COLUMBIA — OK, OK. So James Franklin runs hard.
When the Missouri quarterback scrambles out of the pocket and sees big defensive linemen or linebacker coming at him, he does not slide. He makes a move, slight or obvious, to get them off balance at the last moment. Then the 6-foot-2, 225-pound sophomore lowers his shoulder and uses his momentum to win the collision.
Yes, identifying how to absorb hits is one of his strong points, Franklin said. But it’s based on smarts and focus and, well, anything but anger.
When he levels an opponent on the run, as he did on crucial plays in Saturday's overtime win at Texas A&M, he’s not, as a classmate suggested, acting like Two-Face in the Batman movies. Don’t tell him he is expressing some repressed part of his choirboy personality.
"I still don't see how that factors into playing football," Franklin said Monday. "Just because I'm nice, I'm not going to let them destroy me. I'm not going to hand them the ball or anything like that.
"Whenever I’m running the ball, it’s nothing personal."
Try telling that to Texas A&M defenders Andrew Wolridge and Damontre Moore. Facing third-and-1 at the Aggies' 20 yardline in the first quarter, Franklin dropped back to pass and saw his receivers were covered. He used his speed to loop backwards and around two defenders and get the one yard needed for the first down.
He used something else on the next 19 yards. Wolridge ran horizontally halfway across the field and dove shoulder-first into Franklin's left ribs. One of them ended up on the ground, and it wasn't Franklin, who fought the urge to let his hand touch the field and regained his balance.
Then, at the 7-yard line, Moore, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound defender who plays a hybrid position Texas A&M calls the joker, attempted to knock Franklin out of bounds. Franklin spun, absorbed Moore’s mass to his left shoulder, and stayed on his feet.
Moore, meanwhile, rolled out of bounds, at the wrong end of the joke.
Franklin usually tells defenders, "good hit." He waited until the next time Moore actually tackled him to say so.
"He may have thought I was being a little sarcastic," Franklin said.
For Missouri tailback De'Vion Moore, it was one more run by his quarterback that left him taken aback.
"It's extremely shocking to see the intensity he runs with, considering his personality isn’t of that nature," De'Vion Moore said. "Some of the impact alone is, like, man. He runs with a lot of anger, it seems like."
Franklin laughed at the idea. If anything, he runs so aggressively to defend himself. You get drilled when you run afraid, he said.
That’s what happened the one time in high school, when an opponent halfheartedly tried to stop Franklin. The player approached Franklin off balance and on his heels as if he expected to get hit. Using his momentum, Franklin took his forearm and drove the player onto the ground. The player needed to be helped off the field.
"That's probably the worst I've felt after hitting somebody," Franklin said.
Whatever Franklin's motive, it affects teammates other than Moore. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said players responded to their quarterback's determination not to go down on Saturday. They replayed Franklin's touchdown run several times while watching film, too.
Pinkel does not want Franklin taking on safeties in the open field. But if receivers are covered and he can scramble, as Franklin said he did 11 to 12 times against Texas A&M, Pinkel is all for it.
"You saw a player that said he was going to do everything he could to win a game," Pinkel said. "When you've got a player like that … there's no question it has a huge impact on your team."
So James Franklin runs hard. For offensive lineman Jayson Palmgren, it really doesn't matter why.
"It's awesome — it makes me get pumped up and want to hit people," Palmgren said. "I love it. I love hitting people, and I love having a quarterback who does, too."