ATLANTA — James Franklin stumbled to his right, but couldn’t scramble free.
After putting up 296 yards on offense, the senior quarterback couldn’t get one more with 10:21 left in the fourth quarter. Auburn’s 6-foot-2,240-pound defensive end Dee Ford launched at Franklin, tearing him to the ground for a sack.
Missouri’s offense crashed.
After seven lead changes, Auburn finally broke down Missouri to win the Southeastern Conference Championship, 59-42.
Franklin, though, didn’t stop after the sack. Missouri would behoove to remember him after the play, his chin lifted to the Georgia Dome’s milky ceiling, as if to see if it was possible he could bring back his Tigers just one last time.
So far, Franklin had barreled past every negative this season. He came back after missing three games due to a right shoulder separation. He won a starting quarterback spot in August.
But the upbeat, beat-up quarterback couldn’t win Saturday. It was Franklin’s first loss this season.
In the humid locker room, the team captain struggled to talk positively.
“(The game was) frustrating because our goal as a team was to win a championship,” he said with glassy eyes. “We didn’t. We wanted to win this one.”
Franklin’s offense tried, though, putting up the most points since a 48-17 victory over Kentucky on Nov. 9. Junior running back Henry Josey rushed for 123 yards on nine carries, including a 65-yard run in the third quarter.
Sophomore wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham made six catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns.
Franklin himself passed for three touchdowns and ran one in himself, compiling 368 yards of offense.
“Overall, I felt like all of our (offense) had a good performance,” Green-Beckham said. “I can’t be mad at all the guys on the team. I’m still proud that they brought us here.”
The problem seemed to be the Missouri defense. Auburn combined for 677 yards and eight touchdowns, adding to a jittery, live-auction competition for points where Missouri failed to outbid Auburn, even after coach Gary Pinkel said he made second-half adjustments.
Game MVP Tre Mason galloped for an astounding 304 yards on 46 carries for four touchdowns. Mason, a Heisman Trophy candidate, set an SEC Championship record for yardage.
“I expected him to be a great player,” Pinkel said of Mason. “But when you let a guy go through a gap like that full speed, you have problems that never end.”
Pinkel said he was the wrong guy to ask how to stop Auburn’s relentless attack, which upset No. 1 Alabama last week, 34-28.
Despite the loss, he said he was proud that Missouri made it to the SEC Championship after going 5-7 last year and 2-6 in conference games.
“Obviously we belong in the league,” Pinkel said.
Missouri’s season is not over. The team will be selected to a bowl game on Sunday.
“The game is over,” senior cornerback E.J. Gaines said. “There’s nothing we can do about it now. Time to strap on our helmets and get ready (for the next one).”