Kelly Bryant previews SEMO
Missouri knew Kelly Bryant’s legs would be a big weapon when the Tigers’ football program landed the former Clemson quarterback last December.
It didn’t get to see how until Saturday’s 38-7 victory over West Virginia.
Bryant only threw for 150 yards, but he was arguably the hardest player for the Mountaineers to tackle, as he routinely avoided blitzes while finding a way to move the chains.
In Missouri’s season-opening loss at Wyoming, Bryant showed glimpses of being able to work with in a collapsed pocket, but mainly used his legs on designed runs.
“He can run,” MU tight end Daniel Parker said. “He’s very fast and mobile. He’s quick, that’s one of the things we love about him.”
But Bryant was at his best in the second quarter of the West Virginia game, where MU scored three times to extend its lead to 31-0.
It started on second and 7 from midfield, where the pocket quickly collapsed, causing Bryant to split a pair of tackles and scramble for a gain of six.
Five plays later, with MU on West Virginia’s 33, Bryant again delivered while under duress, this time to Parker for a 18-yard gain.
Left tackle Yasir Durant couldn’t stop WVU defensive end Darius Stills, leaving Bryant exposed. Bryant twirled out of Still’s tackle attempt, regained his composure and fired downfield to Parker, a Blue Springs graduate, to WVU’s 15-yard line.
“He bailed us out a couple of times,” Durant said after Saturday’s win. “It was huge for us the whole day.”
Watching from afar, Parker said he could tell Bryant knew he was open. But when Parker started to see the pocket collapse, he improvised so he could hold his field position. When Parker saw Bryant escape, he said he knew the ball was coming to him.
“Once he released it, I was like, ‘It’s all mine now,’” Parker said.
Parker’s thought process to stay open has been something Missouri’s offensive personnel has been adjusting to since Bryant arrived on campus in January. When Drew Lock was MU’s quarterback, the offense hardly had any designed runs for him because the system was built around Lock’s arm strength.
Under Bryant, Missouri’s wideouts have learned to follow his lead to keep plays alive by constantly looking for ways to get open.
“That changes things for us,” MU receiver Barrett Banister said. “You get a guy like Kelly that can extend plays like that, there’s a lot of stuff going on for (defensive backs) back there and receivers. It’s easier to find holes when things are running around.”
Two plays after finding Parker, Bryant connected with tight end Albert Okwuegbunam for their second touchdown of the day. This time, MU left a man unmarked, allowing West Virginia to get immediate pressure in the pocket. Bryant shook off the defender, stepped up and fired a 16-yard pass to Okwuegbunam that helped put MU up 24-0.
On Missouri’s final drive of the first half, Bryant had two more highlights with his legs to cap off his best quarter in an MU uniform. With MU at the Mountaineers’ 19 facing second and 10, Bryant found no receivers open. Bryant shuffled to his right to find Durant blocking for him, so he changed direction and rushed for a 12-yard gain to set up first and goal.
Bryant said the play summed up some of the problems he’s run into when scrambling at MU. He said on Tuesday that he’s still learning when to take off. Multiple times, Bryant said, he’s scrambled and then realized he gave up on his line too early and made the play harder on himself.
“I feel every time I scramble my O-line keeps giving me protection,” Bryant said. “I think the biggest thing for me is to try and eliminate negative plays.”
After his 12-yard run, one of Bryant’s most impressive plays was called dead for forward progress. On second and goal from the 7, West Virginia blitzed seven rushers, overwhelming the line almost immediately. Left unprotected with three Mountaineers coming at him, Bryant squirmed out of their tackles, giving him a wide-open path to the end zone. But the officials called the play dead and ruled it a sack, resulting in a loss of 11, despite no part of Bryant’s body ever hitting the ground. Bryant aired his frustration with officials, but the call stood.
Bryant found Bannister in the end zone two plays later, extending the lead to 31-0.
Missouri coach Barry Odom was careful to overly praise Bryant’s performance because the offense only scored one touchdown in the second half. Odom knew Bryant would be able to extend plays when he was recruiting him, he didn’t know just how hard he would be to stop.
“He’s a tough guy to tackle,” Odom said.