When James Franklin injured his throwing shoulder at Georgia on Oct. 12, Missouri fans feared the worst.
More than one national source reported that the senior quarterback would be done for the remainder of the regular season, and it seemed doubtful that Franklin would take the field again before Missouri's bowl game in December or January.
Coach Gary Pinkel announced injury updates on Monday:
• Senior cornerback E.J. Gaines will play this week after missing the past two games with a quad injury.
• Junior running back Henry Josey sustained a mild concussion against South Carolina, and is questionable to play against Tennessee. Marcus Murphy will likely start as tailback.
But coach Gary Pinkel was adamant that the reports were not true. He instilled a three-to-five-week timetable for Franklin’s return, and he is beginning to look prophetic.
Franklin threw during Sunday’s practice, and is now officially listed as questionable. Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk is likely to start on Saturday, but Franklin will be No. 3 on the depth chart.
“Is he ready yet?” Pinkel said. “We don’t know at all. When he feels ready is when he’ll play, and he’ll have the starting position when that happens.”
Saturday’s game against Tennessee will feature a similar emergency quarterback plan that the Tigers didn’t need to employ last weekend against South Carolina.
True freshman Eddie Printz of Marietta, Ga., is currently the second-string quarterback, but there’s a snag. He’s technically redshirting this year to preserve a fifth year of eligibility for 2017. If he takes one snap in a game this season, that eligibility is lost.
“If (Mauk’s) helmet comes off, you can buy that back with a timeout,” Pinkel said. “But if a shoe comes untied and you have to go off of the field, or you just get dinged a little bit and have to go off the field for a few minutes then come back on. … We had plans in place for all that. And we’ll have a plan in place this week.”
Until Franklin is fully ready to play again, Printz is one play away from being the quarterback for the No. 9-ranked Tigers.
“He understood that if duty called, he was going to be out there,” Pinkel said.
The coach likened this situation to the 1986 season, back when he was the offensive coordinator of the Washington Huskies. Future Super Bowl starter Chris Chandler was the quarterback and true freshman Cary Conklin was his backup.
When Chandler injured his hip before the last game of the year, Washington coaches had no choice but to burn Conklin’s redshirt season and play him for just one game (a 44-23 win over Washington State).
But for now, Mauk is healthy.
His completion percentage is a meager 49.3 percent through three games (including a 10-for-25 performance on Saturday), but he’s hit several big plays downfield.
“I know we’ve got something special right now,” Mauk said. “We’re gonna bounce back, and we’re going to be as good as we’ve ever been this week.”
And it’s safe to say that he hasn’t lowered any Missouri standards.
“We want to focus on a national championship,” Mauk said. “Not just a bowl game.”
By the time the postseason comes around, Franklin is expected to have started the team’s final two regular season games (at Ole Miss and vs. Texas A&M), and he might even be back on Nov. 9 at Kentucky.
“It’s going to be up to him (Franklin),” Pinkel said.
Supervising editor is Nina Pantic.