COLUMBIA, Mo. • Survey the court of public opinion, particularly the ever-volatile one bubbling on social media, and Mizzou quarterback James Franklin’s four interceptions at Florida on Saturday have made him a figure of ridicule unfit to lead the Tigers.
But there was an entirely different view of Franklin and the game he had in the 14-7 loss to the Gators at the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex on Monday, and it went well beyond any reflexive, hollow defense of him.
“The kid came out breathing fire. ... He’s the only reason offensively we were in that game,” said receiver T.J. Moe, referring to Franklin’s effective scrambles, 236 passing yards and sheer attitude. “He’s not healthy right now.
“But he played like he was healthy on Saturday. He didn’t care about his knee (a strained MCL on Oct. 6). He didn’t care about his shoulder (two separate injuries, including major surgery in the spring).
“He didn’t care about his fingers that look like they’re (going to fall off). There are so many things wrong with the kid right now, but he gave us a chance to win.”
Outside the program, most are focused purely on the interceptions, three in the second half in Florida territory — including one in the end zone on fourth and 6 from the Gators’ 21 with 11 seconds left.
Within, the emphasis is on the potential of the junior playing with pain and restrictions whose presence was crucial to the Tigers racking up 23 first downs and amassing 86 plays against Florida, a season-high against the fourth-best defensive team in the nation.
“I believe in him,” MU coach Gary Pinkel said.
Noting all the plays Franklin had to make to drive Mizzou from its own 20 in the last 1 minute, 49 seconds — “in that environment, in that type of pressure” — to be one throw away from tying the score, co-offensive line coach Bruce Walker said, “You don’t have to convince me about James Franklin. That guy’s a warrior.”
As for convincing Franklin about Franklin, Pinkel and offensive coordinator David Yost have spent time trying to dust him off because he has been devastated by feeling he let the team down with the interceptions.
Franklin, normally known for his exuberant way, hardly could speak with reporters Saturday after the game and wasn’t much more himself Monday.
Most of his answers were only a few words, and when asked about his subdued way, he said he was “taking a different approach to it” and “trying to work some frustration out.”
“He’s like a football coach: There’s enough people beating you up out there without beating yourself up. ... Quarterbacks get over-critiqued and analyzed,” said Pinkel, later adding that he has met with Franklin and conveyed his confidence in him and told him, “It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks.”
Other than his teammates.
“I couldn’t care less what anybody outside this building is saying,” Moe said. “We’ve got 70 guys who were traveling with us who watched James play with the heart that he did, and everybody here is proud of that kid and everybody here is 100 percent behind him.”
Not that the interceptions, and a batch of misfires Saturday, simply can be dismissed. And neither Pinkel nor Yost is doing that.
But Pinkel and Yost both believe most of the issues are related either to practice time missed from the injuries or still making mechanical adjustments to following through properly as he regains a feel for his injured left knee.
Franklin’s start against Florida was his first since suffering the knee injury against Vanderbilt, which left him in a walking cast for days.
“He never had that problem a year ago,” Pinkel said, adding, “People get tired of hearing it, but the guy’s been through an awful lot.”
Only one Tiger, Chase Daniel three times, had any more productive total-offense seasons than Franklin did in 2011 (3,846 yards) in his first year as a starter.
That generally healthy Franklin completed 238 of 376 passes for 2,971 yards and 21 touchdowns, which is one of the reasons MU has faith he can get back to that kind of play as he mends.
But a consequence of not being able to practice consistently, Pinkel said, is “You lose something. You lose the little things that you have to be able to do.” And one of those areas is rhythm and timing.
One of the interceptions was nothing but a poor decision, thrown without seeing a linebacker in wait, but the game-ending interception and the two others were overthrown.
Not that Franklin might not have overthrown any of those even if he had been healthy all season, but Yost said Franklin hurried his footwork on two in particular.
“So what you do is you go (too) quick, you don’t step as far, you short-step, your release point comes off quicker,” he said. “So what’s the ball do? It goes higher.”
Knowing that and correcting that are two different things.
But Pinkel and Yost each believe that with the knee injury another week behind him and his most complete practice week in more than a month ahead, Franklin can play much as he did down the stretch in 2011 when MU won its last four games.
And even if he doesn’t, if he plays like he did a week ago, at least he’ll have a team that embraces him.
“We were behind him before, but then when you see something like that, now you’re playing for him,” Moe said. “He just lifted the whole team.”