Some story lines heading into Missouri's game on the road against Tennessee Saturday.
Team backs Franklin
The criticism by the student body of junior quarterback James Franklin’s play this season hasn’t gone unnoticed by Missouri players. They see it on Facebook, they see it on Twitter and they hear it walking around campus.
And it irks them. A lot.
“It pisses me off,” junior offensive lineman Max Copeland said. “It makes me have to work harder at focusing and keeping myself under control when I see someone attack my brothers.”
The conversations the right guard overhears in class aggravate him the most.
“First of all I need to think, 'Max, breathe.' And number two, stick up for him,” Copeland said. “You say, ‘Oh hell no. No, no, no. You don’t know him. He’s my brother. He might just be some puppet on a stage to you, but he’s my brother.'”
After amassing 36 touchdowns and nearly 4,000 yards last season as a sophomore, Franklin, who’s been hampered by injuries since spring, has seen his production drop considerably in his second season as the Tiger starter. The junior has missed all or parts of five separate games, has seen his completion percentage decrease six percent and has turned the ball over more often than he has scored.
The critiquing of the quarterback reached a new high after Franklin’s four-interception performance in Missouri’s 14-7 loss last Saturday to No. 8 Florida.
Despite the struggles, Franklin’s coaches and teammates’ confidence in their signal-caller remains.
“I thought he did a lot of good things," coach Gary Pinkel said. "I mean, look how we moved the football against one of the best defenses in the nation. Him being James and quarterbacking the way he does, he extends the play, finds people open, gets a seem, hits a crease, even though he’s a little bit limited running… Mostly the mistakes he made were simply missed throws… I believe in him.”
During the Southeastern Conference’s weekly teleconference Wednesday, Pinkel said Franklin had his best practice of the year Tuesday and that he’s never had a quarterback go through anything like what Franklin has physically this season.
“He’s been through hell,” Pinkel said.
Senior wide receiver T.J. Moe, whose production also has dipped from the pace it was on the past two seasons, said assessments of Franklin need to go beyond the box score.
“James was the reason we were able to move the ball up and down the field like we were,” Moe said. “He came with an attitude that he hasn’t shown in a while here. That kid was playing tough as nails and it’s because he’s been so injured. I understand where he has been this year; he’s been trying to protect his body so he can help the team, I get that, and he just decided on Saturday that he didn’t care.
The wide receivers, especially senior Gahn McGaffie, one of Franklin’s best friends, have made sure to go out of their way to help Franklin snap out of this funk by keeping in regular contact with him while not at practice and by letting him know “he’s our guy.”
However, the criticism and doubts remain. And so does the angst felt by Franklin’s teammates because of it.
“It hurts me a lot,” McGaffie said. “I love James to death and it just hurts me to see him down like that and then hearing all the different things that people say about him. None of that is true and it hurts me to know people are saying that.”
Gaines excited to face Vols’ aerial attack
A season ago, E.J. Gaines set a new school record with 18 passes defended en route to earning first-team All-conference honors in the pass-happy Big 12 Conference.
With Missouri now in the more rugged, power football oriented SEC, the junior cornerback hasn’t had the pleasure of facing nearly as many aerial attacks.
That will change this Saturday, as the Tigers head to Knoxville to take on the Volunteers of Tennessee, who boast the SEC’s top passing game.
Pinkel praised the UT offense more than that of any prior opponent during his weekly press conference on Monday. It’s easy to see why.
Quarterback Tyler Bray averages more than 300 yards passing per game and is tied for sixth nationally with 25 passing touchdowns. The junior’s name appears on numerous postseason awards watch lists.
Bray’s two favorite targets, receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, are also having outstanding seasons. Hunter is on the Biletnikoff Watch list with 56 catches for 838 yards and seven touchdowns. Patterson, a transfer whom Missouri recruited, leads the SEC in all-purpose yards and has 36 catches for 585 yards and four touchdowns.
All of this leaves Gaines very excited for Saturday.
“It kind of takes me back a little bit to the Big 12 days playing the Oklahoma’s and Oklahoma State’s putting the ball in the air a lot,” a smiling Gaines said. “They’re great players, they’re going to make plays but we have to too.”