Franklin's return to form gives Mizzou added confidence
There are plenty of reasons for James Franklin to be thankful -- especially after all he's been through
By NATE LATSCHFS Midwest
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Through it all, James Franklin is thankful.
The Missouri senior quarterback is thankful for the win over Texas A&M on Senior Night. He's thankful for the opportunity to play in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game on Saturday. He's thankful for his teammates. He's thankful for everything.
It's a word he uses a lot.
When you're the starting quarterback of the fifth-ranked team in the country, why not? After everything he experienced a year ago -- the injuries, the criticism, the 5-7 season and missing out on a bowl game -- yeah, there are plenty of reasons to be thankful when you are 11-1 and about to play for a conference championship.
"I'm just really thankful for it and for overall everybody being healthy this year and having the success that we've had, especially after last year," Franklin said. "I'm not surprised at all that we have been successful. Obviously, I wouldn't have said before the year, 'Yeah, I guarantee an SEC championship,' but I know the talent we have on this team and how well we can work together. The guys have done a great job winning, and hopefully we'll get another win this week against Auburn."
Franklin outdueled Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in his final appearance at Memorial Stadium, racking up 313 yards of total offense -- compared to 216 for Manziel -- in the Tigers' 28-21 win on Saturday night to clinch a berth in the SEC Championship Game vs. Auburn in Atlanta.
All eyes will be on No. 1 again this Saturday.
Auburn ranks 31st in the NCAA in scoring defense (22.5 points per game) but is 56th in rush defense (157.6 yards per game), 75th in total defense (414.3) and 100th in pass defense (256.7).
The most effective strategy for slowing down Auburn's fifth-ranked rushing offense (318.3 yards per game) will be for Mizzou to keep moving the chains and putting points on the scoreboard.
"I know that Auburn has a good defense and probably the best front seven we have faced all year, if not one of the best," Franklin said. "I know going into it we're going to have to execute and they are going to make us execute our plays. That's what I see from them. I know, if we get a chance, we have to make the most of it because they probably won't give us many."
For the season, Franklin has completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 1,952 yards, with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions, and has run for 412 yards and three scores. He's 8-0 as a starter this fall, including three wins over ranked opponents -- at Georgia and Ole Miss and against Texas A&M.
Franklin's 48 career touchdown passes rank third in school history, behind only Chase Daniel (101 from 2005-08) and Brad Smith (56 from 2002-05). With 20 rushing touchdowns, he is closing in on Tony Temple (22 from 2004-07) for 10th on the school's career list.
"With all that he went through it hardened him as a competitor a little bit, which is good," Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said. "It made him mentally tougher. We all knew he was physically tough. We all knew that. ... He's a great competitor. He scrambles and he makes plays and runs the ball. I'm just real proud of him."
After a sophomore season in which he threw for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns and ran for 981 yards and 15 scores, Franklin accounted for just 1,684 total yards and 10 touchdowns (against seven interceptions) in nine games during his injury-plagued junior season.
"He took a lot of criticism for things that certainly weren't all his fault, but with that position, that's the way it is," Pinkel added. "That's kind of the reality."
It was easy, too easy, to point fingers at the quarterback for Mizzou's 5-7 season. That makes the turnaround season in 2013 that much sweeter for Franklin and the Tigers.
"He came out this season trying to prove himself," Mizzou center Evan Boehm said. "We believed in James -- as a unit we believed in James -- but not a lot of other people believed in James. I feel like everybody's starting to believe in James and to believe in the quarterback and the person he is. He took last year hard. You're going to take it hard when you have everybody just chomping at your throat and biting at your throat like that.
"The way he's come out this year -- it hurt him, it killed him, that injury against Georgia -- but he's fired off the gun and he's just slinging the ball around and he's running it. He looks like the James that he was his sophomore year."
Yeah, Franklin's teammates are thankful, too. Thankful they have him.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.