LSU's Mauck becomes better QB after season-ending damage to foot last year against Gators.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published October 11, 2003
A third-down play in one of the year's biggest games altered the 2002 season for LSU quarterback Matt Mauck, then later helped make him the player he is today.
Less than eight minutes remained in a 36-7 win over the Gators when Mauck ran a draw on third and 6 from the Florida 11, picking up 5 yards. Ian Scott tackled Mauck, but Mauck's right foot got tangled under Scott's.
"My foot was in kind of a weird position, and he just happened to fall on top of it," Mauck said. "It was just very unusual the way it happened and ended up tearing a bunch of ligaments in my foot."
The injury ended his season with seven games remaining.
"It was really tough, but you always try to take something good from it," Mauck said. "It made me a better player, so obviously something good came from it."
Mauck leads the Southeastern Conference and is ranked ninth in the nation in passing efficiency with a 155.6 rating, a big reason LSU's offense is first in the conference. The junior has passed for at least one touchdown in nine straight games and thrown 19 with just three interceptions during that stretch. Mauck has 959 yards and 10 touchdowns this season and is 10-1 as a starter.
"I think when he first started playing he was more of an athlete than he was a quarterback, even though he had a good arm," said CBS analyst Todd Blackledge, who will broadcast today's Florida-LSU game in Baton Rouge. "I think he made more improvements as a quarterback when he got injured, having to be off his foot and learn how to read coverages and watch film and kind of see the game differently. ... He's more well-rounded than he was last year."
Mauck agrees. "I think the injury definitely helped me. I came from a high school that didn't throw the ball a whole lot. It took me a while to develop more as a pocket passer. I feel a lot more comfortable in the pocket and just throwing the ball in general."
The injury forced Mauck to find another way to play. In spring practice, coach Nick Saban was concerned about his starting quarterback. So he issued this edict: You can practice, but you can't run. For a quarterback known more for his scrambling than passing, Mauck accepted the challenge and successfully made the transition.
"I've always said that (the injury helped) because he couldn't really run in the spring," Saban said. "We wouldn't let him run, but he could move his feet and stand in the pocket. I think he developed a lot of confidence in his ability to read, see things, throw and not rely on his legs all the time to make plays when things didn't go correctly. And I think that's helped his maturity."
Mauck's injury not only ended his season but any hopes the Tigers had of repeating as SEC West champions.
"We had to go back and start all over really with an inexperienced quarterback," Saban said. "Marcus Randall made a lot of progress. ... But we had to go through some tough games while he was getting some on-the-job training, and it was tough for us."
The Tigers dropped four of their last six games and finished 9-5. With Mauck back healthy, LSU enters today looking to go 6-0 for the first time since 1973.
"Matt's played much better, he's improved tremendously," Saban said. "He was making great progress last year, had his best game last year at Florida when he got hurt. We didn't think he'd be able to make the kind of progress coming off his injury that he's been able to make. I think as he gains more and more experience, especially in the big games that we have and have had, we're hopeful that he'll continue to grow from that experience and get better and better."
For the first time since 1989, Florida enters the game unranked. But Saban isn't convinced that means his team should be a 10-point favorite.
"They're not that far away," he said. "They lost a close game to Miami, they lost a close game this past weekend. They're not that far off from having the success they expected to have or want to have. So it's not like they are just doing terrible."
Coach Ron Zook said: "We have backed ourselves into a hole.
"In a lot of areas they are the best team we have faced. They have the best offensive line we have faced with a quarterback who is completing 65 percent of his passes. They also have arguably the best receiver (Michael Clayton) in the league. They are an extremely well-coached football team."