COLUMBIA — His presence alone gave them a boost.
Missouri quarterback James Franklin entered the game in the second half to help the Tigers put away the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday at Memorial Stadium in a 33-10 Homecoming victory.
Franklin replaced a struggling Corbin Berkstresser, and the Tigers quickly took control of the game. But Franklin didn't do anything spectacular. In his first drive, he handed off six times and completed only one of two passes for a 1-yard loss.
"It was very controlled in what we had him run and pass," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "Then we decided to just keep him in, even though the score was the way it is, just to get some reps to get some confidence back."
Pinkel said having Franklin as an experienced quarterback gave the offense a "lift."
After spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee three weeks ago, Franklin did not show up on Missouri's depth chart and was listed as doubtful on the injury report during the week. Pinkel said he planned earlier in the week to play Franklin if Berkstresser struggled, though he hoped to get through with Berkstresser.
When Berkstresser continued to struggle in a one-possession game, Pinkel did what he had planned to do.
"I wasn't sure if he was going to play or not. When he came in it was a big surprise," receiver Dorial Green-Beckham said.
Even Franklin did not see it coming. Pinkel didn't inform Franklin until the series before he went in. It had been three weeks since Franklin played quarterback, and the rest of the offense joked that they hardly recognized him when he stepped in the huddle.
"A lot of guys gave him a couple jokes, like, 'Who's this guy? This is not Corbin,'"Missouri running back Kendial Lawrence said.
Franklin knew he wasn't at full speed. After the game, Franklin said in his condition, his grandfather could probably beat him in a race. He talked to offensive coordinator David Yost and Pinkel about his condition before going in.
"I told them what I thought I could do with my knee and what I thought I couldn't do. So he took that into consideration and called the plays accordingly," Franklin said.
The offense steadied and the defense made big plays after Franklin came in. But earlier in the game, the Tigers made mistakes that cost them opportunities to score.
In the first half, receiver Marcus Lucas dropped a perfect pass from Berkstresser over the middle.
Later, Berkstresser overthrew a wide-open T.J. Moe in the end zone, causing the Tigers to settle for a field goal.
An illegal block in the back penalty on Moe negated a 17-yard punt return by Marcus Murphy, discouraging the Tigers from trying to score with two timeouts left and 55 seconds left in the half. Murphy had struggles of his own.
He muffed two punts in the first half, losing one to the Wildcats and allowing them to tie the game at 10 with 12:17 left in the second quarter.
On the first drive of the second half, Berkstresser threw an ugly interception. He released a wobbly pass down the left side of the field before getting hit. The pass was so off-target, Kentucky cornerback J.D. Harmon waited on the ball and caught it like he was receiving a kickoff. Harmon intercepted Berkstresser again on the following Missouri drive.
Luckily for the Tigers, the Wildcats' offense was having even less success. After the Kentucky offense gained 110 yards in the fist 5:28 of the first quarter, it managed only 69 yards for the remainder of the game.
But Pinkel didn't want to take any chances. After another Berkstresser drive resulted in a punt, Pinkel brought in Franklin with 4:58 left in the third quarter. The conservative play-calling indicated that Franklin was limited, but the offense gained a rhythm. With help from the running game and dominating defense, Missouri pulled away from Kentucky. The Tigers were able to run out the clock and take a knee.
With another week to heal, Franklin thinks his knee will be in good shape.
"I know I'm 100 percent sure, unless I get hit by a car or something, that I'll be playing next week," Franklin said.
After finally getting their first Southeastern Conference win, the Tigers will travel to Gainesville, Fla., next week to play the No. 2-ranked Florida Gators to try for their second.
Pinkel exited Memorial Stadium after the game looking relieved, wearing a long-sleeved yellow T-shirt and no visor, waving to and greeting fans.