Mixed results for Kelly Bryant as Mizzou mishandles season opener

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Photo: Mizzou Athletics

COLUMBIA, Mo. — For the first 23 plays of the 2019 season, Kelly Bryant used his arm and legs and made good decisions in driving the Missouri Tigers to consecutive touchdowns to start the game as Mizzou built a 14-0 lead over Wyoming. However, turnovers and a poor run defense led Wyoming on big 2nd quarter comeback and eventual 37-31 win in the season opener for both teams in Laramie. Problems that have plagued Barry Odom teams early in the season showed up again on Saturday night.

The defense had their issues and that’s a completely different discussion, but for now we’ll look at the play of Kelly Bryant. While he was one of the most skilled players on the field, his decision making left plenty of room for improvement.

Bryant ran for 20 yards and passed for 12 on Mizzou’s opening 12-play 65-yard touchdown drive after the defense held Wyoming to a three-and-out to start the game. Bryant showed great foot work in the pocket avoiding the rush to find Jonathan Nance for a three yard TD pass to put Missouri up 7-0. After consecutive three-and-outs for the defense, Bryant went back to work, connecting on pass plays of 13, 29, 19 and ten yards, setting up a Larry Rountree two-yard TD run giving the Tigers a 14-0 advantage on their first two drives.

At that point the excitement level was through the roof for myself and Mizzou fans.

After three consecutive punts, Wyoming put together a 12-play drive that should have ended in a touchdown, but Cowboys QB Sean Chambers under threw a wide open receiver in the end zone. Wyoming settled for a field goal. That’s when the game turned south for Mizzou.

On a 2nd and 1 from their 34, Bryant was pressured out of the pocket and scrambled, but was hit before he could make it back to the line. Bryant fumbled and Wyoming’s C.J. Coldon picked up the loose ball and raced 30 yards for a touchdown making it 14-10. Instead of throwing the ball away, Bryant tried to make things happen with his legs. His inability to get rid of the ball in an attempt to make something out of nothing would hurt Mizzou again at the end of the game.

After the next Tigers drive stalled, Wyoming parlayed the momentum in their favor breaking off TD runs of 61 and 75 yards against a defense that looked reminiscent of the Missouri State game from two years ago. The 75-yard run by Chambers put Wyoming up 24-17.

Bryant went back to work and drove the Tigers to the Wyoming one yard line going 4-for-5 on the drive including a 35 yard completion to Kam Scott. With 15 secondsleft in the half, Rountree was stripped of the ball and Wyoming’s Alijah Halliburton scooped it up at the five yard and raced the other way.

Bryant showed off his speed chasing down the Wyoming defender but got flagged for a horse collar tackle.

The penalty allowed Wyoming to kick a field with no time on the clock, putting the Tigers down 10 at the half. No other quarterback in Mizzou history other than perhaps James Franklin would have saved a touchdown and Bryant’s ability to save a touchdown, even though it resulted in three points for the Cowboys was still a minor victory. With the Rountree fumble, it was basically a ten-point swing.

Another bad decision by Bryant choked out any chance for points on the opening drive of the third quarter. Starting at his own 25, Bryant marched Mizzou deep into Wyoming territory but once again instead of throwing the ball away when flushed out of the pocket, Bryant under threw a pass into the endzone on third down getting picked with no points. A field goal would have made the game 24-20 in favor of Wyoming.

Instead Wyoming answered with an 80-yard drive to go up 34-17.

Bryant led Mizzou on two fourth quarter TD drives and after some bad time management by Wyoming on a late field goal to put them up 37-24,

Bryant had enough time late for Missouri to win with a touchdown and extra point. Taking over at the 25 yard line with 2:19 to play and one timeout, Bryant got the Tigers down to Wyoming’s 24 yard line. However, on a 2nd and 6,

Bryant tried to scramble instead of throwing the ball away and got sacked for a five yard loss.

His final two pass attempts and 3rd and then 4th and 11 fell incomplete and the Tigers comeback came up short.

Bryant finished 31 of 48 for 423 yards and two touchdowns, but he was also responsible for two of the Tigers three giveaways.

His decision making under certain situations was suspect. Not to compare him with Drew Lock, but one of Drew biggest areas of growth from the time he was thrust into the starting roll as a freshman until the time he finished his senior year was his ability to get rid of the ball, avoid sacks and avoid forcing passes into traffic.

Bryant’s ill-advised decisions to force throws (he had two-batted passes) or his attempt to gain yards with his legs when he should have bailed on the plays, showed his decision making has the most rust that needs to be knocked off.

It was Bryant’s first action in nearly 11 months since he was benched by Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, but his reads and decision making must tighten up soon.

The Tigers are home next Saturday to face West Virginia, who avoided an upset by FCS’s James Madison.

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