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November 19, 2013

Back again

On Saturday, James Franklin makes his first start at quarterback for Missouri since Oct. 12. Forty-two days later, all that's changed for the Tigers is one notch in the loss column.

An appearance in the SEC Championship game -- and what the potential that game holds -- remains on the table.



In a season of flipped scripts, where Missouri's run to a top-ten ranking has taken most of the nation by surprise, it's fitting that Franklin's absence was caused by a play that didn't fit the narrative.

The staff wanted Franklin to be more judicious about when and how he ran the ball. Through the first five games of the season, the senior quarterback didn't always follow that plan, lowering his shoulder when possible and turning the Toledo game because of that.

But the injury, the play that passed the torch to Maty Mauk temporarily, came with Franklin trying to avoid contact. He threw the ball away in the fourth quarter against Georgia, yet was still slammed to the turf, spraining his throwing arm.

"No sir, not really," Franklin said when asked if he thought about the irony of the situation. "It's funny to think about it like that, but I haven't thought too much of it, as far as getting hurt. People have said things like, oh, I can't take a hit or I run the ball too much. That's kind of funny, but I never really thought about it like that."

Franklin was partially cleared to play before the Kentucky game. At that time, Franklin would only play in an emergency situation. He entered the game in the fourth quarter to hand off the ball five times. Although Gary Pinkel said he could have thrown, the staff didn't want him to take an unnecessary hit.

Franklin actually said he was fine "throwing-wise" before the Tennessee game, but it came down to taking hits. That's why the staff held him out longer.

"I think the thing with the Kentucky game is it gave us two more weeks for him," offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. "I think our medical staff felt it gave him two more weeks to be completely healed up."

So on Saturday, 42 days since the injury, Franklin re-takes the reigns from Mauk sometime soon after 6:45 PM. Sometime after that, Franklin will take a hit. He said he likely won't be lowing his throwing shoulder into linebackers for the rest of the season, but at his position, the hits still come.

"We can't worry about that," Pinkel said. "He's completely cleared. I mean, anybody can take a hit at anytime in this business, you know. It's gonna happen, you know that."

"I'm sure there will be (hesitation with the first hit), somewhat," Henson said. "But you're gonna have to get hit. You're gonna get hit playing. If you're gonna go play, you're gonna get hit. It's just the way it is. He's gonna get hit and he's gonna have to play through it."

Franklin's response to whether he's worried about the first hit was simple:

"No, sir."

While contact has been a part of Franklin's game as a quarterback, his passing statistics prove that running is only a small part of what he does. Lost in the shuffle of Mauk-tober was Franklin's efficiency, and should he have enough attempts to qualify, his 67.7-percent completion rate would place him in the top-three of the conference.

With any injury to a throwing shoulder, the rust accumulates. But Franklin's coaches said they're not worried about a sluggish start in his return as starter.

"He looks really good," Pinkel said. "He looks just like when he left off."

"I was telling coach Pinkel on Wednesday that the ball feels better coming off my hand than it did before," Franklin said. "Hopefully, I can do a little bit better than before I got out early."

By preparing as the starter for the entire week, Henson said Franklin will be ready on Saturday.

"Obviously, you're shaking off the rust of five weeks of not playing, so there's some little things," Henson said. "He's got to get a lot of reps this week."

MAUK'S ROLE GOING FORWARD: Early in the season, Missouri's staff tried to work Maty Mauk into each game for a few plays or a series to get some reps. After four weeks as a starter, Mauk is much more seasoned. He's also coming off his best game, throwing for five touchdowns and completing 60-percent of his passes against Kentucky.

Pinkel said Mauk's role going forward will be determined on Thursday, and wouldn't elaborate on how the team will use Mauk.

However, the coaching staff now knows what to expect from Mauk, and his performance since the Georgia game has provided more confidence in his abilities as a redshirt freshman.

Whatever his role becomes over the remainder of the season, Mauk said he'll be ready.

"No matter what they do, if it's one series, if it's no series, five, ten series, I'm gonna prepare the same," Mauk said. "I'm gonna be ready to go no matter what point of the game it is, no matter the situation. It should be a lot easier, especially now that I know when I go in there, I got the game slowed down and I know these guys real well now. It's definitely going to be a lot easier."

NOVEMBER CLEANING: Missouri has to win its remaining two games to clinch the SEC East, but the team is downplaying the pressure of that win-or-else finish.

"That's clutter, you know?" Pinkel said. "'Let's mount up the pressure.' Good players don't do that. Teams that prepare right, don't. They focus on what they can control, and that's playing well.

"I'd be real disappointed if we starting putting all those pressures on ourselves. That doesn't help you play well."

His players know the scenario now, with no more wiggle-room left in their attempt to make it to Atlanta. Because the hypothetical scenarios are out the window, E.J. Gaines said the focus is singular.

When asked if the season would still be a success without a trip south for Dec. 7, Gaines' response was blunt.

"That's not the plan, so I don't think we should be thinking like that right now," Gaines said.

INJURY UPDATES: Pinkel said the team will be close to 100-percent for Saturday, without diving into specific injuries. Against Kentucky, receivers L'Damian Washington (toe) and Dorial Green-Beckham (ankle) suffered injuries.

Washington said if Missouri had a game last weekend, he wouldn't have played. However, he said multiple times that he will play against Mississippi. Washington said the medical staff is treating the toe injury like turf toe, and on Monday, the redshirt senior was able to ditch a walking boot for the first time in over a week.

However, Washington had to take his shoe off by the end of media day as he still deals with the pain of the injury.

Green-Beckham was not at media day.

Although not an injury, Pinkel again talked about Marcus Murphy's limited playing time after ball-security issues against Kentucky. He didn't say it's a case of Murphy doing too much, instead focusing on how to better protect the ball.

"He'll be back, 100-percent," Pinkel said. "He's having a great year, and it's just kind of a choice we had to make at the time."



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