ATHENS, GA--It was a cruel twist of fate that James Franklin could not enjoy the biggest win of his career as a college quarterback. As his Missouri teammates hooted, hollered, skipped and shouted their way into the Northeast Tunnel of Sanford Stadium in the moments after a 41-26 win over seventh-ranked Georgia, Franklin walked gingerly behind them all, his right arm in a sling.
Immediately after the game, Gary Pinkel could not offer specifics on Franklin. He said that his senior quarterback had "a separation," though he was unsure how serious. Pinkel stated he believed that Franklin would certainly be out for the next week or two, but could not offer a long-term timetable on when--or perhaps if--Franklin would return.
"As soon as we know Sunday or Monday, we'll certainly make that public," Pinkel said. "Certainly, I don't think James will be back next week or the next couple weeks. I don't know to what extent. I'm not going to give you a number that's not accurate, but I would suggest the next few weeks he's gonna be out."
Franklin left the field with 10:35 left in the fourth quarter and Missouri clinging to a 28-26 lead. While it is believed he injured the shoulder on a first down play on which he was thrown to the turf after throwing the ball away, Franklin stayed in for one more snap, gaining five yards on a scramble. Mizzou called a timeout to assess the situation as redshirt freshman Maty Mauk hastily warmed up.
"They call a timeout and they say it's my time to go in," Mauk said. "I was just doing what I've been prepared to do. I came in and did what I needed to."
Mauk's first play was a designed run on third and five. He gained five yards and about six inches to move the chains. Two plays later, Mauk threw his first pass, a swing route to Bud Sasser. Sasser raised up and launched the ball toward the West end zone and a well-covered L'Damian Washington.
"Like I told Bud at practice earlier, I said, 'Just throw it,'" Washington said. "Before that drive, not to sound cocky or anything, just from a leadership standpoint, I told him, I just said, 'You can count on two. That's period, you can count on two.'"
The trust was rewarded as Washington went over the top of the defender to haul in a 40-yard touchdown pass that gave the Tigers a 34-26 lead.
Still, the game was not secured as Andrew Baggett hooked the point after wide left. It took a Randy Ponder interception and a 33-yard touchdown keyed by Mauk's pass to Dorial Green-Beckham to salt away the Tigers' first road win over a top ten team in 32 years.
"That throw he made to Dorial was huge," Pinkel said. "Obviously that got us down to the five-yard line, then we were fortunate to get it in. A lot of plays and Maty's a great competitor and Maty likes being in this environment."
The win boosted Missouri to 6-and-0 on the season, including 2-and-0 in league play without having played an SEC game in Columbia. The Tigers are bowl eligible and have surpassed last season's win total. But more than that, they now lead the SEC Eastern Division and control their own fate in a six-game race to the conference championship game in Atlanta.
"They'll look at that. They'll be forced to look at it because of all you guys," Pinkel said. "Our toughest game's gonna be this one coming up. A lot of things are going to happen for our team this week and I already talked to some of the captains about that. We're playing a great team coming up and we've got to get rid of all this stuff and get focused to play our best."
Of course, they embark on that journey without their senior quarterback and the heart of a revival after last year's 5-and-7 flop.
"Everybody worried about the fans and everything like that. Everybody got me and they just said, 'Keep calm and do you,'" Mauk said. "I'm preparing my mindset for backup, starter, it doesn't matter. I'm going to be prepared and ready to go."
"James, he's a tough guy," Markus Golden said. "Since I been at Mizzou the last couple of years, James is one of the toughest guys I've met. He's a tough guy, man. I know he's gonna pull through. He's a hard worker, man, he's a leader."
"Whether he's out there or not, we need his leadership," Washington said. "In order for us to win, we need James, whether he's on the field or not. We need his leadership."
Missouri has already defied most pre-season prognostications. Can they continue to do so with Mauk running the show for the foreseeable future...and maybe for the duration?
"We worked with Maty during spring ball, we worked with Maty during camp. He gets a couple reps with us during practice. He came in and he did a great job," Evan Boehm said. "Maty's a great quarterback and I think you guys saw a glimpse of that today. He can do a lot of great things."
"Very well, this might be him for a while," Pinkel said of Mauk. "That's the way it's gonna be. He's got a lot of good people around him. Things happen in this business."
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