James Franklin says something changes within himself when he plays in pressurized situations.
What it is, he isn't quite sure. But it helped him take control of a game in which Missouri (4-0) struggled to pull away.
The quarterback orchestrated two lengthy touchdown drives and added another score on the ground in the second half to help the Tigers break open a 41-19 win over Arkansas State in wet conditions Saturday night.
"I just think you're seeing how James Franklin is," offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. "I think last year was just an aberration of who he is as a player. Because you know what, sophomore year he was that way too. When we needed plays, he stepped up and made them."
Franklin led drives of 94 and 87 yards after his team trailed 16-14 with 11:31 remaining in the third quarter. The Tigers failed to convert any of their four third-down opportunities and only possessed the ball for 9:12 in the first half.
"Ideally, you don't want to do it like that," guard Max Copeland said.
Adam Kennedy tied a school record with 37 completions for 308 yards and J.D. McKissic caught a school-record 15 receptions for 117 yards for Arkansas State (2-3). Julian Jones added 136 receiving yards on 10 catches for the Red Wolves, who lost consecutive games in the same season for the first time since 2010 despite gaining 425 yards but only 140 in the second half.
Brian Davis kicked a 33-yard field goal with 7:31 left in the game to pull his team within 27-19 but it couldn't get closer. He also converted from 41, 21 and 44 yards and has made all seven of his attempts this season.
"We're driving up and down on just about every team we play," Kennedy said. "I don't know what happens in the red zone. It's a little thing here and a little thing there."
Missouri looked sluggish in the first half after running 97 plays in a 45-28 win at Indiana last week. The team only ran 25 plays in the opening 30 minutes Saturday, but Franklin got things going in the third with a 13-yard pass to L'Damian Washington on a third down at Missouri's 36-yard-line to keep the team on the field. After Franklin ran for 18 yards to the Arkansas State 17-yard-line, he found Washington in the corner of the end zone from five yards out for a 20-16 lead.
Both of those catches came after Washington dropped another on the second play of the drive.
"Just to know my quarterback has the confidence in me to make the next catch, especially on a key third-down like that, it means a lot," Washington said.
Missouri held the Red Wolves to a 3-and-out on their subsequent possession before Franklin flipped the ball to Henry Josey for a 1-yard touchdown run with 13:25 remaining for a 27-16 advantage.
Franklin then scampered for a 9-yard score and Marcus Murphy added a 3-yard run after an E.J. Gaines interception to finish the scoring. The Tigers finished with 495 yards of offense, including 239 rushing yards and 256 through the air.
"He's just got a lot of poise now, too," coach Gary Pinkel said about Franklin. "A quiet confidence about himself. It doesn't surprise me; that's the expectation level, you've got to do those kind of things."
The team's 21 points in the final quarter helped it finish its nonconference schedule with a 4-0 record, playing its remaining eight games in the Southeastern Conference where it went 2-6 in its inaugural season a year ago. The win also gave Pinkel his 94th at Missouri in 13 seasons, moving him to second all-time in school history (Don Faurot-101).
Missouri played most of the game without senior cornerback Randy Ponder, who became the second Tiger this season to be ejected for targeting with 5:50 remaining in the first quarter. Ponder led with his helmet in a tackle on McKissic, resulting in a 15-yard penalty that gave the Red Wolves the ball at the Missouri 39-yard-line and set up a 21-yard field goal by Davis for a 6-0 lead.
Arkansas State looked like it would take the halftime lead when it drove 95 yards to the Missouri 2-yard-line within the final minute. But the Tigers stuffed David Oku twice, setting up a 3rd-and-goal situation. With no timeouts and 14 seconds remaining, Kennedy threw to Oku well behind the line of scrimmage for a 22-yard loss after being pressured by Markus Golden. Time elapsed, and Missouri escaped with a 14-13 lead.
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