COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Don’t ask Missouri coach Gary Pinkel if he has a quarterback controversy.
Pinkel affirmed his support for James Franklin on Wednesday after the quarterback threw for only 92 yards in a 31-10 loss at No. 6 South Carolina over the weekend. Missouri gained 255 yards overall, its lowest output since 2009.
“Generally, any time you look at an offense, especially our offense, if we’re struggling, you’re going to point at the quarterback,” Pinkel said. “We understand that. What we do is we break everything down. We see the receivers, we see the offensive line, we see every aspect of it. I believe in him and I expect him to get better.”
Now 9-7 in his career, Franklin returned after missing a week with an inflamed bursa sac in his shoulder. The 6-2, 228-pound junior says the injury is hurting his confidence and subconsciously making him more tentative on the field.
“Typically in the game if, in the past, my shoulder’s hurt and I throw in the game, I don’t feel it,” he said. “But this is a little different because I feel it. And I think that’s really been killing my confidence because I’ve been not trusting myself with being able to make throws or put something on it.”
Franklin suffered the injury Sept. 8 against Georgia and says that while it still pains him to throw, the injury hasn’t worsened. He plans to throw more often in practice this week and not worry about whether he’ll be able to play Saturday at Central Florida.
A tattered offensive line has magnified the situation, with only one player – sophomore center Mitch Morse – starting where he was projected to play at the opening of August practices. At that time, the five starters were entering the season with a combined 66 career starts.
“It’s a little bit different,” right tackle Jack Meiners said. “You play with a certain group of guys all through camp and everything and you kind of get that camaraderie. And then guys are shifting around, guys are moving in.”
With injuries on the line and to his shoulder, Franklin’s average yards per carry has dropped to 1.7 from 4.5 in 2011, when he led the team in rushing attempts. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence the Tigers have only converted 31 percent (19 of 62) of third downs, down from 40 percent last season.
Franklin said he must revert to being more aggressive, and “not necessarily just get a couple yards and duck down. But look to make something more happen.”
Franklin hasn’t lost the confidence of his teammates, though they acknowledge sometimes being confused about the quarterback’s consistently calm demeanor, even after poor play.
“He’s kind of hard to gauge,” receiver T.J. Moe said. “He has to tell you if he’s high or low. You have to ask him questions to see how he’s feeling. He’s a good poker player.”
Missouri has already faced two top-10 teams and now travels to Central Florida, which leads Conference USA in scoring defense (21.7 points per game) and passing defense (188.3 yards allowed).
Should Franklin falter, backup Corbin Berkstresser would likely enter before the team’s final drive, as he did last Saturday with the game out of hand. The freshman threw for 198 yards on 21-of-41 passing in his only career start, a 24-20 win against Arizona State on Sept. 15.
At this point, Franklin’s taking solace in knowing he has Pinkel’s support.
“Having confidence not just from the players but from the coaches, that definitely helps,” he said. “Because when you go out there, they’re calling plays, that’s one thing that you know, that they believe in you. It helps with more confidence in yourself and to be able to go out there and perform better.”