After quarterback Matt Mauck tore ligaments in his right foot during a 36-7 win at Florida last October, a season that had started so promisingly (5-1) for the Tigers unraveled. Yet that injury might prove to be a blessing for LSU this year. To protect Mauck's healing foot in spring practice, the coaching staff ordered the gifted runner not to scramble. Instead Mauck, a 24-year-old former minor league catcher who is still a junior in football eligibility, remained rooted in the pocket, and he emerged from the spring as a more polished passer. "Matt always had that built-in safeguard that he could get out of trouble with his legs," says coach Nick Saban. "Sometimes guys like that abort the passing option too soon. Matt had that choice taken away from him."
Mauck's development in the pocket will make the Tigers' offense more effective this year. He has excellent receivers in junior Michael Clayton (104 receptions for 1,503 yards over the last two seasons), senior Devery Henderson (who caught the last-second Hail Mary touchdown pass, dubbed the Bluegrass Miracle, against Kentucky) and speedy sophomore Skyler Green. Mauck will be protected by an offensive line that Saban calls the best he's had in his four seasons at LSU. Four starters return, led by guard Stephen Peterman, an All-SEC pick who last season allowed only one sack and was whistled for a single penalty. An improved passing game will take pressure off junior tailback Joseph Addai (438 yards, 5.5 yards per carry in 2002) in his first season as the featured back.
The 6'2", 217-pound Mauck spent three years playing catcher in the Chicago Cubs' organization, alongside such future big leaguers as Corey Patterson, Juan Cruz and Carlos Zambrano, but Mauck hit only .221 before giving up on his major league dream in 2000. He keeps in e-mail contact with his baseball buddies, but the Jasper, Ind., native now feels comfortable as the starting quarterback on the Bayou. "I'll be much better prepared this year than I was last year," he says.
And to think that snapped ligaments have something to do with that.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]