OXFORD, Miss. — Senior quarterback James Franklin refused to go down.
Scrambling on his first play from scrimmage, he shook off a pass rusher and shot a BB to senior receiver Marcus Lucas for 19 yards. It was the moment when exeptional quarterbacking returned to the eye of Missouri faithful. James Franklin was back.
Forget the six weeks sidelined with a shoulder separation. Forget watching redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk leading his team. Franklin didn’t seem to remember again as he charged forward for a 12-yard gain to the 30-yard line in the third quarter.
He took a hit, barreled to the turf and popped up as time expired. The injury hadn’t fazed Franklin.
“Before (getting hit), I wasn’t thinking,” Franklin said.
Behind Franklin, No. 8 Missouri (10-1, 6-1 SEC) compiled 485 yards, ripping through No. 24 Ole Miss (7-4, 3-4 SEC), 24-10, during a cold, 36-degree game.
Franklin played like himself during the opening drive. Despite his lengthy absence, it took 2:45 to march the Tigers 72 yards. Junior tailback Henry Josey capped the possession with a 4-yard touchdown run, one of two on the evening. Josey, who also came back this season from an injury, ran for 95 yards, averaging 6.3 per carry.
“It was great to have (Franklin),” Josey said. “I could joke around with him like always during games. We are so great at communicating with each other.”
The receiving corps felt comfortable with Franklin’s return as well. Franklin went 12-for-19 for 142 yards and an interception. Senior L’Damian Washington, his former suitemate, led the team in average yards per reception with 23.5 yards.
“James is our leader and captain,” Washington said, leaning against a table for support after taking a hit to the abdomen in the third quarter. “When he’s out there, it’s a different ballgame. He’s a composed guy.”
The defense, too, responded to Franklin’s return. Although they gave up 378 yards, the defense inside the redzone refused two of three Rebel tries for points. Starting the second quarter, 6-foot-4, 300-pound freshman Josh Augusta blocked a 23-yard field goal attempt.
Then in the fourth quarter and down by 7, Ole Miss stormed down the field. After a touchdown was overruled, the Missouri defense cuffed the Rebels on a fourth and 10. The Tigers then scored to widen the lead to 14 points.
In the game’s waning minutes, Franklin nodded to his defense’s effort. With 8:08 left on the clock, he demonstrated poise, letting the clock run out.
“He’s a very seasoned player,” Pinkel said.
His substitute, Mauk, played well when he was injected into a series in the second quarter. Mauk went 3-7, throwing for 83 yards. During the drive, he linked up for a 60-yard pass with junior wide receiver Bud Sasser.
Next week, Missouri has the opportunity to win its 11th game as it goes up against Texas A&M. The Tigers haven’t won 11 games since 2007. The victory would also secure Missouri’s first SEC East championship and send the Tigers to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta on Dec. 7.
“We want to be a part of history,” Washington said. “I think that was everyone’s goal at the beginning of the season…. We want the 2013 team to be remembered.”