Franklin back at quarterback for MU

Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk, shown scrambling away from Tennessee defensive lineman Jacques Smith during a game earlier this month in Columbia, will head back to the sidelines as starter James Franklin returns to the lineup this Saturday.

Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk, shown scrambling away from Tennessee defensive lineman Jacques Smith during a game earlier this month in Columbia, will head back to the sidelines as starter James Franklin returns to the lineup this Saturday. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA — It’s James Franklin’s team again.

After spraining his throwing shoulder Oct. 12 at Georgia and missing the past four starts with the injury, Missouri’s senior quarterback is back as the starter.

Franklin will be under center when the No. 8 Tigers (9-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) take on the 24th-ranked Mississippi Rebels at 6:45 p.m. Saturday (ESPN-TV) in Oxford, Miss.

“He looks really good,” Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said of Franklin. “He looks just like when he left off. … He’s excited about getting back, the team’s excited about having him back. Obviously I want him to do really well. He’s had some adversity and he’s battled through it.”

Said Franklin: “It feels really good being back and being healthy. My arm’s been feeling good. It’s that feeling of being back with my teammates and being able to start off where I left off.”

Redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk finished out the win against Georgia before starting games against Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. He’ll revert to his backup role.

Pinkel was elusive when asked if Mauk would take over for Franklin should the latter struggle against Mississippi, refusing to comment.

“Our general rule for a starter is if a backup player comes in and plays better than the starter consistently, then we’ll consider keeping him in that spot,” Pinkel added. “But if he doesn’t, then it goes right back to the starter.

“Maty will play, how much we don’t know yet. He’s done a great job.”

Added Mauk: “Now that (Franklin’s) back I’m going to prepare the same way and be ready no matter what happens. If they throw me in a series here or there, then I know I’ll go out and give everything I have.”

Mauk filled in admirably in Franklin’s absence, leading Missouri to a 3-1 record in his four starts while completing 62-of-120 passes for 10 touchdowns and two interceptions, including a five-touchdown performance during the Tigers’ last outing against Kentucky.

“It will be a little tough,” Mauk said of heading back to the bench. “But I know my role on the team and I’m going to go out every day and give my best and be prepared no matter what happens.

“I think I did pretty well (these last four or five games). I did what they needed me to do. I definitely got a lot of experience. It’s been a tremendous little stretch right there.”

Franklin was able to shake off a little bit of rust during that 48-17 victory against the Wildcats on Nov. 9, playing a pair of series. The signal-caller didn’t attempt a pass, handing the ball off five times.

“I told some of the guys it felt like I was a freshman coming back out there since it seemed like it had been so long,” Franklin said of that game. “It felt good to be back out there. It was definitely exciting.”

In Franklin’s six starts this season — all wins — the senior has completed a career-best 67.7 percent of his passes (132-of-195) for 1,577 yards with 14 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He’s also run the ball for 290 yards and three scores.

“The ball feels better coming off my hand than it did before so I’m hoping I can do a little better than when I went out earlier,” Franklin said, intimating he can not only pick up where he left off before the injury but also surpass those expectations.

With two games left on the docket — at Mississippi and home against Texas A&M on Nov. 30 — Franklin can add to his resume as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play at Missouri. Franklin currently ranks third in Tiger history in total offense (7,619), fifth in passing yardage (6,110), third in passing touchdowns (46) and second in passing efficiency (139.3).

Franklin’s return comes at the most pressure-packed stretch of the Tigers’ season. Missouri must win its final two contests to win the SEC East Division and travel to Atlanta for the SEC championship game Dec. 7.

It’s Franklin’s job to lead the Tigers there.

Asked by a reporter what that first hit will be like, Franklin delivered the perfect response: “Well, I’m not expecting to get hit.”

Note: Missouri’s Nov. 30 game against Texas A&M is slated for a 6:45 p.m. kickoff at Faurot Field. ESPN will broadcast the contest.

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