By Joe Vozzelli
James Franklin’s game Saturday against Florida is one most Missouri fans would like to forget ever happened. The junior quarterback threw four interceptions — a career high — and struggled with the touch on his passes all game.
Just don’t count Franklin among those who will forget about his less than stellar game against the Gators. And that could be a problem.
Franklin shoveled most of the blame onto himself at Monday’s media day at the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex.
“On three of the picks, I sailed (the ball), and on the other one I didn’t see (the defender). I think it was more that I was hurting myself,” he said.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Franklin takes things personally.
“He takes a lot on himself. But, there’s also a point where you let go and move on,” Pinkel said. “James has to mature through that.”
Franklin answered reporters’ questions in a quiet tone, mixing in the occasional “Yes, sir” or “No, sir,” a typical expression for the Corinth, Texas, native. What was unusual about Franklin’s mood was how it almost mirrored what you’d expect from someone who received horrible news. Franklin almost always has an upbeat attitude after a game, even if Missouri doesn’t win or he plays poorly.
Pinkel has always talked about avoiding the “outside noise,” whether from the media or from the fans on social networks. But, that’s becoming increasingly harder for Franklin because the heat and pressure on him to win continues to build.
The training complex and the Missouri locker room seem like the only comfortable places for Franklin right now.
Wide receiver T.J. Moe said it’s hard to talk to teammates after they have a game like Franklin did Saturday.
“Nobody wants to be talked to after a game like that,” he said.
Moe, a senior wide receiver, said he sent Franklin text messages on Saturday night and Monday to encourage the junior quarterback.
“You just got to let him work through that himself, nobody wants to be sat down and talked to,” Moe said. “He’s got all that stuff going around in his head.”
Pinkel said he’s talked to Franklin throughout the season and told him to not worry about what others think about his play.
“He’s been through an awful lot,” he said of Franklin.
Franklin’s rough season started well before Missouri’s opener on September 1.
• He had offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right throwing shoulder, missing much of spring practice.
• An inflamed bursa sac caused him to miss the Arizona State game.
• He played but was sub par in the game against South Carolina, going 11-for-18 for 92 yards in the Tigers’ 31-10 loss.
• He sustained a sprained medial collateral ligament in the Vanderbilt game on Oct. 6, sitting the rest of that game, the Alabama game and much of the Kentucky game.
Franklin’s first full game back from the MCL injury came against Florida. Missouri moved the ball well against the Gators’ defense, only to see offensive drives end with costly mistakes.
One such scenario happened late in the third quarter with the game tied at 7. With the ball at the Florida 27-yard line, Franklin released a pass that overshot wide receiver Bud Sasser. Florida safety Matt Elam caught the ball and returned it 40 yards to set up a Florida touchdown. Franklin’s pass overshot Sasser so much that it actually looked like it was intended for Elam.
Most of Franklin’s mistakes against Florida weren’t related to poor decisions but rather mechanical errors that can be fixed, Pinkel said.
“Mostly the mistakes he made were simply missed throws,” he said. “He made one bad decision down the field. The ball sailed on him several times”
Pinkel said one of the reasons Franklin’s bad passes is because he’s “throwing off his back foot,” a no-no for quarterbacks. Franklin’s MCL injury is in his left knee — the plant leg for a right-handed quarterback — a sign that Franklin didn’t have full confidence in his left knee. Throwing off his back foot caused him to overthrow his wide receivers.
Franklin wasn’t willing to use the knee injury as an excuse, though. He said he was “pretty close to a hundred (percent)” against Florida.
Because of the problems he was having with his passing game, Franklin stepped up his running game.
He had a nifty 22-yard run down the sidelines in the third quarter against Florida, where he escaped the pocket and run to his right. He faked Florida defenders into believing he’d run out of bounds before cutting up field for another three yards.
Still, though, Franklin was clearly hindered by the knee injury at points in the game. He wasn’t able to cut side-to-side on runs, which hurt his ability to elude Florida defenders on several occasions.
Moe remained confident that Missouri is heading out of its offensive doldrums and pointed to the Florida game as a sign of this.
“We moved the ball up and down the field against Florida as well as anybody the last couple of years and James is the reason for that,” he said.
Missouri’s next opponent, Tennessee (4-5, 0-5 SEC), should be an opportunity for a breakout offensive game. Tennessee’s defense surrenders points quicker than most politicians change their stances on issues.
Franklin will have a chance to prove he’s back to the quarterback he was last season when Missouri plays Tennessee at 11:21 a.m. Saturday at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.
The Volunteers have allowed 35.4 points per game this season, which ranks 107th in the Football Subdivision. Last week Tennessee’s defense allowed Troy, a 4-5 team from the Sun Belt Conference, to score 48 points. Tennessee won because its offense scored 55 points.
Missouri hasn’t exactly been a world-beater on offense this season, though. The Tigers rank 97th in scoring offense (22.4 points per game) and 109th in total offense (319.3 yards per game).
The Missouri offense will have to deal with another key injury Saturday. Right tackle Justin Britt will miss the remainder of the season after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during Saturday’s loss to Florida. Pinkel said Britt has been Missouri’s best offensive lineman all season. True freshman Evan Boehm would be the Tigers’ only offensive lineman to start all 10 games this season provided he trots out there on Saturday.
The Missouri defense, which has picked up the offense all season, will face a stern test from Tennessee. The Volunteers have a dangerous tandem of wide receivers in Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter, who have accounted for 11 touchdowns this season. Junior quarterback Tyler Bray isn’t bad, either. He’s thrown for 2,812 yards to go with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
So, if Missouri (4-5, 1-5 SEC) wants to win on Saturday, its offense will need to hold serve with the Tennessee offense. With Tennessee, Syracuse (4-5) and Texas A&M (7-2) left on the schedule, Missouri needs to win at least two of those three games to secure bowl eligibility. Wins against Tennessee and Syracuse are the best chances to secure a seventh eighth season of bowl play.