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October 15, 2013
Rallying around Mauk
The fall-out from Missouri's 41-26 road win over Georgia on Saturday seemed more like an epitaph.
We hardly knew ye.
Oct. 5, 2013-Oct. 12, 2013
On Monday, Missouri's coaches and players met with the media to discuss the implications of James Franklin's shoulder injury, which was not as bad as feared.
Gary Pinkel said that Franklin suffered a right shoulder sprain and will miss the next three to five weeks. Missouri has a bye week on Nov. 16, so if the return sticks to that schedule, Franklin could be back for a road game against Kentucky on Nov. 8 at the earliest and a road game at Mississippi on Nov. 23 at the latest.
While the prognosis is much more optimistic than originally reported -- and Pinkel made sure to take jabs at the national media which reported that Franklin would be lost for the year -- Franklin will miss the two most important games in this grueling three-game stretch. Missouri's home games against Florida this Saturday, and South Carolina next, will go a long way in deciding whether the Tigers keep their controlling investment in the SEC East race or fall back, needing to rely on others to lose to re-enter the talk.
Even without Franklin behind center, Missouri's still feeling bullish about this season. A 6-0 start isn't a distant memory. It's just a good start, but there's more left to accomplish.
That much is made clear when talking about Missouri's offense with Maty Mauk. How much will change?
The answer -- a stern "nothing."
"We're just gonna run our offense," Pinkel said. "He's been doing it for a long time. When he went in the game, we didn't cross things. We run what we run. That's what we're gonna do."
"It's the same stuff we do in practice everyday," quarterbacks coach Andy Hill said. "The ones go through it and then the twos go through it. He may get one or two less reps maybe in a period that James has gone, but he's gotten a lot of reps and he's had a lot of practice.
"It's not going to change anything."
Mauk isn't shying away from the challenge. When he entered Saturday's game with 10:35 left in regulation, Missouri clinging to a two-point lead, Mauk said he took in the scenery, seeing 92,000 fans with nary an empty seat.
"I got there, gave them the play, took a deep breath and said, 'It's go time. I gotta be me.'," Mauk said.
The numbers weren't overly impressive, although Mauk completed all three of his passes for 23 yards, and ran three times for 12 yards. On his first play of the game, though, the staff called a run, and Mauk converted a third-and-six for a first down.
"It really built my confidence," Mauk said. "The faith they have in me, it's going to carry on to this week and we'll be alright."
That seems to be the crux of the argument for not babying Mauk with a paint-by-numbers offense. Mauk was a legitimate contender for the starting job, at least for part of the spring, until Franklin clearly separated himself from the pack. He was known in high school as a dynamic passer and runner, and his improvisational skills helped him set national records.
Despite being a redshirt (a big distinction) freshman, Mauk will have the whole offense at his disposal.
"He's gonna go play and everyone's going to anticipate what it's going to be like," Pinkel said. "He's probably going to make some mistakes, like all kids do, but the big thing is, you don't want him to be a robot out there. You want him to be able to do what he does, to play quarterback the way he plays quarterback, and every quarterback's personality is a little bit different."
All the tools for Missouri's offense remain at Josh Henson's disposal. The carver wears a different number. But Missouri's staff is hoping the end product on Saturday against 18th-ranked Florida will be the same, and the 2013 epitaph will be more than just, "What a start."
MAUK NOT ALONE: James Franklin won't play, but that doesn't mean he won't be a big part of the next few games. After a lost season in 2012, Franklin has the experience to be a coach while he heals.
"Really, there is no reason to get frustrated or sad about it," Franklin said on Monday, his right arm in a sling. "That is not really going to change anything. It definitely stinks being my senior year, but there's nothing I can do about it. I can only help my teammates out. They did a really great job the rest of the way (against Georgia) and the defense did a great job as well. The guys on offense have a lot of playmakers, and they still put up points even after I went out. I know they can do it. I would love to be able to help them out on the field, but they can still win."
Franklin becomes Mauks mentor by default, but the senior quarterback said he's going easy on his understudy -- "I don't want to overhype him," Franklin said.
"I kind of have some experience from last year in being a coach, so I hope to bring that over this year, encourage the guys, especially Maty and Corbin when they go in," Franklin said.
"James Franklin is a valuable resource," Andy Hill said. "He's got a great attitude about trying to help his football team. He's still a senior captain. He's put a lot of work and invested a lot of time in this football team, and James is going to be all-in, trying to help everybody, including Maty."
The unanimous sentiment around the program entering Saturday's game against Florida is that this year's team is prepared for an injury such as this. While it's arguably the team's most important player, it's still just one player.
"Last year was just -- we got hit by a wrecking ball," Mauk said. "This year, everyone's healthy. I mean, James went down, but just the linemen, we're already talking. Me and Justin Britt went to lunch today just to talk. They're trying to lift me up to get me ready mentally so we can go out there Saturday and play."
MORE INJURIES: Any other week, an injury to the team's best cornerback would generate more buzz. But when the starting quarterback goes down against Georgia, E.J. Gaines's strained quadriceps gets pushed down below the fold.
This week, Gaines is listed as questionable, so the staff will see how he heals during the week before making a decision on his availability for Saturday.
Against Georgia, though, Pinkel was pleased with the play of his secondary after Gaines left in the second quarter. The trio of Randy Ponder, redshirt freshman John Gibson and freshman Aarion Penton carried the burden after Gaines' departure.
"Randy really played well in the game, you know, the most experienced player," Pinkel said. "The other two guys, the freshmen, they did good, they really did. I was pleased with them. Talk about throwing into an environment there, you know?
"I think that Aarion, he's just got a -- he's a freshman that's mature. He's also good at forgetting. It's a position you want to play that you can forget. The quicker that you can forget things, go to the next play, the better. We always say 'Park It.' It's a term we use in our process and our thinking after plays are over. But he's good at that.
"Gibson is a redshirt freshman. John is better -- they're very good athletes. They're just thrown in the fires a little bit."
While Gaines' status is unknown at this point, Pinkel said left guard Anthony Gatti will return Saturday after missing the Georgia game with turf toe.
UNDER THE RADAR AT SAFETY: Missouri's defensive line grabbed a lot of attention on Saturday. Kentrell Brothers took home SEC defensive player of the week honors.
But, quietly, Braylon Webb put up the most complete game of his career, according to his position coach.
"The highlight of the whole maturation process (for Webb) was the game this weekend against Georgia," Alex Grinch said. "First play of the game, obviously, started on the good side of things, getting his hands on balls. One, he probably wanted to have back, he had two hands on it and should have come down with it.
"Real positive. Big plays in the game. Without question. There's more plays to be made if you're being critical, which you always are, but I think he took a major step forward this weekend."
Webb finished with eight tackles and three pass break-ups. This season, Webb is second on the team with 40 tackles and four pass break-ups. In August, Grinch said Webb had "the cancer of being close" -- getting close to making a big-play but not sealing the deal. This season, Webb also added an interception, the first of his career.