Make no mistake; Maty Mauk is the Missouri Tigers starting quarterback. With a record of 14-4 as a starter, the junior play caller is tough as nails and has earned his spot as team leader. But Tiger fans should mark August 31, 2015 on their calendar as a key date in the story of the 2016 season. That is the day that Head Coach Gary Pinkel released his 2015 Week One depth chart with the name Drew Lock looming just below Mauk’s and in so doing planted the seed of quarterback controversy into the fertile artificial turf of Faurot Field.
Up until that date, Missouri fans had assumed that the 6’4” 204lb freshman would redshirt, allowing him to apprentice under Mauk next season. Lock, a four-star recruit out of Lee’s Summit, Missouri refused to stick to the script however. In three scrimmages open to the media, Lock’s four recruiting stars shined like beacons pointing toward 2016. Lock racked up impressive scrimmage numbers and routinely zipped passes with such smooth powerful grace that even the famously stoic Pinkel had to admit, “He’s a very accurate thrower.”
That modest praise belies a groundswell of excitement among Tiger media and fans. In three public scrimmages, with the given caveat that he often faced second or third string defenses, Lock led all passers in nearly every category.
Lock: 38 of 51, 484 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT, 7 sacks, 176.2 rating, 74.5 completion %, 9.5 yards per attempt.
Mauk: 31 of 56, 305 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT, 4 sacks, 112.9 rating, 55.4 completion %, 5.4 yards per attempt.
Printz: 21 of 40, 276 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 4 sacks, 122.0 rating, 52.5 completion %, 6.7 yards per attempt.
Most notable among these statistics is Lock’s completion percentage, a gaudy 74.5% compared to Mauk’s unsurprisingly anemic 55.4% In 18 games as a starter, his wild, off-balanced, and often inaccurate throws have hampered Missouri’s offense. While Mauk is a proven winner and vicious competitor, his unorthodox style and inconsistent performances have had the Missouri faithful reaching for the Maalox for a year and a half. Lock meanwhile, combines the natural effortless skill of Tiger star Chase Daniel with the prototypical NFL height and build measurables of his protégé Blaine Gabbert.
Scrimmage statistics are dubious at best and Mauk still has full-throated support from Missouri supporters. But with the talented Lock now nipping at his heels, he’s only one wrong turn from watching the fickle love of fans erode. Should Mauk break down into familiar bad habits of turning his back to his receivers or receding into the back of the pocket, or if he should sustain even a minor injury, Lock is going to get his chance. Who knows what an untested freshman will do under the bright lights of SEC play, but should he shine, Mauk could find the starting job he’s worked so hard to secure pulled out from under him.
And that is just this year. Next year Missouri is likely to find a rapidly growing quarterback controversy has sprouted. If Lock is half as good as the Missouri media seem to think he is or as Missouri fans desperately hope he is, he and Mauk will almost certainly be locked in a battle for the starting job regardless of what transpires in 2015.
Should Missouri falter, the fan rumblings will start early, and Mauk could be out of a job before Thanksgiving, but with a (by SEC standards) relatively easy early schedule, that seems unlikely. Should Missouri surprise naysayers as they have for the past two seasons, and find themselves once again atop the SEC East, replacing the starting quarterback will seem risky if not foolish. But if Mauk is successful and Lock continues to develop, the past is quickly forgotten in football. Fall camp 2016 may determine the passing pecking order.
Gary Pinkel is famously loyal to his returning starters but he is also not afraid to make difficult moves if he feels he’s putting his football team in a better position to win. To this point, Lock’s strong performances and quick maturing process has made Pinkel’s future decision increasingly difficult. Pinkel has already made one tough call. He’s put the untested freshman on the roster with a certainty he’ll see solid minutes. There is no way the Tiger coaching staff would have burned Lock’s redshirt unless they fully intended to put the freshman in regularly, grooming him for a starting roll. When that starting role will manifest itself is now up to both Mauk and Lock.
How fast the quarterback controversy grows will depend on many things, but by next fall it will have certainly blossomed casting a shadow over both the grizzled veteran and the untested rookie. It will be watered by touchdowns, interceptions, sacks and injuries but make no mistake, this is the week Coach Pinkel planted the seed.