COLUMBIA — An injured starting quarterback is like a swift punch in the gut.
It’s instant pain, even collapse, but the real question is whether a team can get itself together and stand upright again, however shakily.
After Blaine Gabbert’s ankle injury in 2009’s loss to Nebraska, the Missouri football team was paralyzed, hunched over and took a loss.
During Saturday’s game against Colorado, just a year and a day after Gabbert’s initial injury, history seemed to repeat itself. With Missouri leading 19-0 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, backup quarterback James Franklin entered the game while Gabbert stood on the sideline, holding an ice pack to his right side.
This year's punch: a hip pointer injury.
Could Franklin, unlike last season’s backup quarterback Jimmy Costello, be the difference between collapse and recovery? Missouri had 15 minutes of play to answer that question. Although Franklin wasn’t perfect, he managed to pull the team back up and extend the lead, thus reducing the throbbing pain of Gabbert’s injury to a dull ache.
“I thought he did some real good things … threw the ball a couple times, made a touchdown throw,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.
In his first drive of the night, Franklin brought life to the team’s lagging rushing game, completing a 34-yard run. The drive ultimately resulted in a touchdown pass to Michael Egnew, putting the Tigers ahead 26-0.
“I always like the passing ones (touchdowns),” Franklin said. “I’m glad I’m a little slow and didn’t make it all the way.”
Pinkel adjusted the team’s offense when the freshman entered the game. Franklin said the offensive scheme became a lot less complicated in order to account for his inexperience, but Pinkel also looked to play to Franklin’s strengths.
“It’s kind of like every quarterback brings a little bit different to the position," Pinkel said. "You know, his running ability’s a little different than Blaine’s, different from Chase Daniel’s. … He’s a quicker type athlete, so he can do some things that those guys can’t.”
The biggest difference between Franklin’s performance Saturday and Costello’s the year before was Franklin’s ability to keep a clear head. Wide receiver T.J. Moe said Franklin remained calm on the field and didn’t seem worried about how he’d perform.
“Going in with a pressure situation, it wasn’t huge because it wasn’t maybe like a one- or two-point game or a one-touchdown game or something like that,” Franklin said. “But going in there with pressure, I think it helped out.”
Franklin added that he felt prepared to step up and replace Gabbert. He’s spent time in practices playing with the first string and working on how to react in close games, and he didn’t seem worried by the fact that he’d only played with the second string offense in games earlier in the season.
“There’s not a huge difference with the ones and twos,” Franklin said. “Just going in there’s different guys, and you have to adjust to how they run routes and how they block and how they snap, things like that.”
Although Franklin was mostly impressive, going 3-for-4 in the quarter with the touchdown pass and an interception, questions still remain about the situation at quarterback.
After Saturday's game, Pinkel said he didn't know the severity of Gabbert's injury, but Gabbert said he'll play next week at Texas A&M. However, if the hip pointer continues to bother Gabbert, Franklin will be called on not only to continue his steady play but also to improve dramatically.