Argos QB James Franklin has Doug Flutie rushing TD record in sight

James Franklin is not a big fan of running the football, yet the Toronto Argonauts quarterback is chasing two notable rushing records.

Franklin has scored a team record-tying 12 rushing touchdowns this season, which is two short of the CFL record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback Doug Flutie set in 1991 with the B.C. Lions. Both marks will certainly be within striking distance Saturday when Franklin and the Argos (3-12) host the Montreal Alouettes (3-12) at BMO Field.

“It would be pretty cool,” Franklin said. “I definitely never thought I’d be this close to a rushing record but it’s exciting.

“If I can do that it says a lot that coach Trestman (Toronto head coach Marc Trestman) is still calling quarterback sneaks and also the guys on the line really blocking and giving me the opportunity. It’s a big credit to them, they’re doing all the work and I’m just kind of riding the wave.”

Franklin also showed a nose for the end zone in college. In 2011 as a sophomore at Missouri, Franklin rushed for 981 yards and 15 TDs on 217 carries (4.5-yard average) in 13 games.

“Fun fact,” Franklin said. “That year, the average carries for a running back in college football was 172 while as a quarterback I had 217 so I was a little banged up.”

The six-foot-two, 225-pound Franklin is Toronto’s second-leading rusher this season with 247 yards on 62 carries (4.0-yard average), and with 12 rushing TDs is tied with Edmonton’s Mike Reilly for tops in the CFL. However, those numbers are deceptive because whether he’s starting or backing up, Franklin runs the Argos’ short-yardage offence and most of his touchdowns have come from in close.

But Franklin, 27, has gone two games without a rushing TD. He came off the bench to throw two fourth-quarter TD strikes in Toronto’s 26-23 road loss to B.C. on Oct 6 before completing 22-of-37 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns as the starter in last Friday night’s 34-20 home loss to Hamilton.

Franklin will make his second straight start Saturday and sixth of the season for Toronto, which has dropped seven straight and been eliminated from post-season contention. Franklin is the only Argos quarterback under contract for 2019.

“I think he’s doing some really good things,” Trestman said. “He’s shown he can make some dynamic plays and throws, those have shown up the last two weeks.

“He’s not afraid to put that ball in there, to throw it in tight places. He’s an accurate thrower but we’ve missed some throws that have taken explosive plays away from us.”

Inconsistency has plagued Toronto this season in all three phases. But all three of its wins have come at BMO Field and Saturday’s contest is the club’s final home game of the year so Trestman would like to reward the Argos’ fanbase – just over 14,000 spectators on average per game – with a victory.

“We don’t have one side of the ball that’s carrying us this year,” he said. “We’ve played decent football but we haven’t played enough winning football on either side to get it done.

“We might not have many fans but we have great fans and we know people are watching us television-wise. We’ve played some good football . . . but we haven’t played consistently throughout the year and we’d like to finish at home against a divisional opponent and play the kind of football we think we’re capable of playing.”

Montreal has also been eliminated from post-season contention. But Toronto will get its first look at Alouettes starter Johnny Manziel.

It’s been a roller-coaster first CFL season for the former Heisman Trophy winner, who made headlines across North American on May 19 when he signed a two-year deal with Hamilton. But the six-foot, 210-pound Manziel didn’t play a regular-season down with the Ticats and was dealt to Montreal on July 22.

Manziel, 25, will make his sixth start with the Als having completed 72-of-116 passes (62.1 per cent) for 872 yards. He has more interceptions (six) than TDs and remains winless as a CFL starter but Trestman has been impressed by the former Cleveland Browns first-round pick.

“What I think that’s underestimated is his arm talent,” Trestman said. “He’s taken some hits and completed some really good passes with pressure in his face and has stood in there courageously.

“And certainly if he can get outside he’s very similar to (Hamilton starter Jeremiah) Masoli, he can make plays.”

Trestman said Toronto’s defence must keep Manziel between the tackles.

“The big part is to try to keep him in the pocket, push the pocket as much as we can,” Trestman said. “We can’t allow him to extend plays and use his feet and creative ability, of which he’s very very good at

“He has shown that already.”

Montreal Alouettes (3-12) at Toronto Argonauts (3-12)

Saturday afternoon, BMO Field

Key matchup: Argos QB James Franklin vs. Alouettes QB Johnny Manziel. Franklin is 0-1 in his second stint as Toronto’s starter and 1-4 overall this season. Manziel, a former Heisman Trophy winner, makes his sixth start with Montreal but is searching for his first CFL win.

The big number: 7 – Number of games Toronto has lost in a row.

Who’s hot: Argos receiver S.J. Green. He had seven catches for 127 yards and a TD in Toronto’s 30-24 loss last week to Hamilton and has been one of the club’s few bright spots offensively for the club with 69 catches for 918 yards and four TDs.

Who’s not: Manziel. He has more interceptions (six) than TD passes (two), been sacked 19 times and is 0-5 as Montreal’s starter. Manziel has completed 72-of-116 passes (62.1 per cent) for 872 yards while rushing for 139 yards on 21 carries (6.6-yard average).

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