ATHENS, Ga. — A sea of white, black and gold poured past the Georgia marching band and through the southeast tunnel on Saturday afternoon. The wave of giddy Tigers skipped, hopped and sprinted out of Sanford Stadium with their first big Southeastern Conference upset, and a small crowd of shouting Tigers fans peered over the side of the concrete to voice their pleasure.
But one of the final players to walk through the madness had his right arm in a sling and a deflated look on his face.
James Franklin was hurt again.
After a 2012 season in which he missed three games for various medical reasons, Franklin was finally back on track. He powered through four non-conference wins and then scored five total touchdowns last Saturday at Vanderbilt.
Georgia didn’t seem to have an answer for him until midway through the fourth quarter. Franklin scrambled to his left and flipped the ball out of bounds before two Bulldogs smashed him to the turf.
On the next play — a designed run — he gained five yards before curiously sprinting straight to sideline to avoid contact. It was to be his last play in Missouri’s biggest game of the season so far.
The damage: a separated shoulder.
“I really feel for James,” head coach Gary Pinkel said. “He was really, really visibly upset after the game, and he was having a great year.”
Pinkel refused to put an exact timetable on his senior quarterback’s recovery, but he mentioned that the Tigers would prepare for a multi-week absence.
In the meantime, Maty Mauk will call the signals. The redshirt freshman was serviceable against Georgia, but his job was simply to control the game and not make a big mistake that would change the momentum of the game.
For one play, though, the pressure rested squarely on Mauk’s shoulders. Facing second and nine from the Georgia 32 with less than four minutes remaining, Mauk looked to his left and saw receiver Dorial Green-Beckham pressed at the line of scrimmage with a safety on the hash.
He took the snap, looked right to freeze the safety, and then lofted a back shoulder pass to Green-Beckham. The play resulted in a 20-yard completion and set up a short touchdown run by Henry Josey to seal the game.
“If I would’ve thrown it a little further, we would’ve had a touchdown,” Mauk said. “But we did what we needed to do.”
With Florida coming to Columbia next Saturday, all signs point toward the second-year player making his first start. He plans on getting plenty of support from Franklin.
“I talked to him a little bit (after the game),” Mauk said. “This is James. If you don’t know James, he’s gonna be fine. He’s a strong guy, and the thing is, everybody’s here for him and he knows that. My prayers go out to him, and he’ll be fine.”
The Tigers whooped it up in the locker room after the final whistle. One of the celebration’s primary features was defensive tackle Marvin Foster.
While the fifth-year senior didn’t have a huge impact in the box score, he was in his element on a makeshift dance floor. He showed off his best moves to the delight of his teammates, who egged him on with chants of “Big Marrrrrrrrrvin.”
“Big Marv likes to drop it low and get everybody hyped up,” defensive lineman Markus Golden said.
The celebration by the defensive line was well deserved. The group made several minor errors — namely, three offsides penalties by Shane Ray — but they hounded Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and made the defensive play of the game: a strip sack by Ray that Michael Sam ran into the end zone for a 28-10 first-half lead.
The Tigers recorded only two sacks on the day, but the second was a drive-snuffing bull rush by Golden in the fourth quarter.
“I pulled everybody to the side and said, ‘We’re going to have to win this game. It’s going to come down to the defense,’” Golden said.
Murray was on his toes the entire game, and the pressure helped seal the win on the Georgia quarterback's worst mistake of the day, an underthrown corner route that was intercepted by Randy Ponder to set up Missouri’s final touchdown drive.
The win over the Bulldogs gave the Tigers vindication.
“There’s been a lot of games and a lot of teams that we’ve played against that just don’t show us respect,” Ray said. “Even the media doesn’t show us respect. It’s to the point where we don’t really care if people respect us or not.
“At the end of the day, we’re gonna come out, we’re gonna play hard-nosed football and we’re gonna execute. Whether you respect us or not after that game, that’s your decision.”
Pinkel was eager to discuss the big-picture meaning of the game.
“I just think we earned a little more respect,” the coach said. “It went up a couple spots. We learned a lot more about ourselves.
“One of the goals of these seniors is to get back to Mizzou’s winning ways. It’s a big deal for them. They came in and inherited a lot of winning. It’s important for them to raise the bar to competing for an SEC championship.”
When Pinkel and his Tigers defeated No. 1 Oklahoma three seasons ago, he didn’t leave the stadium until well after midnight.
As he drove home, he called his mentor, former Washington coach Don James.
“I started thanking him,” Pinkel said. “I’ve been in this business a long time. It was a big win.”
But James wasn’t ready to celebrate.
“He put a douse on the flame and said, ‘You know what? The toughest game you’re gonna coach is next week,’” Pinkel recounted. “I didn’t listen to him very well. I got mad at him. I didn’t want to hear that. You kidding me?”
The next week, Missouri gave up 24 first-quarter points en route to an embarrassing loss in Nebraska. That experience shifted Pinkel’s mindset, so as his players celebrated in the locker room, he spoke with his captains about staying focused before Florida.
“Our toughest game is going to be this week coming up,” Pinkel said.
Ray explained the team’s postgame mindset in a way that would’ve made Coach James proud.
“Games like this, you win ‘em and some teams get caught up in the hype, the victory and you lose focus on preparing for the team next week,” Ray said. “We’re gonna scratch this. This a great win for us, we’re probably going to do a little celebrating tonight, but tomorrow we’re gonna come in and go back to work. We’ve got to get ready for a good Florida football team.”
The team’s likely new starting quarterback didn’t even crack a smile in the postgame press conference.
“Tunnel vision,” Maty Mauk said. “Don’t let people get in my head. Ignore everything. I’m going to be focused 100 percent, ready to give it my all for Missouri football.”
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.