"Mart's the hardest worker on our team," says sophomore wide receiver Blain Bech. "He studies more film—studies more of just about anything—than anyone else."
With his average hovering around A-and finals looming, Mauck was more concerned with studying for exams last week than with getting ready for Tennessee. "It's been so hectic with all my schoolwork that I didn't have a chance to think much about the game," he said on Saturday night.
His mind hightailed back to football when Davey lay motionless on the sideline, having been shoved hard out-of-bounds by Vols linebacker Kenyon Whiteside with 11:30 left in a scoreless first quarter. Before his heart rate had a chance to catch up, Mauck hurried onto the field, where the Tigers faced third-and-four on the Tennessee 35. He used his 4-5 speed to gain five yards and move the chains on his first play. Three plays and three Volunteers penalties later he stretched a quarterback sneak into a four-yard dash into the end zone for the first touchdown of his career.
"I expected him to get on the phone after that and start talking a million miles a minute," said Fisher, who was calling plays from the press box. "But on the other end of the line I hear, 'Hey, Coach.' The kid was totally cool. Then it was, 'We can do this, and let's maybe try that, and what about this?' At that point I knew we were in great shape."
Although LSU would lose starting tailback LaBrandon Toefield to a sprained left knee in the second quarter, Fisher's optimism would build throughout the second half as the Tigers continued to exploit Tennessee's uncharacteristically soft run defense with quarterback draws and sneaks and other plays the Vols, who had spent the week studying film of Davey's deft passing game, hadn't prepared for. "We knew Mauck was mobile," said Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer, still mystified an hour after his Rose Bowl prospects had gone down the drain. "We hit him a lot, and he kept getting back up."
As the clock ticked toward zero and sugar packets rained on the field, Mauck's hands flew to his head in momentary disbelief of what he and the Tigers had accomplished. "This is as big as it has ever gotten for me," he would say later. Maybe as big as it will ever get, at least in the athletic arena. Having done time as a professional athlete, Mauck is set on becoming a pediatrician or an obstetrician.
Freshly showered and clutching his MVP trophy an hour after the win, Matt met his all-but-speechless parents, who were seemingly the only fans outside the locker room who recognized him. "I'm not quite sure what this win means for other teams," said Matt, "and I don't really care." One thing is certain: The quarterback from Santa Claus is going to have a busy holiday season.