While his statistics through eight games don’t indicate he’s getting the opportunities to impress NFL scouts, Franklin doesn’t appear upset about his new choice of program.
“We all thought it was going to be the high-flying passing [attack], but when you take a look back, we’re winning games,” Franklin said. “We’re on a winning streak right now, doing something that hasn’t been done here, so that kind of over-rises everything.”
FAU enters Friday’s Marshall game riding a four-game winning streak and looking to remain atop Conference USA’s East Division. With five catches totaling 55 yards, and most of his targets coming at or behind the line of scrimmage, Franklin’s contribution as a pass catcher during that run is questionable.
But the Owls are trying to keep Franklin, who transferred to FAU as a graduate student for his final year of eligibility, involved in the offense by lining him up behind center in a wildcat-type package. Franklin’s averaged 17.5 yards on his six carries this season, including touchdown runs of 55 and 11 yards.
The combination of his catching and running stats don’t fully measure Franklin’s contributions (and the contributions of the entire wide receiver unit for that matter.) this season. Other aspects not commonly measured statistically enabled the Owls to launch into their traditional postgame celebration – singing of the school’s first song.
“We know we haven’t been getting the ball, but we’re a big part of all these rushing yards,” said Franklin, who began his collage career as a quarterback at Florida St. “We might not get the credit for it but we know we’re a big part of it and just taking whatever is given to us. Whatever is called, we just want to execute. At the end of the day, as long as we win and get to sing in the locker room that’s all that matters.”
Ground Game, Willie Wright Take Over
FAU coach Lane Kiffin sees several factors contributing to the lack of opportunities for Franklin, starting with the dominance of running back Devin Singletary. With the sophomore churning up yardage and scoring touchdowns at record rates, the running game takes prominence among the Owls’ offensive plans.
Changes within the wide receiver unit also played a factor.
“When (Franklin) came here we did not think we’d have (Kamrin Solomon) and Kalib [Woods] back at all,” FAU coach Lane Kiffin said.
Kiffin also didn’t foresee the emergence of a true freshman as the Owls’ primary deep threat.
With 4.25 40-yard dash speed, Franklin is one of the fastest players ever to wear an FAU uniform. However, when the Owls look downfield, Wright’s primarily the target. He leads FAU wide receivers with three touchdown catches (tight end Harrison Bryant also has three TDs), including the 49-yarder that gave the Owls the lead for good in Saturday’s victory over Western Kentucky.
“He’s an electrifying player,” Franklin said of Wright. “We call them ‘game changers.’ He’s one of those guys that whenever he has the ball in his hands he can make it go long. It’s really crazy watching a true freshman do that.”
Solomon and Woods both began the season under suspension for their alleged roles in an off-campus fight that landed two FAU students in the hospital. Police arrested Woods, charging him with two counts of felony battery.
FAU suspended Woods for the first six games of the season. Last year’s leading receiver for FAU, he returned two weekends ago in the victory over North Texas but played sparingly. Woods made the first start of his senior season on Saturday against Western Kentucky and while he he’s yet to catch as pass on a play from scrimmage, he did snatch a critical two-point conversion pass on Saturday that tied the game at 28 in the fourth quarter.
Solomon didn’t play in the season’s first two games, but since has caught 19 passes covering 160 yards..
With Woods, Solomon and Wright drawing the starting assignments for the Owls, Bryant giving the Owls extra blocking bulk, and speed, speed, speed being the predominant offensive philosophy the Owls favor, FAU tries to avoid substituting second-team receivers into the game because doing so prompts officials to temporarily slow down the Owls’ offense to allow the defense to substitute.
More often than not over the past few games, those factors rendered Franklin, and to some extent junior college transfer DeAndre McNeal, a spectator.
“I do feel bad for him,” Kiffin said of Franklin. “It’s a unique set of circumstances.”
Franklin remains upbeat.
From Kiffin, to quarterback Jason Driskel, to Franklin, offensive players and coaches realize that defenses are going to try to take away Singletary and make the Owls win through the air.
By throwing for 357 yards and two touchdowns – one a bomb to Wright – in a blowout victory over North Texas two weekends ago, Driskel demonstrated that the Owls are capable of striking for big plays through the air. Now Driskel and company need to prove they can do it consistently.
“We’re going to have to,” Franklin said. “It’s obvious teams are going to stop the run. Now, whether they stop it or not, that’s on them. But it’s obvious that we are going to run the ball. I think we’ve been having success – that’s not going to stop either. But there’s going to come a time where they’re going to dare us to throw it and we’re going to have to come down and make plays.”
But Kiffin’s not going to adjust his play-calling solely with the intent of helping Franklin showcase his play-making abilities.
“My job is to the university, to the players – to put the players in that have specific things for those plays that help us put us in the best position to win,” Kiffin said. “Not doing favors.”