QB Franklin key to Tigers becoming bowl eligible

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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- A month ago, James Franklin committed four turnovers in the second half against Oklahoma State.

In the four games since, the sophomore quarterback has led the Tigers to three wins and two fourth-quarter comebacks -- with zero turnovers.

That's lifted Missouri to 6-5 and secured bowl eligibility for the seventh consecutive season ahead of Saturday's regular-season finale against Kansas.

The Tigers scored 14 points in the final quarter of a 31-27 victory Saturday against Texas Tech, erasing a 10-point deficit thanks in large part to Franklin's 172 yards passing and career-high 152 yards rushing. In the fourth quarter alone, Franklin threw for 85 yards and ran for another 75.

During Missouri's clinching, 89-yard touchdown drive, Franklin accounted for 75 yards of total offense.

"I think our team kind of expects, 'Hey, if we keep fighting, James will help find us a way and we'll get right back into this thing,'" offensive coordinator Dave Yost said. "It's good to have a quarterback that continues to fight, continues to battle, and seems to get better as the game goes on.

"Really, his best football has been in the fourth quarter for most of the season."

Franklin has accounted for 3,347 yards of total offense this season (2,553 passing, 794 rushing), good for ninth in Missouri history. If Franklin continues averaging 304 yards through the team's final two games, he'll end up with 3,955 yards, which would be third-best in school history. Only Chase Daniel's 2007 and 2008 campaigns would be higher, and Daniel played an extra game in both of those years thanks to the Big 12 championship.

Entering the season, little was known about the 6-2, 225-pound Franklin, of Corinth, Texas, other than that his father, Willie, was a wide receiver at Oklahoma and the family's two dogs are named Boomer and Sooner.

Following the early departure of Blaine Gabbert to the NFL, Franklin beat out Gabbert's younger brother, Tyler, for the starting job. Tyler Gabbert subsequently transferred.

Franklin struggled to find his voice early on. He's still working on that.

"It definitely doesn't feel very comfortable," Franklin said. "But that's something that I'm adjusting to and learning how to do."

Teammates said they never doubted Franklin.

"James has never given us any reason not to trust him going into the fourth quarter or going into any game," wide receiver T.J. Moe said. "He's always been as confident as they come."

The last month, Franklin has led comebacks against both Texas Tech and Texas A&M. Missouri has trailed in seven of its 11 games this season entering the fourth quarter.

Franklin attributes his recent success to increased awareness and better consistency. While he said he hasn't noticed his turnovers shrinking, he acknowledges it's a byproduct of better reads.

"He's done a tremendous job," tailback De'Vion Moore said. "From day one until now, he's progressed daily. From progressions to being vocal to anything you can possibly want out of a quarterback, from decision-making, he's done it all."

Franklin will make his first start against Kansas in Kansas City, the 120th and perhaps final installment in the border rivalry. Missouri joins the Southeastern Conference next year, leaving the future of the series in doubt.

Franklin considers it just another game, the same focused approach that helps him deal with trying to follow three consecutive quarterbacks who all landed in the NFL.

"I try not to do that too much because I'm not worried about filling anyone else's shoes or living up to their standards or anything like that," Franklin said. "At the end of the season, people will talk, and there will be articles about comparisons with me compared to other quarterbacks in the past.

"I'm not really worried about that during the season or after the season. I just want to get better and perform as best I can."

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