KANSAS CITY — Everybody talked to James Franklin.
The sophomore quarterback said offensive players, defensive players and even players who would never talk to him, talked to him. And, he said it was the simple act of talking with teammates and coaches that turned what looked like the worst game of his career into a 24-10 comeback victory Saturday against Kansas.
Franklin's first half was a nightmare: overthrows, underthrows, throws behind receivers and throws to the other team. He threw three interceptions in a four-pass span during the first half, the last returned 56 yards by Kansas defensive back Bradley McDougald for a touchdown that put the Jayhawks, who entered the game on a nine-game losing streak, ahead by a score of 10-0.
But, as he did last week against Texas Tech, Franklin led Missouri back.
In the third quarter, the Tigers tied the game up at 10-10 after a botched snap on a Kansas punt attempt gave Missouri the ball at the Jayhawks 14-yard line. On the next offensive drive, Franklin drove the offense 93 yards and capped the drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Wes Kemp.
Later, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Franklin threw another pass to Marcus Lucas for a 53-yard touchdown, giving the Tigers a 24-10 lead.
Just as the Jayhawks had capitalized on Franklin’s mistakes to build a 10-3 lead at halftime, Franklin’s execution turned the game around in the second half and put the Tigers ahead by two touchdowns.
Following his first-half struggles, the typically cheerful quarterback hung his head a little bit.
So, the quarterback earned a "talking to." But not in a bad way.
Teammates came to him and gave him words of encouragement. They joked. They tried to get Franklin to return to his ever-smiling state.
"I knew the guys were counting on me," Franklin said. "They kept telling me, 'You’re No. 1 for a reason, you’re the quarterback for a reason, you're here for a reason.' And so I was thinking about it, and I was just really frustrated and down. And then they kept telling me to remain positive, and that gave me more confidence."
Some of the words were your usual sports pick-me-ups.
"I just told him, 'Listen buddy, I got all the faith in the world in you,'" wide receiver T.J. Moe said. "'So don't you worry about the first half, don't worry about nothing. You’ll be all right.'"
Others still resorted to funny nicknames and a more lighthearted confidence-building approach.
"I called him 'Tankhead' and joked around with him a little, made him smile," wide receiver Jerrell Jackson said. "He was smiling real hard before the game, so I made him smile at halftime, just joking around and making sure everyone's spirits were lifted."
In the first half, Franklin completed seven of 14 passing attempts and threw three interceptions. In the second half, he completed seven of eight passing attempts, and threw two touchdowns.
His teammates knew that Franklin would be able to shake off his sloppy start. Moe said he's never seen Franklin stay rattled throughout an entire game. Running back De'Vion Moore said that the quarterback has overcome struggles before.
"He's demonstrated game in and game out what he can handle," Moore said. "So when we hit adversity, there's no panic at all."
"James shakes it off," Moe said. "He might start off the game a little bit rough sometimes, but he always finds a way to settle down and shake it off and give us a chance to win. So, that’s all we need. Can’t ask much more than that."
Following his interceptions, Franklin said he told offensive coordinator David Yost that he wasn’t feeling comfortable throwing the ball. According to Franklin, Yost wants him to be communicative with him, and the offense took a run-heavy turn on the next couple Missouri drives.
After a while, Yost starting calling more passing plays. Franklin said Yost's confidence in him helped to boost his own confidence.
Moe doesn't think early-game adversity has affected the quarterback's confidence.
"Have you ever seen him not shake it off?"