In all levels of football, coaches have to toe the line between keeping their run-happy quarterbacks both healthy and productive. Now Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and his staff are trying to keep senior quarterback James Franklin safe while still maintaining his competitive fire.
After Missouri’s win Aug. 31 against Murray State, Pinkel talked about Franklin needing to slide more, saying it was not a laughing matter. In Saturday’s game against Toledo, Franklin rushed 17 times for 77 yards, and even ended a few plays by lowering his shoulder and getting the best of the defender.
“He’s a competitor, and if we’re struggling a little bit, he can do that. He’s capable,” Pinkel said. “He’s got to pick the right moments and the right time. If you’re saying I’m not doing a very good job at handling that, you’re probably right.”
Franklin said he knows he needs to be aware of the impact of his impacts. Last season, Franklin started just eight games and missed the majority of others due to injuries.
“Be smart about it. Obviously they don’t want me to slide (if a defender is) 20 yards in front of me, but just not taking some shots and taking hits,” Franklin said.
Pinkel said that when Franklin fails to slide, he will end up hurting his team if he gets injured. However, both Franklin and other Tigers said it helps fire the team up when he lowers the boom on a defender.
“That was real big,” said sophomore receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. “That really got us going. Having our quarterback do that, (it) just really gets our tempo going.”
Franklin taking off does not relieve any pressure from the offensive line. In fact, it forces the linemen to go an extra few seconds to protect their quarterback.
“Well we’ve got to finish our blocks because, if he takes off, that ain’t a free play. We’ve got to make sure we still protect him if he’s going to run,” senior guard Max Copeland said. “Having such a mobile quarterback means you stay on your guy through the echo of the whistle.”
In 2011, his first year as a starter, Franklin rushed for 981 yards and 15 touchdowns, trailing only Doak Walker Award semifinalist Henry Josey on Mizzou’s team. In 2010, Franklin primarily played in rushing situations, posting 116 yards on 23 carries, including a touchdown in Missouri’s upset of No. 1 Oklahoma.
His 17 rushes Saturday might tell a different story, but Franklin said his mindset as a quarterback has changed.
“A couple of years ago, I trusted my legs more than my arm,” Franklin said. “Now I trust my arm more than my legs.”
That is likely welcome news for Pinkel. Although he has said he can get frustrated with Franklin’s precautionary measures, Pinkel said he liked the way Franklin played Saturday.
“James is playing like you’d expect a fourth-year player to play,” Pinkel said. “(He) took command of the game, made great throws, did a lot of good things out there.”