KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee coach Butch Jones remembers when he thought he might be coaching Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk instead of trying to stop him.
Jones recruited Mauk during his stint as Cincinnati's coach. Mauk was a record-setting quarterback at Kenton (Ohio) High School, about 130 miles northeast of Cincinnati. His older brother Ben had played for the Bearcats under Brian Kelly, who preceded Jones as Cincinnati's coach before leaving for Notre Dame.
Mauk signed with Missouri, where he's now a redshirt freshman. Jones left Cincinnati for Tennessee last December. They'll reunite Saturday when Tennessee (4-4, 1-3 SEC) plays at No. 10 Missouri (7-1, 3-1).
"We were engaged in a great recruiting battle," Jones said. "Maty Mauk's a winner. 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. I said he's a winner, and he's a playmaker. He's a very, very talented quarterback."
Mauk has started Missouri's last two games in place of James Franklin, who sprained his right shoulder Oct. 12 in a 41-26 victory against Georgia. Mauk remains atop the depth chart this week, though Missouri coach Gary Pinkel hasn't ruled out the possibility Franklin could return soon enough to start Saturday.
"I won't say (Franklin's status) is doubtful, but it is questionable," Pinkel said.
If Franklin can't play, Mauk will work against a Tennessee coaching staff he knows very well. Jones, defensive coordinator John Jancek, defensive line coach Steve Stripling, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, tight ends/special teams coach Mark Elder and offensive line coach Don Mahoney were all at Cincinnati when Mauk was considering the Bearcats.
That staff heavily pursued Mauk, a 2012 prospect who set national high school records for career yards passing (18,932), touchdown passes (219), completions (1,353) and total yards (22,681). One year earlier, Cincinnati signed Max Morrison, who caught 142 passes for 2,033 yards his senior season as Mauk's good friend and Kenton teammate.
"Those guys recruited me real hard," Mauk said. "They were always at the school. I have a lot of respect for them. It's going to be a fun week preparing for them."
Jones' background with Mauk through the recruiting process also gives the Vols an idea of what to expect from the Missouri quarterback.
"The thing that concerns me most about him is that he's able to improvise," Jones said. "He's able to take a bad play and turn it into a big play. He's able to scramble and move around. He throws exceptionally well out of the pocket, and he's got a little bit of swagger to him. That's Maty Mauk."
Mauk has produced mixed results since taking over for Franklin.
In his first start, Mauk threw for 295 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a score to lead the Tigers to a 36-17 victory against Florida. Last week, Mauk went 10-of-25 for 249 yards in a 27-24 double-overtime loss to No. 14 South Carolina.
"He probably didn't play quite as well as he would like in this game," Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. "And everybody's talking about that. It's just experience. He'll get better as experience goes. And the more experience he gets, he'll play better and better. "'
Mauk's accuracy has been an issue. He has completed just 49.3 percent of his passes for 585 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. For comparison's sake, Franklin has completed 67.7 percent of his passes.
But Jones doesn't need to look at a stat sheet to understand Mauk's abilities. He already knows Mauk well enough to realize the challenge Tennessee's defense could be facing this week.
"He's a winner," Jones said, "and he makes plays."