COLUMBIA — Missouri football fans might not have known what to expect from James Franklin when he took the reins of the Tigers' offense at the start of the season. But, nearing the end of his first season as a starting quarterback, Franklin’s teammates all acknowledge that the sophomore has come a long way.
On the field, Franklin has developed from an unknown commodity into a quarterback with a reputation as a hard-nosed runner and a field general that leads fourth-quarter comebacks.
Missouri (6-5, 4-4)
at Kansas (2-9, 0-8)
WHEN: 2:40 p.m.
WHERE: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City
TV: Fox Sports
RADIO: KTGR 1580/AM, 100.5/FM; KCMQ 96.7 FM
In Missouri’s victory against Texas Tech this past weekend, Franklin took command, passing for 172 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for another 155 yards and two more touchdowns. The Tigers trailed 27-17 heading into the fourth quarter, but as he as done all season, Franklin stepped up to engineer the comeback victory.
His offensive output was critical to a team that had lost its most productive player a week earlier to injury. Running back Henry Josey’s absence was noticed, but somewhat made up for by Franklin’s play.
“With all the adversity that we’ve hit throughout the week,” running back De’Vion Moore said Monday, “James took it upon himself to say, ‘Hey, I run the offense.’ He went out and he made tremendous plays, and he gave all effort. You saw it in his play, and you saw it in the victory.”
And, just as Franklin’s play on the field has demanded a bigger spotlight, the continued improvement of his leadership skills off the field have demanded one as well.
Teammates said the most noticeable transformation Franklin has made has been becoming a more vocal leader. Wide receiver Jerrell Jackson said he has seen Franklin take a bigger leadership role in meetings and film sessions, speaking up and showing that “he really knows what he’s talking about.”
At the beginning of the year, Franklin’s teammates described him as soft-spoken, but now they said things are different.
“It’s a tremendous change,” Moore said. “He went from a soft-spoken leader to a very vocal leader. He goes out at practice, and he’s vocal with what he wants done, up front with what he wants done from the backfield, from the receivers. He communicates extremely well now. Coming in, he was a little bit less vocal. Now he’s extremely vocal.”
The quarterback said he hasn’t felt too comfortable taking on a more vocal role, but he’s confident he will grow into it.
“I think it’s come more by force actually,” Franklin said. “I still don’t feel too comfortable with it, but a lot of times just in practice, when plays aren’t going so well or we’re having a bad series … that’s when I know I need to step up and kick in and say a few words here and there. It definitely doesn’t feel very comfortable, but it’s something I’m adjusting to and learning how to do.”
Teammates said Franklin is getting better from one game to the next, with Moore saying that each week Franklin is “a new and improved quarterback.” Franklin hasn’t thrown an interception in his past four games. That streak started after a three-interception day against Oklahoma State that offensive coordinator David Yost said upset Franklin.
“He was not very happy with himself after the Okie State game,” Yost said. “The turnovers, that was kind of a big deal to him. Even in meetings, looking at somebody else, we’d be looking at video and somebody’s football got tipped, and he said, ‘Well, it didn’t get intercepted, though.’ It tore at him because he’s a competitor, and he doesn’t want those things to happen.”
Since the loss to the Cowboys, Franklin has led the Tigers to three wins in their past four games and has averaged three touchdowns a game over the past four weeks.
The perpetually modest Franklin said that though he’s accomplished many of the goals he set out for himself at the beginning of the year — many of which dealt with game-to-game consistency — there’s still work to be done. He said he is just starting to find consistency in his footwork, but it sounded like an overly critical assessment.
Franklin’s performance against Texas Tech showed he can carry more of the offensive load. And, with Josey out for the Tigers’ final regular season game and a postseason bowl game, offensive performances like Franklin’s will be crucial to the team.
His burgeoning leadership will be as well.
Franklin said the void created by Josey was still on his mind at the end of Saturday's game.
“After the game, I joked about it,” Franklin said of his performance as a runner. “I texted him, ‘Hey, about 95 yards of that was you, and the other was me.’”