COLUMBIA - Just over an hour before quarterback Corbin Berkstresser dragged three Arizona State defenders into the end zone to put Missouri up 10-0, it didn’t appear he’d play at all.
James Franklin stood on the 21-yard line at 5:14 p.m., throwing soft, wobbly spirals to receiver Cameron Chancey in the end zone. Offensive coordinator David Yost stood a few feet behind him, studying his quarterback’s warmup passes and repeatedly stopping him to ask how he felt.
From the press box, journalists dissected Franklin’s mechanics on every throw. They peered through binoculars, trying to pinpoint any wince or grimace that might suggest that the rumors of his shoulder injury were true.
But he kept throwing. And the more he threw, the more it appeared he would make his 16th-straight start.
The starters were announced five minutes before kickoff, with each player turning to the crowd and gripping a football on the video board. Somewhat dramatically, the quarterback was the last player to be named.
No 1. James Franklin.
His video introduction came up, with Franklin laughing jubilantly as he pump faked again and again. As he smiled on the big board, Missouri fans were reassured that the junior quarterback would start.
Not so fast.
When Missouri’s offense took the field for the game’s opening drive, Berkstresser, a redshirt freshman from Lee’s Summit, trotted onto the field.
Arizona State’s defensive line harassed Berkstresser throughout much of Missouri's 24-20 win, but Berkstresser managed the game, limited turnovers and kept getting up after being knocked to the turf.
Berkstresser was sacked twice and knocked down countless more times throughout the game. It was his willingness to stand in the pocket, take the shots and get back up that endears him to his teammates, T.J. Moe said.
“He’s such a tough kid,” Moe said. “He reminds me of Blaine (Gabbert) just a little bit, in that Blaine was just tough as nails. Corbin’s the same way. He’s the guy starting the fights, which maybe you don’t want in your quarterback, but he’s going to do it.”
With just under six minutes remaining in the first quarter, Berkstresser delivered some punishment of his own.
After taking the shotgun snap at Arizona State’s six yard line, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound quarterback put his shoulder down and kept on moving his legs. He ran up the middle, carrying multiple Sun Devil defenders on his back as he continued to chug along.
Linebacker Anthony Jones held on helplessly, latching on to Berkstresser’s jersey as the inexperienced quarterback carried him – and the football – into the end zone.
It was Berkstresser’s first career rushing touchdown. After initially calling the wrong play at the line of scrimmage, he corrected himself, alerted his teammates to the change and barged into the end zone.
“I called the wrong play at first,” Berkstresser said, smiling widely after the game. “I was like, ‘Uh, now I have to get in no matter what.’”
Franklin, who started the first two games for Missouri, chose not to play because of pain he was experiencing due to an inflamed bursa in his right shoulder.
Coach Gary Pinkel made it clear following the win that while Franklin’s shoulder is structurally sound, he was experiencing pain when he threw and thought it was best not to test the arm.
“He has an irritation, an inflammation of his bursa. No structural problems with the shoulder, absolutely none. His labrum’s 100 percent. No structural problems,” Pinkel said. “It was just too painful for him, and he didn’t want to play.”
Berkstresser, who finished 21-41 for 198 yards, an interception and a rushing touchdown, said Franklin’s presence was positive despite the fact that he couldn’t play.
“Every time I came off it was either him asking me first or me asking him first, kind of a race to see who could help each other out first,” Berkstresser said.
With an SEC road game against South Carolina looming next week, it is unclear who will start at quarterback for Missouri. Wide receiver Marcus Lucas said that while the team doesn't doubt Franklin's toughness, they know he isn't going to force the issue.
"He wants to be 100 percent. Last year, he wasn’t playing at 100 percent and a lot of people criticized James because he wasn’t making plays downfield, but a lot of people didn’t know he was hurt all year," Lucas said. "This year he’s just trying to be smart about it, and he’s trying to be 100 percent for the team.”