Georgia coach Mark Richt spent the better part of five minutes this week praising Missouri’s success this season.
The Tigers are off to a 5-0 start and are 1-0 in Southeastern Conference play, and Richt attributed a large part of that to Missouri quarterback James Franklin.
“He’s standing in the pocket with a lot of confidence,” Richt said. “And he’s very accurate. He’s on target and he looks like he’s in his element.”
Richt wasn’t the only one to notice Franklin’s emerging confidence. Franklin said earlier this week that he had doubts about his performance last year after a rocky first season in the SEC.
Franklin dealt with a slew of injuries that sidelined him for the bulk of last season and played in nine games while cutting many of his passing statistics nearly in half — down 2,865 yards in 2011 to 1,562 and from 21 touchdowns to 11.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, however, said that Franklin’s adversity was the fuel to his resolve.
“He is right now a lot mentally tougher than he was before,” Pinkel said. “He is a lot more mentally driven than he was before.”
Through just five games this year, Franklin has eclipsed his prior touchdown mark with 13 — including four last week against Vanderbilt — and nearly matched his yards output with 1,407. Those statistics rank fourth and fifth, respectively, among SEC quarterbacks.
Franklin has also been a threat on the ground having churned out 278 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns this season.
Georgia struggled against two dual-threat quarterbacks this year in Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (42 rushing yards against the Bulldogs) and South Carolina’s Connor Shaw (75 rushing yards), but Bulldogs players said that facing them helped prepare for what Franklin could bring today.
“Being able to go up against such high-caliber quarterbacks fresh out of the gate and week in and out, it helps prepare you for what you’re going to face down the line,” Georgia linebacker Ray Drew said. “I do believe that going up against Tajh and Connor Shaw, it really has prepared us.”
Georgia had similar concerns heading into last year’s game at Missouri after allowing Buffalo’s Alex Zordich rush for 83 yards in it’s 2012 season opener. The Bulldogs responded the next week by holding Franklin to just 25 yards on 20 attempts, and piled on two sacks and an interception.
But Bulldogs players said they know they’re not facing the Franklin from a year ago, and this year’s rendition of the Missouri quarterback has been the subject of some early NFL draft conversations.
“He’s really looking good this year,” Drew said. “He will definitely bring a challenge.”
Franklin tried to downplay last year’s tangle between these teams in Missouri despite it being the Tigers’ first game in the touted SEC. He’s doing the same again this year as he prepares to take on Sanford Stadium this Saturday.
“We always see opportunities in the games we play and we want to go in confident, but not overconfident,” Franklin said. “This week we are playing Georgia and we’re going to go out there and do our best to win.”