Missouri football making delayed SEC impact

Missouri football making delayed SEC impact

October 9th, 2013 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Missouri quarterback James Franklin, right, runs behind the block of teammate Russell Hansbrough, left, as he scores a touchdown during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in Columbia, Mo.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

So this is what Missouri was hoping to accomplish last season.

Gary Pinkel's No. 25 Tigers are 5-0 entering Saturday's date at No. 7 Georgia behind the dazzling play of senior quarterback James Franklin and an opportunistic defense. Missouri opened with routs of not-so-imposing Murray State, Toledo, Indiana and Arkansas State, but the Tigers turned their share of heads last Saturday night with a 51-28 thrashing of Vanderbilt in Nashville.

The five wins match Missouri's victory total from last season, when the Tigers had their Southeastern Conference debut spoiled by a rash of offensive injuries.

"I've been behind this team for a long time," Pinkel told reporters Saturday night. "With James Franklin, everybody is going to jump on the wagon a little bit, and that's fine. I get that and I understand that, but I said he was going to be like this a year ago, but he was beaten up and couldn't do anything.

"I'm really proud of James, and I think he's playing as well as anybody in the country. He's got some people making plays for him, too."

Missouri will head to Athens defining consistency, having scored in all 20 quarters this season. The Tigers also define balance as one of five Bowl Subdivision teams averaging more than 255 rushing yards and 255 passing yards a game, joining Baylor, Oregon, Washington and UCLA.

They are converting a staggering 53.8 percent of their third-down plays into firsts after converting 33.3 percent last season.

"Potentially, we're very good," Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson told the Columbia Daily Tribune, "but that means every week going out and preparing. I know that is coach-speak and all those things, but it's the truth. That's why coaches say it.

"We put a good plan together, and the guys get really good at executing the plan. If we do that, we're going to have the opportunities to be successful."

Game plans last season went awry with an offensive line that had just one player start all 12 games. That player was true freshman guard Evan Boehm, who was not projected to start.

The ravaged line led to problems for Franklin, who started only eight games and was unable to finish two of those eight. He missed time due to knee and shoulder injuries and then had his frustrating year topped off by a concussion.

Franklin accounted for 1,684 total yards and 10 touchdowns last season but already has 1,685 yards and 15 touchdowns this year. Against Vanderbilt, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Texan completed 19 of 28 passes for 278 yards and four touchdowns and rushed 12 times for 63 yards.

"I think we've been working together as a team, and that's the biggest part," Franklin told reporters Saturday night. "The defense has our back, and we have the defense's back. When we're out there, it's just something different. We have a playmaker at every position."

The Tigers have showcased three effective tailbacks so far with Russell Hansbrough (48 carries for 379 yards, 7.9 a carry), Henry Josey (54 for 307, 5.7) and Marcus Murphy (35 for 293, 8.4). Franklin is averaging 5.2 yards a carry with 53 rushes for 278 yards.

There are three promising receivers as well, with Marcus Lucas having 27 catches so far this season, Dorial Green-Beckham 23 and L'Damian Washington 22. Green-Beckham, the nation's top overall prospect in the 2012 class, has 364 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

"They're very good, and we think they're playing at a lot higher level on offense this year than a year ago," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "Their quarterback is healthy, and he is performing so well. They've got big, physical receivers, but they run the ball really well. It's not just their passing game, that's for sure.

"They're doing a lot of great things, and I have a lot of respect for their defense as well."

Missouri's defense is overshadowed by its offense, but the Tigers tallied seven sacks at Vanderbilt and lead the SEC with three sacks a game. Senior defensive end Michael Sam tops the league with 1.2 sacks a game.

The Tigers also have forced at least one turnover in 35 consecutive contests, which is the longest streak of any team from a BCS conference.

"I feel very good about this team," Pinkel said. "We're very healthy."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.