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Thursday, October 10, 2013
UGA prepares for Franklin's tough running

By David Ching

ATHENS, Ga. -- James Franklin's reputation as a physical runner precedes him to the point that Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins knows his nickname is “The Tank.”

“If you let him get going a little bit, he's going to be a hard guy for some of the smaller linebackers and DBs to tackle,” Jenkins said of Franklin, who will lead Missouri's potent offense against the Bulldogs on Saturday.

James Franklin
Missouri quarterback James Franklin poses a threat to the Georgia defense because of his ability to scramble outside the pocket.
At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Franklin presents a different challenge than most dual-threat quarterbacks the No. 7 Bulldogs (4-1, 3-0 SEC) have faced in recent seasons. He is a capable passer and is quick enough on his feet, but it's his willingness to run over defenders that separates him from signal-callers who mix some runs in with their passing skills.

Keeping Franklin bottled up -- and getting him on the ground -- will be a major test for Georgia's shaky defense. No prideful defensive player wants to get flattened by a quarterback, but Franklin has already done his share of flattening.

He comes in averaging 5.2 yards per carry as one piece of Missouri's four-pronged rushing attack that leads the SEC with an average of 258.8 yards per game.

“He's a quarterback. If he comes my way, I'm going to try to kill him. That's just it,” Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons said. “I've seen games where he does lower his shoulder like that. That's the last thing you want to do is get run over by a quarterback.”

Georgia has faced plenty of dual-threat quarterbacks since Todd Grantham became the Bulldogs' defensive coordinator in 2010 and has experienced mixed results against the group as a whole. They were 5-5 in his first two seasons against BCS-conference quarterbacks who rushed for at least 200 yards in a season – surrendering at least 70 rushing yards to a quarterback four times in those 10 games.

Overall, the Bulldogs have done a better job limiting the damage against dual-threat quarterbacks since then, surrendering 70 rushing yards to a quarterback twice -- both times it was South Carolina's Connor Shaw -- and posting an 8-2 record against teams whose offenses utilized a mobile quarterback.

That includes a 41-20 win against Franklin and Missouri last season, when Georgia did its best to take away the run and force Franklin to try and win with his arm. He threw 41 passes that game, completing 25 for 269 yards and two scores, but picked up only 25 rushing yards on 20 attempts.

“Last year our focus was really making him play quarterback and not run over [us] because all we heard from the reports was that he was a big quarterback, he could move and that he's just a guy that's not easy to take down,” Jenkins said. “We're just really going to try and focus on keeping him in the pocket at times.”

Largely while trying to pass from the pocket, Franklin absorbed a Jarvis Jones-led beating that night in Columbia that affected him for the rest of the season. Jones harassed Missouri's quarterback into multiple turnovers and hit him hard enough that Franklin missed the following week's game against Arizona State. Truthfully, Franklin was not the same player for the rest of the season, as injuries set in and prevented him from playing the physical style that suits him best.

“The Tank” seems to be back, however, as Franklin has led No. 25 Missouri (5-0, 1-0) to an undefeated start by passing for 1,407 yards and 13 touchdowns against three interceptions and rushing for 278 yards and two scores.

“James is healthy and he's more confident. He's running well. ... He's standing in the pocket with a lot of confidence and he's very accurate,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said of Franklin, who is completing 68 percent of his passes. “He's on target and he looks like he's in his element.”

Taking him out of his element for a second straight season will be the goal for Georgia's defense -- but it must do so without Jones around to wreak havoc in the Mizzou backfield. In fact, only three starters remain from the group that took the field last season in Columbia, so Franklin and the rest of Missouri's explosive spread offense appear to be a major match-up challenge for Grantham's young defense.

“Anytime you've got a quarterback that can run the ball in the spread, they make you defend the entire field with the formations and with what they're doing,” Grantham said. “Anytime the quarterback runs the ball, you've got truly 11-on-11 and he can create an extra gap, so when you do that, you obviously create some issues that you've got to address.”

Shaw and Clemson's Tajh Boyd, both talented dual-threat quarterbacks, exploited those issues and enjoyed success against the Bulldogs earlier this season.

Defensive lineman Garrison Smith emphasized that the Bulldogs don't necessarily need a performance like the one Jones delivered last season in order to fare better against Franklin, but that his fellow defenders must play with improved discipline. The Bulldogs must do a more consistent job of playing their assignments correctly on Saturday, or the Tigers will almost certainly put together another explosive offensive showing.

“You've got to make individual plays,” Grantham said. “This game is about winning one-on-one matchups and when you get into those situations, you've got to make it.”