Ethridge and from freshman Alyssa Munlyn, this team is nowhere close to hitting its peak yet.
In spite of having only one senior, there’s an impressive poise and maturity to this team. After a disaster of a loss in straight sets at St. Louis and falling behind nationally-ranked Florida, this team didn’t panic. They fought back down 12-3 to win a third set and eventually the match against the Gators and then turned around and knocked off another fine SEC team in Tennessee. The Tigers remained cool under fire against Florida and knew when to pick up the aggressiveness, when they were out of system and how to get back into the plan, and how to do the little things right.
For the program to have had the rotten seasons it did in 2012 and 2014 and bounce back with the excellence we’ve seen from the ’13 team and this bunch speaks volumes about the coaching Missouri boasts. The team’s lone senior Reagan Peltier deserves a lot of credit, but so do Wayne and Susan Kreklow, Deng Yang and Dawei Shen. I’d challenge any Tiger fan to name a better coached team on this campus. And with the youth this team has and another year to come with junior All-American Carly Kan on the roster, as good as this year’s club is, next year’s may be even better.
Speaking of coaching, the old veteran Bryan Blitz and his staff are seeing positive results as the season progresses for Missouri soccer. After a slow start due to lack of scoring, the Tigers are picking things up at just the right time in SEC play. With a 3-1-1 record the Tigers head into the weekend trailing only South Carolina and Auburn in the league. This weekend’s matches are against LSU and Georgia, teams that are near the bottom of the SEC, but LSU has an explosive offense that will test Mizzou’s outstanding back line. In league play even a struggling team like the Dawgs can pose a danger, especially on a long weekend like this. Mizzou must travel to Baton Rouge to play the Tigers, then fly home and play UGA on Sunday. The LSU match has an added wrinkle: dangerous striker Jorian Baucom, LSU’s leading scorer, will not play against Mizzou after receiving her fifth yellow card of the season against Vanderbilt. LSU can still score, but losing Baucom doesn’t help their chances. Missouri should be capable of winning both matches, and if that does come to pass they’ll be in place to have a high seed come tournament time.
One interesting aspect of this Mizzou team has been goalkeeper play. After starting the season with freshman Kelsey Dossey in goal, her injury led to the emergence of Kristen Rivers. I’ve heard for two years now that Rivers is close in skill to both Dossey and last year’s keeper Mackenzie Sauerwein and now that she’s finally getting the opportunity to play she’s showing how right that was. It’s a very rare luxury for a coach to have two keepers as good as Rivers and Dossey, and as Dossey appears to be returning to 100 percent Blitz will be able to wind down SEC and (probably) NCAA tournament play with the security blanket of having two excellent keepers.