Desperate times call for desperate measures.
As Missouri led Kentucky 17-10 Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium, with an offense stuck in neutral following back-to-back interceptions by redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser, coach Gary Pinkel had seen enough.
Out went Berkstresser; in came junior James Franklin.
“Corbin (Berkstresser) was struggling,” Pinkel said. “And he’s not the first-ever quarterback to struggle and won’t be the last, but I got on the phone with (offensive coordinator David) Yost.”
After the game, Pinkel said he and Yost considered the notion of Franklin coming in for relief — albeit with what Pinkel termed “great restrictions” — Thursday by him and Yost after the team’s medical staff cleared Franklin to play.
Triggered by turnovers forced by the Missouri defense, the Tigers outscored the Wildcats 16-0 en route to a Homecoming day 33-10 victory after the quarterback change. The spirits of Franklin’s teammates were boosted upon seeing their leader back in the huddle, senior left tackle Elvis Fisher said.
“It was one of those things where maybe you block a little longer or harder," Fisher said. "We try and block hard for Corbin too but we were glad to see (Franklin) back out there.”
Franklin said he could sense his teammates’ excitement.
“They were all yelling and all excited, and that kind of helped with the enthusiasm,” Franklin said. “They were trying to get me going, and I think by trying to do that, they got themselves going as well.”
Saturday marked the first appearance for Franklin in a game in which he did not start since 2010, when he occasionally would spell former Tiger quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Franklin finished the day having completed six of nine passes for 16 yards in just less than a quarter and a half of play.
Not much was asked of Franklin in his relief duties as Yost dialed up mostly runs and short, quick throws. And not much would be needed — Kentucky’s listless offense would ensure the Wildcats would remain winless in conference play.
The battle for Southeastern Conference cellar dweller between the nation’s 106th and 113th best offenses was, unsurprisingly, a clumsy calamity.
The ineptness took various forms on Faurot Field, as Missouri and Kentucky combined for 10 fumbles, two dropped passes and two dropped interceptions.
The two teams combined for 165 passing yards. Kentucky was a miserable 1-for-12 on third downs. Missouri had an extra point attempt blocked and muffed a pair of punts, losing one.
After the dust from this football game that at times appeared more like a train wreck mercifully settled, Missouri had finally notched its first SEC victory.
“It doesn’t mean a lot to me,” Pinkel said. “I just want to win. … It’s a bigger deal to everyone else.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Tigers' defense, though. The Wildcats methodically drove the length of the field into the redzone on their first possession. And then junior defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson struck.
Richardson stripped Kentucky tailback Jonathan George and recovered the fumble he had forced, taking it 60 yards the other way to set up the day’s first score, a 5-yard touchdown scamper by senior tailback Kendial Lawrence four plays later.
Four plays later, the Wildcats would answer back with a touchdown of their own to tie the game at seven apiece. Through those first two possessions, Kentucky had amassed 115 yards. It would gain just 64 more the rest of the day.
Another Lawrence touchdown, a touchdown run by sophomore Marcus Murphy, a fumble return for touchdown by junior cornerback E.J. Gaines and two field goals by redshirt freshman Andrew Baggett later, the Tigers had scored more than 24 points against a non-FCS team for the first time this season.
Baggett has now connected on seven consecutive attempts.
The team had planned to make a more concerted effort to run the ball Saturday, Pinkel said. Lawrence, who came into Saturday averaging 5.5 yards per carry on 13.3 carries per game, was a more integral part of the offense. The senior finished a successful day with 108 yards on 23 carries, scoring a pair of touchdowns.
Freshman Russell Hansbrough (seven carries, 37 yards) and Murphy (eight carries, 43 yards and a touchdown) also produced on the ground for the Tigers, keeping the sticks moving when given the opportunity.
And the sticks moved more frequently than they have in recent weeks — Missouri converted 10 of 16 third-down attempts, a rate noticeably higher than its 27 percent conversion rate for the season.
Another player who saw a considerable increase in playing time Saturday was true freshman Dorial Green-Beckham. The rookie receiver came into the game with seven catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. When the final seconds ticked off the clock Saturday, Green-Beckham had doubled his season catch total, hauling in seven passes for 25 yards. His previous game-high was three catches in the season opener against Southeastern Louisiana.
It took five tries, but almost an entire calendar year since Missouri announced its move to the SEC, the Tigers can lay claim to a victory in their new home.
“It’s good to get back in the winner’s circle,” Pinkel said.