After spring break Franklin makes case for Missouri starting quarterback job

Saturday, April 16, 2011 | 6:22 p.m. CDT; updated 10:48 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 16, 2011
Quarterback James Franklin throws a pass as members of the offensive and defensive teams surround him during the Black and Gold game on Saturday April 16. At the half, the score of the game reset to 0-0 and the offense and defense took opposing sides in a scrimmage that was won 3-0 by the offense.

COLUMBIA — James Franklin hears it all the time. He has tried telling himself, too.

Football's just a game.


There were few surprises in Saturday's annual Black and Gold football game.

In the first half of the game, the first team offense and defense played against the second team offense and defense, and the second team began with an automatic 14-0 lead. In the second half, the entire offensive squad played against the entire defensive squad. For instance, the first team offense took the field against the first team defense, and the second team offense played against the second team defense.

The first half ended with the second team defeating the first team 21-10, and the second half — when the first team offense and defense play each other — ended in a 3-0 win for the offense. So without the automatic 14-0 lead, the first team outscored the second team 10-7.

Both touchdowns were credited to quarterback James Franklin, who began the game playing with the second team offense, but he and Tyler Gabbert rotated between the first and second teams. Running back Marcus Murphy scored the first touchdown of the game — for the second team — and wide receiver Brandon Gerau scored the first team's touchdown later in the second quarter.

Murphy saw significant playing time with the second team, and first team running back De'Vion Moore stood out on offense. Receiver T.J. Moe began the game strong with a 15-yard rush, but fumbled a pass from Gabbert in the first quarter and did not play for the rest of the first half.

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Well, sort of. That only goes so far when you're competing for the starting quarterback job at a Division I BCS school.

When Franklin went home to Dallas over spring break, it wasn't giving him much solace. During Missouri's spring practice he went from holding the top spot by himself on the depth chart to sharing it with Tyler Gabbert.

In Dallas, no one told him football was just a game. They showed him. And when Franklin returned for the last two weeks of spring practice, he felt refreshed.

That showed Saturday in the Black and Gold spring game. Franklin completed 13 of 21 passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Months remain before coach Gary Pinkel has to make a decision, but Franklin looked like the starting quarterback.

After the game, the sophomore said the time he spent with his minister and father, Willie Franklin, as well as other members of his church helped relieve his stress.

"I got a lot of spiritual encouragement when I went home," James Franklin said. "I realized that even though it's stressful, football's not the most important thing in life. When I brought the stress level down, it's a little bit easier to process things out here."

Franklin sat down with his father and had a few meetings. He also went out to lunch with friends who didn't bring up football. They asked him about his classes. They asked him about his social life.

Their implied message: Relax while you're home. Then you'll be able to go back with renewed focus.

Not that Franklin didn't do anything football-related over the break. He met with Missouri wide receiver Bud Sasser, who lives nearby, and played catch. He watched film of a recent scrimmage that offensive coordinator Dave Yost sent the quarterbacks.

When Franklin returned to Columbia, he played well in last Saturday's scrimmage and came into the Black and Gold game keeping the perspective that this one, especially, was just a game. This was by no means the final test.

Both quarterbacks struggled early. Franklin overthrew T.J. Moe on his first attempt. He threw the next one into traffic. The offense punted.

But as Gabbert continued to struggle (he completed 8 of 22 passes for 48 yards), Franklin said he became more patient in the pocket and took his time reading coverage. Running back Marcus Murphy caught a screen pass and ran 32 yards for a touchdown. Then right before halftime, Franklin completed consecutive throws to Brandon Gerau for another touchdown.

"He did some really good things," Pinkel said. "He's a competitor, and he's played better in the last two weeks."

Pinkel said there's nothing wrong with quarterbacks struggling from time to time. When Franklin struggled early in the spring, he waited to see how the quarterback would react.

"Anybody could play quarterback, but (to have) the ability to handle adversity in game, there's only one way to get that," Pinkel said. "You go through some tough times.

"He probably reflected on a lot of those things when he got away, but he also probably reflected a little bit on what he could do to come back and have a better spring."

Now, spring practices are over. Gabbert said both he and Franklin have a lot to improve on when two-a-day practices start in August. Now, they must wait. It'll be stressful, Franklin said. He knows that at this level, football's not just a game. But he also knows how to deal with it.

"I'm in the No. 1 spot now, but it could still change," Franklin said. "There's definitely a lot of pressure at the position. You can use that as a tool to motivate yourself and to work harder and get better."

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