COLUMBIA — On a bright and sunny Saturday morning, the man who is waiting to be named Missouri’s starting quarterback took a shotgun snap, waited a beat and proceeded to make the kind of throw he failed to make all too often last season.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
It was just one play in one scrimmage, but when quarterback James Franklin spotted Marcus Lucas downfield, looked off a defender and threw a gorgeous spiral for a 75-yard score, it was the latest sign the senior is healthy and ready to roll after a disappointing junior campaign.
“Oh, he can throw it,” quarterbacks coach Andy Hill said. “The guy can throw it. He’s fully healthy this year. He’s sharp.
“We want to be aggressive. … That means throwing the football and finding guys.”
In the first of three scrimmages Missouri will hold this preseason, it looks like Franklin — a two-year starter involved in a competition with redshirt freshman Maty Mauk for the top job — still appears to be the best at doing just that.
Despite an underthrown deep ball that led to an interception by cornerback E.J. Gaines, Franklin, who completed 11 of 19 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns, appeared to play more consistently than Mauk, a redshirt freshman who completed 11 of 22 passes for 221 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel wasn’t about to get into whether the performance was good enough to solidify the job. (“When we make a decision, you’ll know it,” he said.) But he did make it clear that the Tigers are looking for someone who makes good decisions and is accurate with the football, an assessment shared by Hill.
“We’ve got big guys on the outside, quick guys in the middle, Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy and (Russell) Hansbrough in the backfield. … Man, we’ve got dudes,” Hill said. “Give ‘em the ball, get the thing going, and get lined up and just play football.”
Franklin, who accounted for nearly 4,000 total yards and 36 touchdowns in 2011, seems to have regained his teammates’ trust after a junior season in which he battled injuries and rarely threw the ball downfield. He was voted a team captain by his peers at the beginning of camp. And while Pinkel continues to leave the quarterback competition open, Franklin received the overwhelming majority of snaps with the first-team offense Saturday, which he led on three scoring drives.
Mauk played a handful of snaps with the starters, but spent most of his time facing the first-team defense as the No. 2 quarterback. His best moment was a 65-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Jaleel Clark in which he split the cover two defense with a picture-perfect throw down the sideline. A close runner-up was a 39-yard touchdown scramble that was called back because of a penalty.
Mauk also had his share of learning moments: a handful of ugly passes and throws into double coverage. He also lost two fumbles and threw an interception, but said he’s made progress in a lot of areas since the spring.
“I trust my arm. I can make the throws,” Mauk said. “It’s just that I’ve got to be able to trust myself to stay in that pocket and trust the five guys blocking for me.”
Pinkel said the constant shuffling of personnel — the staff rotated in several players for evaluation purposes — probably affected the performances of both quarterbacks, though there were still glimpses of what the offense is capable of.
The most encouraging, perhaps, was Franklin’s long touchdown pass to Lucas, who had sophomore cornerback David Johnson beaten by five yards but admits he was surprised to see the ball come his way.
“I didn’t think it was going to go to me at first — he kind of looked off then he came back to it,” said Lucas, who was running a post route. “It was one of those things we’ve been working on in practice. It was nice to see it transition over to the field.”
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