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Thursday, November 8, 2012
Long year getting longer for James Franklin

By Edward Aschoff

It's been a very long and tough introduction to the SEC for Missouri quarterback James Franklin.

He entered his first year in the Tigers' new conference with a load of hype following him from the Big 12. He was one of the league's top quarterbacks and a pain for defenses with his dual-threat ability. Last season, he threw for 2,865 yards, ran for another 981 yards and combined for 36 touchdowns.

Franklin certainly wasn't expected to run over SEC defenses when he arrived, but he was expected to do a lot more than he has.

Chris Jones
Missouri QB James Franklin, bottom, has battled injuries during his first SEC season.
Franklin has basically been wrapped in bandages for the better part of the 2012 season, playing in seven of the Tigers' nine games and passing for just 1,057 yards and four touchdowns. He has just 104 rushing yards on 62 carries. He needed surgery for his shoulder this spring, then suffered a different shoulder injury against Georgia in Week 2. He missed the next game and lost some confidence in his throws when he returned because of the pain.

Three games later, Franklin sprained his knee in the Tigers' loss to Vandy and had to miss another game. After the bye week, he returned in a reserve role in Mizzou's win against Kentucky.

"It's been difficult," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said of Franklin's injury-plagued season. "It's been nothing normal."

You really had to feel for Franklin during his deflating return as the Tigers' starter against Florida. He passed for 236 yards on 24-of-51 passing, but you could tell his knee was really bothering him. He couldn't put a lot of weight on his front foot, which caused some of his passes to sail. Along with some poorly forced throws, Franklin tossed four interceptions with no touchdown passes, including the game-clinching pick in the back of the end zone on the Tigers' final drive.

With that, one of the Big 12's most exciting players has become a shell of himself in the SEC. But you won't hear anyone at Missouri publicly complain about Franklin's play. Pinkel and his players are backing their battered quarterback, and are hoping that all of this adversity helps him grow more as a player.

"All this is also going to make him tougher," Pinkel said. "A quarterback has to have the mental resiliency, that mental toughness. He's getting that. He's getting callused up little bit, and that's OK. That'll help him be a better player down the road."

You have to wonder how much of a mental toll this is taking on Franklin, who looked shaken after Saturday's loss. He wasn't healthy, but he did make some bad decisions that cost the Tigers. Everyone is standing by him, but if this team is going to make it to a bowl game, it has to get the Franklin of old back against a Tennessee defense that has made just about every offense it's faced looked like Oregon.

Franklin probably won't be completely healthy until after he gets some real offseason rest, but the attitude that he walked into the season with has to return, or this team won't make it out of November with much to be proud of. He has to adjust and do what he's comfortable with, or he'll continue to make the mistakes he made against Florida.

Pinkel isn't looking to make a quarterback change, but he is looking for Franklin rebound. The mental side is getting to him, but with his back against the wall and Missouri's bowl hopes in the balance, this is where Franklin can really progress.

"That's where you learn," Pinkel said. "That's where you grow as a quarterback."