NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Celebrating his team’s first Southeastern Conference win of the year in a 51-28 drubbing of Vanderbilt, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel conveyed a fiery validation of senior quarterback James Franklin, likening him to the nation’s best passers.
Embattled by injuries his junior season when he only started eight games, Franklin has returned to great acclaim his final year, leading the Tigers’ (5-0, 1-0 SEC) hurry-up offense to average 46.6 points per game.
“If we’d have stayed healthy last year,” Pinkel said, wagging his finger, “he’d have played like this, very close to this a year ago. I really think he would have, so this doesn’t surprise me. Everybody’s going, ‘Wow,’ and all of a sudden, everybody loves James Franklin, but I loved him last year and his sophomore year.”
Pinkel was even more animated about comparisons to 2012’s Tiger squad, which went 5-7 and whimpered to a 2-6 conference record in its SEC debut.
“Everybody tries to judge last year,” he said. “If I’d done a better job coaching, we’d have won one more game and gone to a bowl, OK? Last year, our team — people talk about the leadership last year on our team — we had great leadership on our team last year. When you start losing all those guys, you’re quarterback’s hurt and can’t play, you’re losing close football games, it takes a toll. Those kids were great senior leaders last year, all those kids and we just battled through it. And guess what? If I’d done a better job coaching, we could’ve won one more game. That’s all we had to do, through all the stuff we went through.”
Franklin, who said he feels “about 1,007 times better” this year than last, completed 19 of 28 passes for 278 yards and four touchdowns. He rushed 12 more times for 72 yards and exited the field to a standing ovation from the 7,000-8,000 Missouri faithful who packed Vanderbilt Stadium. He boasts a 13:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
“Being healthy, that’s the best feeling,” Franklin said. “I have confidence, and I’m not really worried about poor performance on my part. When I’m healthy, the O-line’s healthy, the running backs are healthy, the receivers are healthy, it’s a really good feeling.”
“I’m very proud of him and how he’s playing, how he’s competing, how he’s sees things, and he’s playing as good as most quarterbacks,” Pinkel said. “There are some great quarterbacks out there, and he’s playing with the best of them. I think that’s fair to say that. It’s great to see. I’m very happy for him.”