COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Maty Mauk says he likes to think aggressively on the field.
For another week, it paid off.
Missouri’s sophomore quarterback threw four touchdown passes — two each to Jimmie Hunt and Bud Sasser — and passed for 144 yards to lead the 20th-ranked Tigers past Central Florida 38-10 on Saturday.
“Wait until he gets good,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “There are a lot of things out there that he can do to improve and he knows that. He’s a great, gamey player, but he can get considerably better.”
Mauk entered the day tied for first nationally with eight passing touchdowns but tossed two interceptions last week at Toledo, tying his season total from last year.
Making only his seventh career start this week, the sophomore knows that sometimes his decision-making can be to the Tigers’ detriment.
His thinking proved prescient when Central Florida cornerback Jacoby Glenn, a freshman All-American last season, intercepted him with 2½ minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Five minutes later, quarterback Justin Holman threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to running back William Stanback to give the Knights a 10-7 lead.
“We just needed to make sure we kept a cage on him,” Central Florida linebacker Troy Gray said. “He got out of the pocket, and when he gets to running he’s a good runner.”
Missouri’s first deficit of the season only lasted one drive, though, as Mauk saw Hunt outpacing safety Drico Johnson and then threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to him in the end zone. Hunt finished with two receptions for 21 yards, and four of his past six catches have resulted in scores.
“That’s God-given talent he has to be able to make a mistake and get over it within five to 10 seconds,” said Sasser, who finished with five receptions for 57 yards.
Missouri (3-0) took a 14-10 advantage into halftime before clamping down on defense, getting five sacks and forcing four turnovers after the break. Defensive ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray combined for 3½ sacks and five tackles for loss.
“Each week me and Marcus just go out and try to play to the best of our abilities, make as many plays as we can,” Ray said. “It doesn’t really matter if Marcus is in the spotlight or I’m in the spotlight as long as we are doing what we are supposed to do as a defense.”
Missouri outgained Central Florida 322-299, but limited the Knights (0-2) to 7 of 15 on third-down conversions. Coach George O’Leary credited pressure from Golden and Ray for many of his team’s stalled drives.
Central Florida matched Missouri in the first half thanks to Holman, making his first career start after throwing for one touchdown and running for two more off the bench in the team’s season-opening 26-24 loss to Penn State on Aug. 30 in Ireland.
The sophomore completed 10 of 13 passes for 97 yards and adding another 30 on the ground before the break, hoping to extend the team’s winning streak against ranked opponents to three games.
But he struggled in the second half. Holman threw two interceptions, including one to Josh Augusta with 3½ minutes left in the third quarter after the nose guard batted the ball at the line of scrimmage and then jumped to corral it. The play extended the Tigers’ nation-best takeaway streak to 47 games.
Sasser scored four plays later on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Mauk to extend Missouri’s lead to 21-10. The Tigers then pounced for 17 unanswered points in the final quarter.
“You need a guy that big to make sure he made a play, but what great hands,” Pinkel said. “It’s one of those things where you don’t know when those plays are going to happen, but you keep battling and it really changed the whole game.”
Holman finished with 209 yards on 22-of-36 passing, and Central Florida fell to 0-2 for the first time since 2005.
“They had some pressure, but it’s on me to get the ball out,” said Holman, who backed up Blake Bortles last year.
“That’s my job as a quarterback — stay in no matter what the pressure is back there and throw strikes.”