Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — Welcome to Mauktober 2014.
A year ago, in the 2013 Tigers’ first October home game, first-time starter Maty Mauk endeared himself to the Missouri faithful with 295 passing yards, a win against No. 22 Florida and a surname susceptible to calendar puns.
Saturday, the Tigers took to Faurot Field for their first October game of the 2014 campaign. Like last year, Missouri suited up in yellow jerseys with pink trim for breast cancer awareness. Like last year, the game kicked off at 11 a.m.
This time around, however, Mauk might have lost himself a few fans.
The sophomore quarterback threw four interceptions and lost a fumble as No. 23 Missouri fell to No. 13 Georgia 34-0 — the Tigers’ first shutout loss since 2002.
“We played horrible as an offense,” Mauk said. “We didn’t execute. We weren’t consistent at anything we were doing, and, I mean, just give them credit defensively.”
Mauk completed just nine passes for 97 yards. He is 21-of-55, or 38 percent, through the air in Missouri’s last two games.
He threw two interceptions in the first quarter and two in the third. Two came on poor decisions, and two came off the hands of Missouri receivers. Mauk lost a fumble in the second quarter when Leonard Floyd popped the ball out of his hand and Jordan Jenkins recovered. It was Missouri’s first lost fumble of the season.
“It’s hard to win a game against any team ever turning the ball over five times,” said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who had never coached a game in which the Tigers allowed five turnovers before Saturday.
It didn’t help that when the Tigers weren’t giving the ball away, they were failing to move it. Missouri ran 43 plays to Georgia’s 87, gaining just 147 yards in the process. The Bulldogs possessed the ball for 42:37, more than double the Tigers’ 17:37.
“You can’t win against anyone with the statistics we had on offense today,” co-captain Mitch Morse said.
Things looked up for Missouri heading into the game, as Georgia’s top player and Heisman Trophy contender Todd Gurley was suspended indefinitely while Georgia inspects a possible NCAA rules violation. Backup Nick Chubb did not miss a step, however, running for 143 yards on 38 carries. Throw in his four catches for 31 yards and Chubb outgained and nearly had more touches than the whole Missouri team.
Pinkel denied the Tigers took Gurley’s fill-in lightly.
“That had absolutely nothing to do with it,” he said. “Nothing.”
Georgia dominated the Tigers on third downs as well. The Bulldogs were 14-for-23 on third- and fourth-down conversions. The Tigers failed to convert on all seven of their third downs.
Missouri’s defense generally performed well. The Tigers held Georgia to two field goals in their first three positions, despite an average starting field position of better than midfield for the Bulldogs. But spending two-thirds of the game on the field, frequently in poor field position, caught up with Missouri.
Still, the Missouri defense wasn’t looking to pass the blame.
“It’s a team sport,” co-captain Markus Golden said. “This ain’t boxing. It’s football. If the offense isn’t doing too good, we’ve got to go out there.”
Any points for Georgia were too many points for Georgia, according to linebacker Michael Scherer.
“Bottom line is, if we don’t let them score, then they can’t win,” he said. “So, no matter what the offense does, if they don’t score, then we can’t lose the game. It’s on us.”
Even if Missouri had shut out Georgia, that was no guarantee of a win. The Tigers would have needed a score, after all.
The Tigers started a drive past their own 30-yard line only once and ran five plays in Georgia territory all day. Three resulted in turnovers and one was a penalty.
Missouri struggled with pressure, which the Tigers have seen more and more of since starting lineman Anthony Gatti went down with a torn ACL.
“A smart defensive coordinator would probably want to blitz us,” receiver Jimmie Hunt said.
Mauk was sacked three times and left the pocket regularly. His four interceptions were the most by a Missouri quarterback since James Franklin against Florida in 2012. His completions didn’t outnumber his interceptions until less than three minutes remained in the first half.
Did Pinkel ever think of pulling Mauk for backup Eddie Printz?
“No,” he said.
“Because I didn’t want to,” he said.
The Tigers have gone without a turnover for three straight games after forcing one in a then-nation-leading 47 straight. The Tigers had their chances Saturday. Georgia recovered its own fumbles twice in the first quarter, and quarterback Hutson Mason fumbled a split second after crossing the goal-line for an 11-yard score, the Bulldogs’ first of the day.
“It isn’t frustrating,” Golden said. “If we go 47 games without getting (a turnover), then it’ll be frustrating.”
The win was Georgia’s first-ever road shutout of a ranked opponent. Missouri hasn’t lost by 34 or more points since 2009. The Tigers haven’t turned the ball over five times since 2000, when Pinkel was still in Toledo.
Georgia now passes Missouri for the top spot in the SEC East. The Bulldogs (5-1) are 3-1 in conference play. Missouri (4-2) will try to bounce back next Saturday night at Florida (3-2), another division competitor.
“You’ve got to forget,” Pinkel said. “That’s the thing you try to do. You try to forget. You’ve got to learn and forget, maybe a little bit is motivation, because you didn’t play as well as you could.
“… I’ve been here before. It’s not a whole lot of fun. That’s my responsibility. That’s my challenge.”