COLUMBIA, Mo. – James Franklin could hardly muster a smile following Missouri's loss at Florida, his normally jovial personality subdued by the feeling he had cost his team a chance to knock off the seventh-ranked Gators.
Days later, the junior quarterback still struggled to put the game, and his four interceptions, behind him. Franklin completed 24 of 51 passes, citing bad footwork and rushed passes for overthrowing several receivers.
Franklin says he needs to build up confidence after missing most of the Tigers' previous three games recovering from a strained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. He dealt with similar issues after sitting out a game earlier this season with an inflamed bursa sac in his throwing shoulder.
"He takes a lot on himself," Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said. "That's just the way he is, the way his personality is. He's like a football coach. There's enough people beating you up out there without beating yourself up."
What's perhaps most frustrating for Franklin is that the offense had one of its best overall performances this season, running 86 plays and gaining 23 first downs against the nation's fifth-stingiest defense. Missouri (4-5, 1-5) was the first Southeastern Conference opponent to reach the end zone at Florida in 2012 and held the ball for nearly 34 minutes.
But despite their final six drives ending in Gators territory, the Tigers couldn't score and lost 14-7. Franklin led the team 59 yards down the field with less than two minutes remaining to set up a game-tying score, but overthrew receivers near the goal line on consecutive plays to end the threat.
"In the game, I feel like I have less time than I actually do, and so that's why I think I end up rushing at the end," Franklin said.
Several players consoled him afterward, telling him to keep his head up and that football's a team game — no one player can be fully responsible.
"Anytime you prepare for something so hard, and you go out there and you spend all the time that we do, in the offseason, in conditioning, in lifting, in practicing, in the hours that we put in here, you go out there and you lose a game and you feel like maybe you let the team down," offensive lineman Elvis Fisher said. "If it doesn't hurt, there might be something wrong with you."
Coaches fully believe in Franklin after watching him throw for 2,865 yards and run for another 981 during the 2011 season. Expectations rose this season as Missouri entered the SEC, but Franklin didn't start throwing until August after having surgery in the spring to repair a torn labrum.
"I don't care if people are tired of hearing it, but the guy's been through an awful lot," Pinkel said.
Franklin looks to recover against Tennessee, which gives up the most yards per game (483) and has recorded the fewest sacks (12) in the SEC. The defense has been vulnerable against mobile quarterbacks, and coordinator Sal Sunseri thinks Franklin brings the same threat.
"If you go with this kid's history and what he's done, he's a very, very good football player," he said. "He's got great legs. He can deliver the ball. They've got a great system. He just had a bad day."
Missouri needs to win two of its final three games to become bowl-eligible for the eighth consecutive season. But at least one of those must come on the road, where the Tigers have yet to win a conference game this season.
Franklin will likely start the rest of the way provided he remains healthy, as backup redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser has struggled to gain any traction in relief appearances and third-stringer Maty Mauk is redshirting.
"The best way to kind of get your confidence back is to get out there and play football and throw the ball and throw completions," offensive coordinator Dave Yost said.