Missouri senior quarterback James Franklin had a penchant for bowling over defenders during his breakout sophomore season, but “Frank the Tank” was hard to find during an injury-ravaged junior year in 2012.
Now a senior, a healthy Franklin seems more like his old self.
The signature moment in the Tigers’ win Sept. 7 against Toledo was Franklin lowering his shoulder along the sideline and sending Rockets middle linebacker Chase Murdock sprawling on a six-yard run late in third quarter, a play that sparked Missouri to pull away for a 38-23 victory.
“He looks like his sophomore-year James and that’s something cool to see, because, when he was running down that sideline, I pictured the Texas A&M game when he broke all those tackles and scored,” sophomore center Evan Boehm said.
Two years ago, Franklin racked up 981 yards and 15 touchdowns in 217 carries, including 97 yards and two touchdowns during an overtime win at Texas A&M. He also threw for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns, establishing himself as one of the top young dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation.
Of course, as a junior, Franklin’s throwing shoulder got dinged during the second game of the season, a loss against Georgia in the Tigers’ first game in the Southeastern Conference. He missed three games and parts of several others and was hardly a dual threat the rest of the season, finishing with 88 carries for 122 yards and no touchdowns.
Even accounting for sacks, 1.4 yards per carry isn’t impressive. Franklin’s passing numbers — a sub-60 completion percent, and 1,562 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions — also suffered.
So to see Franklin flatten a defender this year is a great sign for Missouri’s offense. His scrambling ability — Franklin estimated that two of his 17 carries for 77 yards against Toledo were designed quarterback runs — adds a dangerous dimension to the Tigers’ attack.
“It feels great going out there and being healthy,” Franklin said. “On the sideline, being able to be confident.”
It goes beyond mere yards and first downs. Franklin’s hard-nosed running also can provide a much-needed spark as it did against Toledo.
“Dude, that’s so radical,” senior left guard Max Copeland said. “I was finishing my dude and I look over and see James on the sideline lowering his shoulder — ‘No he’s not.’ That was awesome. It pumps you up man. … I have a big admiration for that kind of reckless abandon, guys who sacrifice their bodies. I really enjoyed that.”
Through two games this season, Franklin already has 121 yards — one less than last year — in only 23 carries. Of course, Missouri can’t afford for Franklin to be reckless.
“(Coach Gary Pinkel) wants me to be smart about,” Franklin said. “Obviously, I’m not going to slide if there’s 20 yards in front of me, but (it’s about) just not taking some shots or taking some hits.”
It’s about picking and choosing the right moments — though, truth be told, Franklin would prefer not to tuck the ball and take off at all.
“I don’t even really like to run anyway,” Franklin said. “I like throwing the ball and getting those guys the ball. … I don’t want to go there. Sometimes, you have to make some plays, and I’m happy to do that, but I want to throw the ball as much as I can.”
At the same time, it comforts the Tigers to know Franklin still can become Frank the Tank when needed.