BOULDER, Colo. — Wide receiver Will Franklin stayed back with fans after Saturday night’s blowout against Colorado. He signed a few autographs while his teammates ran into the locker room.
It wasn’t the only time Franklin stood apart from his teammates this week. After not catching a pass against Iowa State last Saturday, he was on coach Gary Pinkel’s mind.
Pinkel knew the team had failed to utilize Franklin against the Cyclones. It was his primary concern when he met with his offensive staff the day after the game. The message was simple: Franklin’s got to get the ball more. The Tigers followed through on that goal against Colorado.
Franklin wasn’t ignored last week, however. Pinkel said six plays were called for him, but defensive coverages dictated that quarterback Chase Daniel look elsewhere. The offense still moved the ball, and Franklin had his best game as a blocker, Pinkel said during Monday’s press conference. But Pinkel knows Franklin’s primary function.
“We need him to make great plays,” Pinkel said Monday.
Although Franklin made only two catches against the Buffaloes, they went for 109 yards and were key in the hectic first half. His first catch settled down the Tigers after their shaky start. The crowd was roaring. The Buffaloes had scored after a Daniel interception, and the Tigers had committed a false start to begin the ensuing drive.
But Franklin soon silenced the crowd, streaking past cornerback Terrence Wheatley for a career-long 72-yard catch, setting up the Tigers’ first touchdown.
His second catch was more impressive, illustrating why he’s considered an NFL draft prospect. Slowing down as he approached the sideline, he caught the ball over his shoulder while falling to the ground and keeping not just one, but both feet in bounds. It’s a skill he and the receivers practice every Friday with assistant coach Andy Hill, Franklin said. He shook hands with tight end Chase Coffman and right guard Kurtis Gregory to celebrate the 37-yard catch. Tailback Tony Temple scored four plays later to put the Tigers ahead by 14. The rout was on.
While Franklin’s second catch was remarkable, he didn’t think it was the best reception of the night. Being selfless like he was blocking for his teammates, he singled out Chase Coffman’s leaping touchdown grab at the end of the third quarter as the game’s highlight reception.
Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen wasn’t as certain.
“I’ll watch them both tomorrow about five times and let you know,” he said.
Franklin and Coffman were not the only receivers who caught long passes. After two quiet games, Daniel resumed his prolific passing, perhaps trying to keep up with Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing, who lit up Nebraska for 354 yards and six touchdowns. Daniel had more passing yards halfway through the second quarter (251) than he did against the Cyclones one week ago (250), finishing with 421 yards and five touchdown passes. His longest completion against Iowa State was only 22 yards. He had five passes of more than 25 yards in the first half against the Buffaloes.
The Tigers planned on attacking the Buffaloes’ tendency of covering receivers with man-to-man coverage. Once the Tigers saw them lining up only one defender on their speedy receivers, Daniel started to throw downfield.
“When we get to one-on-one, it’s a happy feeling for us,” Franklin said.