COLUMBIA — There was an immediate connection between Maty Mauk and Dorial Green-Beckham, or so it seemed.
Mauk, a redshirt freshman, entered Missouri's game against Georgia on Oct. 12 in the fourth quarter after an injury to James Franklin. Clinging to an eight-point lead, the Tigers needed to hang onto the ball and run the clock down to secure the big road win.
Playing with the lead in front of a deafening crowd at Sanford Stadium, the young quarterback did not play it safe. On second down with under four minutes to play, Mauk saw Green-Beckham race down the left sideline. With a cornerback trailing Green-Beckham and a safety racing over to provide help, there was a small space for Mauk to throw the ball.
Mauk tossed the pass toward the former five-star recruit. The pass was far from perfect. It hung in the air a bit too long and caused Green-Beckham to break stride. But the sophomore receiver rewarded his quarterback by coming down with the ball between two defenders for a 20-yard gain.
A few plays later, Missouri scored a touchdown, extending the lead and putting the finishing touches on a 41-26 win over Georgia.
Then the excitement started. Mauk took over as Missouri's starting quarterback with Franklin sidelined by a shoulder injury. After the throw to Green-Beckham late in the Georgia game, the connection thought to be the future of Missouri football was materializing.
Or so it seemed.
Two days after the game, Mauk and Green-Beckham exchanged stories about their respective recruiting visits and their conversations prior to committing to Missouri. They talked about how they had a chance to do special things with the Tigers.
Since entering the game against Georgia, Mauk has thrown for over 700 yards, thrown seven touchdowns, rushed for one more and thrown only two interceptions.
But, Green-Beckham has not been one of the main beneficiaries. The transition from Franklin to Mauk hasn't been as smooth as Green-Beckham might have hoped, though he's confident the chemistry will develop.
"We know what James is like," Green-Beckham said. "We know what he’s capable of. Maty’s just getting used to it. He’s just getting started."
Mauk seems to be getting started without using his fellow second-year player. He hasn't looked Green-Beckham's way much since taking over, targeting him 11 times in the four games since Franklin went down.
Green-Beckham's drop-off in production started at the beginning of conference play before Mauk became Missouri's starting quarterback. After piling up 21 catches, 334 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 30 attempts in four non-conference games, the sophomore wide receiver caught 12 passes for 145 yards and one touchdown on 21 targets in five games against Southeastern Conference opponents.
A combination of factors contributed to Green-Beckham's lack of catches in the conference. For one, he's lining up across from some of the toughest cornerback's in the SEC. Vanderbilt's Andre Hal used physical press coverage to knock Green-Beckham off his routes and limit him to two catches.
He's also seen different coverage looks that are limiting his impact. Teams are lining a safety up in the deep zone in addition to playing man coverage on Green-Beckham in hopes that he doesn't burn them over the top.
“Maybe he does have some of the better guys guarding him, but it doesn’t really matter," Mauk said. "You have five guys that are all busting their butts. Maybe it’s his week, maybe it’s another guy’s week. Whatever it is, I’m doing my best to get them all the ball.”
It helps that Green-Beckham has been willing to concede some targets when he notices a coverage that doesn't play to his advantage.
"I’m seeing it, and I’m letting our quarterback know that I’m getting double covered on some of these plays," Green-Beckham said. "That gives other opportunities underneath."
Those other opportunities went to senior wide receivers Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington. Both Lucas and Washington more than doubled Green-Beckham's receiving yardage in conference play. Lucas has two touchdowns against SEC opponents, and Washington has six.
"I just know I’m not the only guy on the team," Green-Beckham said. "We’ve got other guys that can make plays, too. So let’s give those guys an opportunity."
Whether it's been the competition or the coverage, Green-Beckham has struggled to get open. Mauk has taken notice, too. Against SEC teams in 2013, Green-Beckham was targeted twice on third down compared to six targets for Lucas, and eight for Washington in similar situations.
"Certain situations, depending on where we are on the field, they get open," Mauk said. "It’s my job to find them. No matter what, we’re going to do our best to find the open guy and let him make plays."
With the ball not coming his way, Green-Beckham knows he has other responsibilities within the offense. A year ago, Green-Beckham admits he wasn't as focused on the details, like running his routes hard every play or blocking in the screen game. Now that defenses have focused on him, he knows he needs to fulfill his responsibilities to help open up big plays for other receivers.
"Even if the ball’s not coming my way, I still know on the other side that I still have to do my job," Green-Beckham said. "I still have to do it. It really doesn't matter if I get the ball or not."
For now, he's not getting the ball. The seniors are getting the majority of the passes thrown their way, and the statistics have followed. Green-Beckham has been stuck as the third option in the passing game.
His path hasn't changed, though. Missouri still hopes he will be the productive player he was expected to be out of high school. He just has a different role right now.
As for his connection with Mauk, the quarterback scoffs at the idea that it's anything but strong. Maybe it hasn't materialized as quickly as they thought it would after the impressive play against Georgia, but Mauk still has high expectations for the future.
"I know Dorial’s a special player, and he’s got a bright future; so I wouldn’t worry about him not getting the ball or anything like that,” Mauk said.
Supervising editor is Erik Hall.