Who’s To Blame For The Situation With James Franklin?
Last Saturday against Arizona State, Mizzou’s first string quarterback made the decision to sit out due to the pain of his inflamed bursa sac – a feeling he described as “a 10-inch-sized bumblebee stabbing in there,” according to the Columbia Tribune‘s Joe Walljasper. James Franklin’s decision became controversial when Pinkel mentioned (more than once) that it was Franklin’s choice to not play. Questions arose about the quarterback’s toughness, as did questions about Pinkel being disappointed with Franklin’s declining of a painkiller before the game.
It should be noted that Franklin does not use any type of painkiller, a completely reasonable stance. By using painkillers, Franklin probably could have played the entire game and not felt much of anything, only to wake up Sunday with the injury certainly not any better, and likely in worse shape than before. Fast forward this week and he would have another similar situation for Saturday afternoon’s matchup at South Carolina. By declining the painkiller, Franklin first and foremost showed that he will stand up for himself and what he thinks is right. He also gave himself extra time to recover and be more physically able for the rest of the season.
Gary Pinkel’s seemingly disappointed tone when asked about his quarterback is just as understandable as Frankin’s decision to sit out. This is a big year for Pinkel and the Mizzou football program. It’s the school’s first year in the Southeastern Conference, and it is trying to earn the respect of the other members in the toughest conference in college football.
The team came into the Arizona State game with a 1-1 record, and a road game against a top ten team looming. Pinkel was facing the legitimate possibility of coming back from South Carolina with a 1-3 record and questions of bowl eligibility in his first year as an SEC coach. Mizzou needed to beat the Sun Devils. So when his starting quarterback made the decision to not take a painkiller and therefore not play, he probably was disappointed–and a little worried. And after the Tigers nearly lost the game, he may have been the slightest bit aggravated about his quarterback’s stance.
This is not to say Pinkel did not support Franklin’s decision, but rather to suggest that he was simply not pleased about almost blowing a must-win game. Could he have worded his answers differently in his post game press conference? Probably. But once the dust settled and he had moved on to the next game, Pinkel said Franklin is “one of the toughest athletes I’ve ever been around,” according to MrSEC.
If you are looking to place blame somewhere, look no further than the play calling. For starters, Franklin ran the ball 217 times last season, fourth-highest among quarterbacks. After the season, it was discovered that Franklin had a shoulder injury that needed surgery, forcing him to miss most of the offseason. He was ready just in time for the start of this season and played in the first game vs. Southeastern Louisiana (albeit a light workload against an inferior opponent), going 13-for-21 passing and running the ball six times.
Then came the Georgia game, where Franklin threw 41 times and accumulated 20 carries. He went from being directly involved in the movement of the ball 27 times against an FCS opponent, to 61 times against a nationally ranked top-ten SEC team. There is not much that can be done about the passing numbers, but it seems like the carries could have been cut in half, at least.
It would have been one thing if Franklin was slashing through the Bulldog defense, but he averaged 1.3 yards per carry. Runners, excluding the quarterbacks and punter, averaged 6.0 yards per carry. To be fair, one 39-yard scamper by Kendial Lawrence skewed these numbers, but even if this one run is taken out, the non-QB’s still nearly tripled Franklin’s yards per carry number.
Running the ball with Franklin was simply ineffective, yet he received 20 carries compared to the other runners’ 16 combined carries. Giving more carries to the most ineffective runner on the team can be classified as bad play calling or poor execution; giving more carries to your recently injured starting quarterback behind a banged up offensive line can be classified as just plain dumb, especially when there are equal or better options.
Fans must realize that more than simple statistics go into play calling decisions. That being said, one would think keeping your quarterback and his surgically-repaired shoulder healthy for the next game, and the game after that, and the game after that, would be a fairly high priority. So you can blame Franklin for not being tough enough, or you can blame Pinkel for his comments that made this an issue. But the true cause of Franklin’s situation last week (and potential situation this week and beyond) might just lie on the offensive game planning and play calling of Gary Pinkel and offensive coordinator Dave Yost.
Statistics courtesy of ESPN.com