posted on October 27, 2012 16:25
Through seven games, there's been no shortage of criticism for Missouri's coaching staff.
Gary Pinkel and his staff gave plenty of fodder to those critics (myself included). Baffling play calls, ignoring the run game, the decision to publicly announce the starting quarterback's decision not to take a pain-killing shot -- yes, there has been plenty to discuss.
But for all the questionable actions, Pinkel and his staff deserve a loud kudos for their biggest and best decision of the year:
Benching Corbin Berkstresser and replacing him with an injured James Franklin to pull away in a 33-10 win over Kentucky.
It seems like an easy decision form the onset. Missouri's offense wasn't clicking much in the first half, and once Berkstresser threw interceptions on back-to-back plays to start the third quarter, it was clear a 17-10 lead may not hold. If Franklin was healthy enough to play, that was the right time to put him in. That's what Pinkel did, but it's a tougher decision off paper than it is on it.
As the cliche goes, "Sometimes the easiest decisions are the hardest..."
You get the idea.
In Pinkel's 11 seasons at Missouri, there haven't been any instances of pulling a starting quarterback in the middle of a game for performance issues. There have been injuries. Freshman quarterbacks have replaced senior quarterbacks for a drive here or there to gain experience in meaningless games. But not once has there been an instance where a game's starter was pulled because he wasn't getting the job done.
The first reaction when Franklin entered the game was incredulity. If Franklin was healthy enough to play at some point, why couldn't he start? Did he need an extra two hours of rest to rehabilitate his knee?
Pinkel could have dodged that line of questioning after the game. He could have said Berkstresser tweaked an ankle injury during a second-half tackle (which it appeared he did), making it necessary to bring Franklin in out of necessity.
Instead, Pinkel admitted Franklin's entry was out of necessity -- but not because of an injury.
"Corbin was struggling," Pinkel said. "Not the first quarterback here who's ever struggled at all and won't be the last."
Franklin couldn't start the game and play a full 60 because the injury risk was too high. Missouri's offense would be too limited. Pinkel said Franklin received medical clearance to play "with great restriction." He was more a caretaker of the football, handing it off to Kendial Lawrence and Russell Hansbrough or Marcus Murphy and throwing short, quick passes. He almost threw an interception on his first drive. The only other hold-your-breath moment came on a scramble out of the pocket, throwing on the run downfield.
The pass was incomplete. Franklin had avoided defenders, however. He walked back to the line of scrimmage. He didn't have much of a limp. He kind of kicked his left leg, the injured leg, swinging it back and forth a few times. It was as if he realized, "Hey, I'll be okay."
Missouri was up 26-10 at that time, midway through the fourth quarter. Kentucky was impotent on offense. Franklin didn't have to be in the game then, but it was part of Pinkel's plan.
"We decided to keep him in, even though the score was the way it is, just to get him some reps and confidence back," Pinkel said.
The easy decision was a tough decision, because this is the type of game that can determine a quarterback's future. Berkstresser is young and has talent, but a mid-game benching can mess with any player's psyche. But that's a long-term future. This game could impact Franklin's short-term psyche, and give Missouri a boost over the final four weeks.
"It's a call you've got to make, though," Pinkel said.
For one moment, anyway, the criticism deserves to take a backseat. Pinkel made a tough call, but it was the right call. Of course, in a game like football, it could have turned into more fodder in a disappointing season. Pinkel admitted that.
"If he had gotten hurt out there, the questions would have been a little different," Pinkel said.
For one Saturday evening, there's no need to criticize, only to commend. Next week, in Gainesville, may be a different story.