COLUMBIA — James Franklin is in control.
Missouri’s No. 1 offense is marching down the field on its first drive of the team’s first official scrimmage of fall camp. Franklin is poised as pass rushers slip into the backfield. He looks natural as he throws a 20-yard strike to Dorial Green-Beckham to get the offense to midfield.
After each play, he stares at the sidelines for a brief moment to receive the play call. A quick nod from Franklin, and the offense is back on the move. No time for a huddle. He scrambles right and throws a perfect strike. Scrambles left, same result.
With the offense down near the goal line, a quick toss from Franklin to Russell Hansorough is all they need to finish the drive. Eight plays, 75 yards and a touchdown all before the crowd of roughly 200 family, friends, donors and media at Memorial Stadium could bat an eye.
In the first week and a half of fall camp, coach Gary Pinkel and Missouri’s football team have been keeping secrets.
How is the quarterback competition between Franklin and Maty Mauk playing out?
“You’ll have to tune in,” Pinkel said.
What about the pace of the offense, just how much faster are things going to move this season?
“I want to be fast enough so that it’s an advantage for us to help us win games,” offensive coordinator Josh Henson said.
Nine practices. So many questions, so few answers. Until Saturday. The family, friends and donors watched. Construction workers put the finishing touches on the north end zone concourse and continued work on the east side of the stadium, while the handpicked crowd got a glimpse at what the 2013 Tigers will look like.
Franklin saw the first 20 snaps with the first-team offense during the scrimmage. Mauk mixed in, but it was Franklin who took control. Where Mauk was rushed and out of rhythm, Franklin was relaxed and methodical.
But Pinkel refused to acknowledge whether Franklin had gained any ground on Saturday.
“When we make a decision, you’ll know it,” he said after the scrimmage.
Quarterbacks coach Andy Hill maintained the coaches’ code of silence.
“I have no comment about the quarterbacks,” he said, abruptly putting an end to the discussion before it began.
The two quarterbacks expect a decision to come down within the next week, but Franklin is creating a quiet buzz among his teammates.
“He’s solidified himself as a leader,” said senior wide receiver Marcus Lucas, who caught a 75-yard touchdown from Franklin on the second drive of the scrimmage.
Franklin wasn’t perfect. He threw an interception on an underthrown pass and overthrew a few open receivers. But the offense was moving fast enough for Franklin to put his mistakes behind him. The team has emphasized a hurry-up, no-huddle offense in practice, and that carried over to the scrimmage.
So when E.J. Gaines leaped into the air to pluck a floating Franklin pass, the quarterback’s mind was already on the next one. The offense proceeded to drive down the field for a touchdown, a quick strike from Franklin to Bud Sasser.
“We try not to get too upset, because it can only hurt the next play,” Franklin said. “Up-tempo definitely helps with that.”
While the competition between the first-team offense and first-team defense was limited, the tempo of the offense has stood out to the defensive players. Defensive end Kony Ealy thinks Missouri may be better prepared when Texas A&M and South Carolina are on the other sideline.
“They’re definitely preparing us for the SEC,” Kony Ealy said. “Everybody thinks of the SEC and think of the run game. Well it’s tempo, too.”
After a scrimmage that spanned nearly three hours, the Tigers will have the day off from practice Sunday. It's their first day off since beginning fall camp on Aug. 1.
On Monday, Missouri’s routine will be back to normal. Practice will be closed, save for the 45-minute period of stretching and individual drills. Pinkel and the assistant coaches will be available to the media but likely won’t divulge much more than they did on Saturday.
“We’re not going to talk about our offensive scheme,” Pinkel said.
But the secrets are starting to come out. Pinkel may not be revealing the details, but the offense is changing and a starting quarterback is emerging.