KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee very likely will face a redshirt freshman quarterback making his third collegiate start Saturday.
The bad news for the Volunteers: He's a Tiger named Mauk.
Missouri's Maty Mauk is no relation to Matt Mauck, the LSU quarterback who came off the bench in the 2001 SEC championship game to knock Tennessee out of the national-title game, but this one has the tools to give the Vols fits defensively.
"The thing that concerns me the most about him is he's able to improvise," said Tennessee coach Butch Jones, who was Central Michigan's offensive coordinator when Nick Saban's Tigers upset Tennessee on that December night in Atlanta's Georgia Dome 12 years ago.
"He's able to take a bad play and turn it into a big play. He's able to scramble, he's trying to move around, he throws it exceptionally well out of the pocket and he's got a little bit of swagger to him. That's Maty Mauk. He's a winner, and he makes plays."
There's a chance Mauk won't get the chance to make them Saturday night in Columbia.
On the depth chart Missouri released Monday afternoon after Jones' weekly news conference, James Franklin was listed behind Mauk and freshman Eddie Printz and tagged as questionable for Tennessee's visit. Franklin was averaging more than 300 yards of offense per game when he suffered a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter of the Tigers' 41-26 win at Georgia.
Franklin, who was given a timetable of three to five weeks when he was hurt three weeks ago, resumed throwing Sunday.
Jones recruited Mauk out of Kenton (Ohio) High School while at Cincinnati. His brother, Ben, had transferred to Cincinnati from Wake Forest in 2007. Tennessee's coach said the Bearcats came up short in a "great recruiting battle" for Maty in 2012.
In his first career start against Florida two weeks ago, Mauk was 18-of-36 passing for 295 yards and a touchdown with one interception, but he completed just 10 of 25 passes in a 249-yard performance against South Carolina.
"He's one of those players that can turn nothing into something," Jones said. "He can create a big play every time he touches the football, so we have to have great discipline. That starts with a great week of preparation.
"He's the son of a football coach, so he's a gym rat. He grew up with a football in his hand since the day he was born. He's a winner, and he's a playmaker. He's a very, very talented quarterback."
'Red team' review
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron said he and some of his Crimson Tide teammates felt disrespected by the Vols referring to them as "the red team" last week.
Jones, who aimed the motivational ploy at his own team, was asked if McCarron's postgame comments surprised him.
"To be honest with you, I don't know," he said. "It's really out of respect, but I think Alabama's built such a great reputation, and very deservingly so, that I think when you go play Alabama, the name Alabama gives them 14 points right away because of the respect that people have.
"I said it last week and I'll continue to say it: I respect their football program and what they've done as much or more than anyone in the country. I have to prepare our football team, and it's part of them understanding that it's a great rivalry. I said it, to make the rivalry relevant, we've got to win some of those.
"But it's past and I have a tremendous respect for them, and now we're moving forward to Missouri."
Jones said the Vols "fully anticipate" safeties Brian Randolph (shoulder) and Byron Moore (ankle sprain) to be back for the Missouri game. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who's been Tennessee's best special-teams player this season, will practice at safety this week in case either can't play. The freshman moved to linebacker from safety in August during preseason practice.
"That's what he's always played," Jones said. "He's a very cerebral young man. He's very intelligent, so that won't be an issue."
Tennessee is still waiting word on defensive tackle Mo Couch's eligibility from the NCAA, but there's no timetable on when that decision may come. The senior hasn't played or practiced with the team since Yahoo! Sports reported he received payments from someone linked to NFL agents in 2012.
"I would like to think that he's staying in shape and he's doing everything he needs to do if that opportunity is presented, but there will be a learning curve," Jones said. "There will be a part of where he is, but that's all hypothetical right now. I'm just worried about getting our football team and the players we have right now ready for Missouri."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...