COMMENTARY: Pinkel, Franklin still feel pressure despite victory over Tennessee

Sunday, November 11, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST
Missouri head football coach Gary Pinkel hugs Athletics Director Mike Alden after the 51-48 overtime win over Tennessee on Saturday at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.

COLUMBIA — Gary Pinkel didn't see any light at the end of the tunnel.

The Missouri football team was lucky to be down just 21-7 at halftime. Pinkel's offense had just been outgained by more than 300 yards by the Tennessee offense. It appeared that the Missouri Tigers were going to get blown out by the Tennessee Volunteers, who nearly lost to a team from the Sun Belt Conference a week before.

With the defense getting rolled and the offense floundering, former Tigers running back Tony Temple tweeted, "Mizzou needs to make a change I'm sorry. Someone needs to say it."

He wasn't the only one thinking it. Temple could have been talking about a coaching change, quarterback change or even a different uniform combination. Regardless, the team's struggles could have been the end for Pinkel as coach and James Franklin as quarterback.

Missouri looked like it was headed for a 4-8 finish to the season. The Tigers next opponent is Syracuse, who was in the middle of dismantling No. 9-ranked and previously unbeaten Louisville.

After that, Missouri will have to travel down to College Station to play Texas A&M. Based on what the Aggies did on Saturday night, the Tigers don't want any part of that. In case you haven't heard, Texas A&M beat Alabama. Yeah.

It wasn't just that the remaining opponents look strong, though. What made things worse was the fact that the Missouri offense couldn't move the ball against a Tennessee defense that has been characterized as a bunch of scrubs.

Any moral victories gained from playing Florida in a close game were gone. The Gators barely squeaked by Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday. Missouri looked downright bad.

Franklin had a 2-to-1 completions-to-interception ratio at halftime, as in two completions and one interception. People on Twitter were coming after him, too. They still called for a switch, people who were well-aware of how good Franklin's replacement is.

But the Tigers offense came alive and sneaked out with a victory. Franklin threw four touchdown passes in the four-overtime miracle to quiet the critics for now.

It still won't be easy for Missouri to reach a bowl game, but at least it has a chance. A loss to Tennessee would have been the end of the season. The Tigers were almost headed into their last two games with no momentum. Pinkel and Franklin may not have survived it.

"I'm just real proud of my players and my coaches and this has been difficult and now there's a little light shining here at the end of the tunnel," Pinkel said. "It got a little brighter, but now next week's game is mammoth."

The light Pinkel sees could still disappear at any minute. Franklin also realized the pressure is still on. When asked if the win takes any weight off of his shoulders, he replied, "Not too much, no sir."

They still carry the weight. It just hasn't crushed them yet.

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