COLUMBIA — Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel wants to protect James Franklin.
After a 5-7 season in which Franklin missed multiple games due to various injuries, Pinkel knows how important the quarterback is to his team. So before Missouri's 38-23 win over Toledo on Saturday, Pinkel and offensive coordinator Josh Henson told Franklin to be smart when he scrambles out of the pocket and make sure to get down before taking a hit.
Franklin may have been listening to their advice, but he didn't follow it. And that was the best thing for Missouri. He ran the ball a team-high 17 times, only two of which were designed, Franklin said. He also led the team in rushing and lowered his shoulder to break tackles more often than he avoided them.
"He's a competitor," Pinkel said. "When we're struggling a little bit he can do that. He's capable. He has to pick the right moments and the right time.
"If you're saying I'm not doing a very good job of handling that, you're probably right."
While Pinkel doesn't want to risk Franklin getting injured, he couldn't complain about the quarterback's decisions on Saturday. He certainly wasn't complaining when Franklin rushed for 33 yards on a single drive in the third quarter, including a 21-yard scamper in which he barreled into Toledo's Ross Madison, leaving the defensive back lying on the turf.
The hit gave the Missouri sideline a boost, even if it didn't result in extra yardage.
"Dramatic effect," Franklin said with a laugh. "I could hear the guys on the sideline and guys on the field. They were pretty excited about it. I'm not thinking about running anybody over. That was last-second."
Senior left guard Max Copeland, who was dealing with a high ankle sprain, finished blocking his man just in time to see Franklin plow through the defender.
"That's so rock and roll," Copeland said. "I just remember finishing my dude, and I see James on the sideline. I see him lower his shoulder, and I said, 'No he’s not.' That was awesome.
"I have a big admiration for having a little bit of reckless abandon about him, sacrificing his body a little bit."
It wasn't long ago that Franklin's toughness was called into question. He refused to take painkillers before a game in 2012 and missed part of six games, including sitting out three games entirely.
"I don't know if people ever called him out for his toughness, but if they were, they're probably eating their words now," Copeland said. "That’s one tough dude, man."
Franklin's toughness and refusal to go down paid off again in the fourth quarter when Pinkel opted to keep the ball in Franklin's hands on fourth down with three yards to go. The Tigers converted on a designed run for Franklin off the right tackle. Pinkel wasn't screaming for his quarterback to go down then, either.
"That's something they talk about before the game and not really during," Franklin said. "I'm not trying to take any shots. I'm not trying to prove I'm tough or anything like that."
By the end of the afternoon, Franklin had a team-high 77 rushing yards, his highest output since the Independence Bowl in 2011. That season he rushed for 981 yards. In 2012 he rushed for only 121.
"A couple years ago, I trusted my legs more than my arm, but now I trust my arm more than my legs."
After Saturday, he may want to re-think that.
"They call James 'Frank the Tank,'" defensive end Kony Ealy said. "He has to know when to do and when not to do it. You have to be smart. I think James is smart enough."