COLUMBIA, Mo. — Kelly Bryant’s first game for Missouri didn’t go as planned in more ways than one. First, the obvious: The Tigers lost 37-31 to 18-point underdog Wyoming. But within Saturday’s upset in Laramie, Wyo., the graduate transfer from Clemson was far more effective with his arm than his legs. He threw for a career-high 423 yards while only running for 20 yards on 11 attempts.
Bryant had two costly turnovers — a fumble returned for a touchdown and an interception in the end zone — but offensive coordinator Derek Dooley was otherwise pleased with Bryant’s debut. His passing yardage was 11th-most in team history, third-most in a road game and the most ever in an MU quarterback's debut.
“You can't take away two plays. You can’t. That’s part of football,” Dooley said. “But he was exceptional in some other areas. He really was. We threw the ball for more yards than we did in any game last year. And I don't think anybody would have thought that going into game one. That's a tribute to how hard he's worked.
“He got knocked for not being able to throw the ball when he got here, right? (People said), ‘Quarterback can run but he can’t throw it.’ We were the opposite. Now, we gotta get the quarterback-run thing going. We can’t fumble. We were probably the opposite of what you all thought."
On those two turnovers, the fumble came on a quarterback draw out of an empty backfield formation. Bryant probably would have gotten to the turf cleanly had tight end Albert Okwuegbunam not whiffed on his block on the perimeter. Instead, safety Esisas Gandy got an open shot on Bryant. On the interception, Bryant made the mistake of scrambling left and throwing to his right, resulting in an underthrown ball to the end zone.
On MU’s potential game-winning drive, Bryant completed five of six passes running the hurry-up offense but stalled at the 20-yard line when he took a sack and threw two incomplete passes to end the game. MU coach Barry Odom said Bryant should have intentionally thrown a couple passes away on some of those botched plays but also cut his new QB some slack.
“Kelly hadn't played in a year basically,” Odom said. “But I thought out of the gate, he played pretty well. We always would like to have a couple back. We’ll learn from those and move on."
ALBERT O. BACK IN ACTION
Okwuegbunam’s first game back since breaking his scapula last fall wasn’t his best performance. He caught three passes for a team-high 72 yards but dropped a pass — it could have been ruled a fumble — and had a touchdown catch erased for offensive pass interference. But he exceeded Dooley’s expectations.
“I was actually impressed with his ability to play the number of snaps he did,” Dooley said. “I honestly didn't think he would be able to do that. So that was encouraging. … He didn't practice all spring. He really wasn't (ready) coming into training camp. Then he got hurt in training camp. And so I was it was good to see. And hopefully he can continue to kind of get back into that football shape.”
Okwuegbunam, a preseason All-American, missed some time in camp with a sprained knee.
“There were times that he played really well,” Odom said. “We need consistency out of Albert and all the all the guys at that position. … He practiced well today. And I think we'll get a better version week two than we got in the first week.”
ODOM DEFENDS STAFF
Two years ago after some shaky defensive performances and friction in the locker room, Odom fired coordinator DeMontie Cross two games into the 2017 season. The defense struggled through stretches Saturday, missing 13 tackles by the coaches’ count while allowing consecutive touchdown runs of 61 and 75 yards. On Tuesday, Odom didn’t sound like a coach on the verge of making staff changes. Ryan Walters is in his second full season as coordinator. Odom pointed out that on the second long TD run, by Wyoming quarterback Sean Chambers, two unblocked defenders missed wide-open tackles.
“I’ve got a lot of trust in those guys,” Odom said. “They're really, really good coaches. The thing they don't need right now is me to step in and think I've got all the answers. because I don’t. We had pretty good calls the other night. We’ve got to go execute. … We didn't get them ready to go play their best. They don't they don't need me stepping in and saying, ‘This is what I think.’ They’re invested. They’re really, really good coaches. They're going to get it right.”