"I think last year, we just got caught up in the moment," Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk said at SEC Media Days. We didn't play consistent. We didn't do what we had to do to win the football game."
Mizzou lost an incredible amount of talent from the 2013 team that faced Auburn in Atlanta. James Franklin, L'Damian Washington, Henry Josey, Kony Ealy, Michael Sam, Justin Britt, Max Copeland - the list goes on. It shouldn't surprise that the 2014 team which had lost potent talent on both sides of the ball, wasn't as prepared for the return trip.
Hearing it come out of Maty Mauk's mouth is both a positive and a negative. The upside is that the junior quarterback has obviously faced one of the team's more disappointing finishes. The downside is because quarterbacks receive an undue amount of credit or blame for how a team performs and because of his uneven play throughout the year, some will try to say that Maty Mauk's leadership appears weak.
"There were too many broken plays that were just stupid mistakes, really," Mauk said. "It was me going left when I should have gone right. Maybe it was an inside zone instead of an outside zone on the running back. It was just little things like that."
Two admissions of fallibility from Maty Mauk in the same article, but it's this second one that really interests me. We saw in performances like against Tennessee that Mauk can be very effective using the threat of his run to open up deep passes.
Specifically, in the second quarter, Mauk had a 20-yard gain on an outside zone run with the RB (Marcus Murphy) lined up to his right and all the WRs lined up trips wide. Then, in the fourth quarter, with the score 16-13, Mauk ran twice for short gains out of the exact same formation before launching a deep bomb to Jimmie Hunt, again with the running back to the right and trips wide left.
You can watch the series here starting at the 5:07 mark here:
The touchdown play worked because the defense was keen on shutting down the run and because Jimmie Hunt pulled in a fantastic catch and run. If Mauk is able master the zone reads and use it to manipulate defenses as he was able to against Tennessee, it'll give the young wide receiving corps easier routes and more one-on-one matchups.
For as much concern as there is about the growth of the wide receivers and Maty Mauk's funky throwing motion and low completion percentage, I believe his improvement in this area may well yield the most significant results.
Missouri Camp opens: Aug. 6
Big question: How will the Tigers deal with a depleted defensive line?
For years, the Missouri defensive line has been a strength. The Tigers regularly churn out NFL draft picks and develop more to replace those who depart. After the most recent NFL departures -- defensive ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden -- Missouri has even more attrition to deal with up front without two expected contributors. Defensive tackle Harold Brantley will miss the season after injuries sustained in an automobile accident and sophomore Marcus Loud was dismissed from the team this offseason. Only one player (defensive end Charles Harris) has starting experience, and even that is limited for Harris, who started once last season. Fortunately for the Tigers, they have a five-star recruit coming in (Terry Beckner Jr.) and one of the best defensive line coaches in the business, Craig Kuligowski, who has tutored Missouri's defensive linemen since 2001.
It's almost like the big-wigs at ESPN are paying attention. A camp preview that consists of a single unanswered question, a question unlikely to be answered until at least the beginning of Mizzou's conference schedule does seem rather incomplete.
Even if many suspect that Barry Odom will apply pressure through a combination of aggressive zone blitzes by linebackers instead of defensive linemen, it's unlikely those schemes will be revealed during fall camp because the media hardly gets to observe anything of substance.
Russell Hansbrough, RB, Missouri, Sr.:
Although he reached 1,000 yards last season, Hansbrough hasn't received much preseason love. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound senior will lead Mizzou's backfield this season, and as the guy he could have a special year for a team still trying to figure things out in its passing game. Hansbrough can hit a defense for long runs, is shifty outside and between tackles, and has exceptional vision. He's a bowling ball of strength and elusiveness.
I think it's no secret that Mizzou fans have a man-crush on Muscle Mansbrough.
Russell Hansbrough doesn't have the size or star-power like Georgia's Nick Chubb, but he's awfully similar to a running back like South Carolina's Mike Davis. Davis nearly had back to back 1,000 yard/double digit touchdown seasons even while backed up by a talented and bigger running back in Brandon Wilds.
If Mizzou can get keep Hansbrough healthy while leaning on him, an experienced offensive line and at least one of the talented backups to propel a stout rushing attack, it would do well in supporting otherwise inconsistent quarterback play.