COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Next week, Missouri expects James Franklin to be fully recovered from a left knee strain in time for No. 3 Florida. This week, just being on the field was enough.
The Tigers got touchdowns off all three of Kentucky's lost fumbles and their quarterback presided over a strong finish in a reserve role in a 33-10 victory that gave the school a long-delayed first win in their debut SEC season on Saturday.
"It's a call you've got to make," said coach Gary Pinkel, who said the staff suggested scenarios earlier in the week. "If he'd have gotten hurt out there, then the questions might be a little bit different."
Kendial Lawrence ran for 108 yards on 23 carries with two TDs for Missouri (4-4, 1-4), which overcame its own sloppiness, too, after getting last week off following a 32-point loss at home to top-ranked Alabama. Marcus Murphy fumbled his first two punt-return attempts and Corbin Berkstresser was intercepted on consecutive passes by freshman J.D. Harmon to start the second half before getting replaced by Franklin, who was limited in practice this week after missing most of the previous two games.
"I don't think they wanted me to go out there and run for anything or throw some deep bombs," Franklin said. "Just the basics, going back to Day One, and execute the best we could."
Pinkel said Franklin went in with "great restrictions" to run an offense that kept it basic. His first five plays were runs with Missouri totaling 34 yards, and he was 6 for 9 overall for a paltry 16 yards, and had no carries.
Another week of rehab, and he has no doubt he'll be under center from the beginning.
"Yes sir, I know I'll be there for sure," Franklin said. "Unless I get hit by a car, then I'll be starting."
Raymond Sanders scored on a 1-yard run in the first quarter for Kentucky (1-8, 0-6), which has lost seven in a row. The Wildcats produced just three points off three turnovers and got shut out in the second half.
"We basically gave them the game, really," Sanders said. "I feel like we should have won, we just handed the game to them."
Pinkel tried his best to minimize the first SEC win after three failures, including a four-point upset to Vanderbilt at home.
"Nah, it doesn't mean a lot to me, I just want to win," Pinkel said. "I don't care who we play, we need to win. It's a bigger deal to everybody else."
The game was still up for grabs, with Missouri leading 17-10 midway through the third quarter, when Franklin got the call.
Facing a third straight opponent coming off an open weekend, Kentucky coach Joker Phillips had prepared for Franklin.
"What surprised me was when he didn't go in to start the game," Phillips said. "That's what surprised me."
Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson ran 60 yards to the Kentucky 25 after stripping the ball from Jonathan George to set up the game's first touchdown. Zaviar Gooden recovered a fumble at the Kentucky 12 after Brad Madison and Will Ebner combined to sack Patrick Towles early in the fourth quarter to set up a 9-yard run by Murphy and E.J. Gaines skirted the sideline on a 13-yard return off Sanders' fumble for a 33-10 cushion with 8:45 to go.
"I was disappointed I didn't score," Richardson said. "I plan on making plays every play."
Harmon's first career interception gave Kentucky possession at the Missouri 33, but the Wildcats netted minus-12 yards with an offensive pass interference call before punting it back. Craig McIntosh, who made a 43-yard field goal in the first half, was wide right on a 47-yard attempt after Harmon's second pick near midfield.
The interceptions were Kentucky's first in five games. Linebacker Avery Williamson tied his career best with 14 tackles for the Wildcats, who allowed a season-low 273 yards.
Missouri totaled four fumbles in the first half but lost just one. Berkstresser fumbled twice but recovered both of them.
Lawrence's second score came with 1:32 to go and capitalized on a fumbled snap on a 53-yard field-goal attempt by Kentucky that wasted Demarco Robinson's 27-yard return of a 27-yard punt. Richardson sacked holder Jared Leet, who recovered the ball after mishandling the snap and had attempted to roll out.
Freshman Dorial Green-Beckham caught two passes on the go-ahead drive, the first receptions for the nation's top recruit last winter since catching an 80-yard touchdown pass against Central Florida in Week 5.
Kentucky had plenty of success with cutback runs in its first two drives, rolling up 115 yards, but got just 64 yards the rest of the way.
NOTES: Country singer David Nail, bending as many notes as possible, sang the National Anthem. ... Sanders' 24-yard carry matched his season high. ... Missouri has forced a turnover in 26 consecutive games and entered the game tied for first in the nation with 14 forced fumbles. ... Kentucky CB Cody Quinn (hamstring) and Missouri CB Kip Edwards (strained neck) left with injuries in the second half. ... Murphy had 43 yards on eight carries and scored his first rushing TD of the year. ... Kentucky CB Collins Ukwu blocked an extra point, his second blocked kick of the year.