Mizzou has tall task in the SEC's other Columbia
SEP 21, 2012 7:30p ET
Missouri beat Arizona State last Saturday, but the real drama came after coach Gary Pinkel's odd comments following Franklin's choice to play spectator with an inflamed bursa sac in his surgically repaired right shoulder. Pinkel said, "I was hoping James could play, but he didn't feel like he could do it," and eyebrows perked up from Sikeston to St. Joseph.
Move along, there's nothing to see. Come Monday, the narrative changed faster than fourth-quarter momentum at Memorial Stadium.
Players voiced confidence in their leaders. Pinkel called Franklin one of the toughest competitors he has coached. The quarterback posted his thoughts on painkillers via Instagram, saying, "I never knew not wanting to do those things was such a big deal. Just like many of you were, I was raised to say no to drugs." (The emoticons were a nice touch.)
So onto South Carolina, the Tigers' first SEC road test, a big ol' challenge in itself against the ol' Ball Coach without last week's medicine baggage.
Pinkel says Franklin is strong, you hear? Glad that's clear.
Onto Week 4...
How will Franklin respond?
Let's assume he plays. He pegged the chance at 90 percent Monday, and he grinned like a sly schoolboy when he told FOXSportsMidwest.com last Saturday, "Yes, sir. I'll be good to go next week."
But will he be good to throw against defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and the rest of the Gamecocks? South Carolina has been a brick wall for opposing offenses through the first month. Vanderbilt, East Carolina and UAB combined for two touchdowns against the nation's seventh-ranked scoring defense. No one has produced more than the 13 points the Commodores earned during an opening-night thriller in Nashville.
Then there are factors that won't be found by scouring the game notes. How will Franklin handle the roar at Williams-Brice Stadium, a place where the Gamecocks have won 22 of their last 25 contests? How will he carry himself after a bizarre week that included Missouri's first midseason quarterback change since 2001? How will his shoulder feel after he's shoved into the turf for the first time?
Franklin's choice to refuse the painkiller is admirable. He stuck to his convictions. He should be praised for his strength in doing so.
Still, Franklin must prove he can handle a hostile SEC East setting. He must earn respect in a different way Saturday -- by showing command on the field.
How will Missouri play after two consecutive fourth-quarter lulls?
A letdown against Georgia was understood. A meltdown against Arizona State was troubling. A lay-down against South Carolina would begin a campaign in CoMo to cut the lights and fire up the equipment truck after three quarters.
The Tigers were outscored a combined 30-0 in the fourth quarter the last two weeks, and don't you think Pinkel would like to buck the trend?
That's assuming Missouri is in contention after three quarters Saturday. That's a question for later, but the Tigers could use more oil to grease their late-game gears.
Safety Kenronte Walker played savior last week, intercepting quarterback Taylor Kelly in the end zone to seal the victory. But let's be clear: Missouri's fourth-quarter focus still needs salvation.
The Tigers were in position to beat Georgia -- until linebacker Jarvis Jones took a machete to Mizzou's offensive line. The Tigers were in position to rout Arizona State -- until running back Marion Grice slipped into the end zone for two late scores.
If the Tigers are close after three quarters Saturday, raise four fingers in the air... then fold them in prayer.
What will happen?
Word is South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier wanted a "Columbia Cup" at stake when these SEC East foes meet. Sounds like a great idea, especially since CoMo and CoSc have so much in common.
CoMo has Shakespeare's Pizza. CoSc has the South Carolina Shakespeare Company.
CoMo is home to NASCAR driver Carl Edwards. CoSc was once home to Super Bowl XXVI-winning safety Brad Edwards.
CoMo hosts a school that claimed a boot-wearing bird as its rival. CoSc hosts a school that claims a bird mascot named for a boot accessory ("Sir Big Spur").
But that's where the parallels will stop Saturday. South Carolina enters as an SEC East favorite for a reason, and Missouri fared less than best against the other half of the division's Big Two.
Too much noise, too much pressure, too much talent on the other side of the ball.
Pick: South Carolina 31, Missouri 14
You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.