COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Days before Missouri took the field against Florida's top-rated defense, offensive coordinator Josh Henson decided to give new quarterback Maty Mauk's arm the first two plays.
A week after Mauk took his first significant snaps after starter James Franklin went down with a shoulder injury that will sideline him for three to five weeks, Henson threw Mauk out there against the nation's No. 3 defense … and wanted him to go deep.
So with the pressure of Missouri's season and a chance at winning the SEC East on Mauk's shoulders, Henson called for the redshirt freshman quarterback to throw to receiver L'Damian Washington deep down the right sideline. Mauk dropped back, saw the safety was off Washington and slung the ball, hitting Washington for a 41-yard gain down to Florida's 35-yard line. Add a 15-yard targeting penalty from Florida safety Cody Riggs, and Mauk was set up for a 20-yard touchdown pass to Bud Sasser a play later in the Tigers' 36-17 victory over the Gators, who entered the game allowing 235.3 yards per game.
"Maty can throw the ball; you see that," Henson said. "He's a good passer and we have great receivers outside, so it's not like we're not going to use them."
Henson said the decision to immediately go deep came after Wednesday's practice, when Mauk completed the pass on that play three times to Washington, who was hobbled with a hip pointer all week. Henson said he wasn't worried about what his new gunslinger could do with the pressure on.
"He got called to the challenge and he responded to that challenge," Henson said. "When our team needed him, he stepped up to the challenge."
Mauk, who made his debut start for the Tigers, threw for 295 yards and a touchdown on 18-of-36 passing against one of the nation's best secondaries. He also had a 17-yard touchdown run.
Against a defense that should have frustrated him, Mauk rose above and proved that Mizzou's offense is just fine despite Franklin's injury. Mizzou became the first SEC team to score more than 20 points against Florida since 2011 and the Tigers' 500 yards of offense were the most against Florida since the Gators gave up 512 to Kentucky in October 2007.
Mauk is a gamer as a passer and a runner. He has the moxie that coaches crave at the quarterback position and he has the confidence to throw the tough passes to extend plays and drives.
Mauk wanted to take those shots downfield early in the Gators and it should fuel him going forward as the Tigers attempt to continue their unlikely run to the top of the SEC East.
"Coming into the game, when they said that we were going to throw the ball the first two plays, that's what I love to do," Mauk said. "That's why I came here."
"I knew I had confidence in everybody and they had confidence in me. We went out there and we executed."
Mauk was far from perfect. He had some erratic passes here and there and struggled with pressure in his face. He looked a little flat-footed at times, but when he had to step up and make a play, he did. He converted on third-and-long. He zipped passes into tight quarters. And he walked away with a major victory in hand.
Coach Gary Pinkel was far from surprised by Mauk. He spent plenty of time with Mauk during his quarterback's high school days in Ohio, where he was the two-time Gatorade Ohio Player of the Year (2010 and 2011). Mauk also set national high school records for career passing yards (18,932), touchdown passes (219), completions (1,353) and total offense (22,681).
"If you watched him play in high school, that's what he looked like every game," Pinkel said. "The bigger the game, the better he played."
The games will only get bigger. A win over South Carolina on Saturday would essentially wrap up the East for Mizzou. After that, it's a step-by-step journey to Atlanta with a chance at the BCS title game.
In a season in which injuries have ravaged the East, it looks as though Mizzou's offense is in good hands with Mauk.
"He looked like a seasoned veteran out there," Pinkel said. "He's got ice water in his veins."