It’s no secret that James Franklin’s play suffered last year as he dealt with a rash of injuries.
Franklin, a three-year starter at quarterback for No. 25 Missouri, missed roughly half the season because of shoulder and knee injuries along with other untold bumps and bruises.
“I’m going to say again so it’s clear, I had more injuries with him in one year than in 21 years combined with quarterback injuries since I’ve been a head football coach,” Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said.
Of course, the damage wasn’t strictly physical. The mounting struggles and criticism Franklin endured also took a heavy psychological toll.
“(My confidence) was still decent last year,” he said, “but it definitely got a little bit lower once I started having some injuries and started having some doubt.”
Now, halfway through his senior season, Franklin has rebounded in both regards.
He ranks second in the Southeastern Conference in total offense at 337 yards per game entering a pivotal road clash at 11 a.m. Saturday against No. 7 Georgia.
Franklin, who has completed 114 of 168 passes for 1,407 yards with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions, trails only Texas A&M quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel (360.6) in total offense.
Franklin also is a threat to run the ball again. He racked up 981 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground as a sophomore, but rushed for only 122 yards with no touchdowns during his injury-plagued junior season.
Currently, Franklin is fourth on the Tigers with 278 yards, a 5.2-yard average and two rushing scores — all while guiding Missouri to a 5-0 record.
“He matured,” Pinkel said. “Anytime you go through adversity, you get mentally tougher. Either it’s going to devour you as a quarterback — and it happens sometimes and you never see a guy play well again; he can never get it back — or you see a guy who’s a competitor, and a guy who can be more resilient.”
Teammates have noticed a difference in Franklin this season, and their confidence is soaring right along with the Tigers quarterback’s.
“We feed off him,” junior running back Henry Josey said. “He’s our quarterback and he’s the leader of the team. Every quarterback is, but he’s embraced that role and taken it to a higher level. I’m very proud of him. I love the way he’s playing and I love his confidence. It’s a big difference. We love who he is right now.”
Who Franklin is, right now, is a quarterback playing with swagger — the cool, confident James Franklin that Pinkel always knew was there, and the leader of an offense that ranks seventh in the nation in total offense (543.8) and eighth in scoring offense (46.6).
“James has been playing outstanding,” Pinkel said. “It doesn’t surprise me at all. His leadership’s been great, and he’s kind of what I thought he’d be. If you’d have asked me three years ago, this doesn’t surprise me at all.”
It’s to the point that Missouri isn’t willing to conceded that Georgia, which is led by presumptive NFL first-round pick Aaron Murray, will have the best quarterback on Saturday.
“There’s some great quarterbacks out there, but (Franklin’s) playing with the best of them,” Pinkel said. “I think that’s fair to say.”
As for senior wide receiver L’Damian Washington, he wouldn’t want to catch passes from anyone else.
“I’ll never go against James Franklin, period,” he said. “I’m a Cowboys fan, but if it was (Tony) Romo up there Saturday night, I’ll go with James Franklin. I’m a James Franklin fan.”
Those ranks are swelling right along with Franklin’s renewed confidence.