COLUMBIA — The new quarterback was not nervous on Missouri's first possession. He had been facing the Missouri defense for a month. Those guys in red and white did not look nearly as fierce.
"I thought, 'Man, this is easier than what I was thinking,'" Missouri sophomore quarterback James Franklin said.
Not exactly. In a 17-6 win over Miami (Ohio), Franklin learned that taking advantage of defenses in a game setting is something entirely different from practices on Kadlec Fields.
Franklin, who completed 17 of 26 passes for 129 yards, one touchdown and one interception, had his moments. He chose wisely when to tuck the ball and run. He displayed some slick moves that made defenders miss, resulting in runs that routinely went for 10-plus yards. On Missouri’s first scoring drive, Franklin completed four consecutive throws that didn’t have to look pretty to be successful.
That seemed to be the tone Franklin was setting early: ugly but effective. Adjustments would come with time.
Then came the bad interception during an especially bad possession toward the beginning of the third quarter. On his own 11-yard line, Franklin tried to throw outside to wide receiver T.J. Moe, but the pass was soft and inaccurate, practically a gift to Miami cornerback Dayonne Nunley. It led to Miami's only scoring drive, which pulled the visiting team within four points of the Tigers.
"I had to put more velocity on it," Franklin said.
The interception was discouraging because it came after halftime, when Franklin was supposed to have adjusted. If anything, he seemed to be unraveling.
Franklin shook it off and made his best throw toward the end of the game. In the fourth quarter he let a play progress before he made eye contact with wide receiver Marcus Lucas. His pass avoided the outstretched fingers of a Miami defender and found Lucas in the back of the end zone.
Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Yost has praised Franklin's ability to shake off mistakes. It is a backhanded compliment. Quarterbacks who don't make many mistakes don't get complimented for that.
At this point, Franklin makes a lot of mistakes. But he proved the truth of Yost's compliment on Saturday.
"He got better as the game went on with his progressions," running back De'Vion Moore said. "He did a great job as the game went on of coming out and getting acclimated."
Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said it was not as good of a season-opening performance as in recent years. Nor was Franklin's debut nearly as good as those of his three predecessors. But the coach said debuts don't always indicate career success. He considers Franklin an unfinished product, probably more so than Brad Smith, Chase Daniel or Blaine Gabbert.
"It's all a process of learning," Pinkel said. "He did some good things. It's a real good effort, but he can do better."
Franklin struggled most with reacting to openings in the defense before they closed again. Moe said that's to be expected of a player who has faced only defensive schemes with which he is familiar.
"It happens fast," Moe said. "You have to get used to the flow of the game. He knows all the reads, and he knows what he's supposed to be doing. It's week one. Nobody's perfect. I dropped my first pass ever."
Asked to grade his performance, Franklin responded with an attitude that will bode well for the rest of the season: realism mixed with hope.
"I probably failed this test today," he said. "Around a D, maybe. But a win is a win, and there are things I'm focused on that I didn't do so well."
"I'll give myself a C-."