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COLUMBIA, Mo. — Unless they’re concocting a smokescreen for the folks in Oxford, Miss., the Missouri Tigers gave every indication Tuesday that they expect quarterback Kelly Bryant to be in the starting lineup Saturday against Ole Miss. Bryant left Saturday’s win over Troy with what was later diagnosed as a sprained left knee, an injury that looked more serious at the time than the final diagnosis.

Fitted with a knee brace that he wore during Tuesday’s morning practice, Bryant said he expects to start Saturday’s homecoming game.

“Yeah, you know, I've just been testing out the brace, seeing how I move in it,” Bryant said. “I feel I'll be ready to play on Saturday, just making sure I’m on top of it, just doing extra rehab and on treatment on it.”

How did Bryant look in practice?

“He looks like Kelly Bryant,” offensive coordinator Derek Dooley said. “I think anybody that may have watched him today, if they didn't even know he got hit on Saturday, they wouldn't have noticed anything. He's got an extraordinary level of toughness, mentally and physically. So we're just really grateful he's back out here and he looks like himself. It's really a fortunate deal.”

The Tigers (4-1, 1-0 SEC) and Rebels (3-3, 2-1) kick off at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.

Tigers coach Barry Odom went as far to say Bryant had his best Tuesday practice of the season.

“That’s a good sign,” Odom said. “Now we need to have a really good Wednesday. I don’t think I’d change anything on what I just watched going into Saturday.”

On Mizzou’s final offensive play of the first half Saturday, Troy defensive tackle Travis Sailo slipped past left guard took Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms on a run-pass option play and took down Bryant from behind, grabbing his lower left leg well after Bryant released a pass for Jalen Knox. Bryant said he heard and felt “a pop” as he fell backward onto Sailo.

“The biggest thing is you try not to think about the worst, so I said a quick prayer when I was laying there,” Bryant said. “It could have been way worse. I'm just fortunate and blessed that it wasn’t major.”

Bryant said he could bend his knee by the time he walked into the locker room shortly before halftime. By then, he said, he was confident it wasn’t a major injury. An MRI later revealed a sprain, though MU hasn’t disclosed what ligament he injured or the severity of the sprain.

Bryant said he’d put his knee at 90 percent after Tuesday’s practice.

“You know, it's part of football,” Dooley said. “Every week you pray that nobody gets hurt. You're grateful. You can't ever take it for granted. It's just an unfortunate part. It's a violent game. We're just really grateful that it came out OK.”

Had the injury been worse and Bryant weren't available to start Saturday, it would be the first time Mizzou had to start a backup quarterback because of injury since midway through the 2013 season, when James Franklin missed four starts with a shoulder injury. The Tigers went 3-1 behind backup Maty Mauk that fall. Mauk started every game in 2014 and the first four games in 2015 until he was suspended, which launched Drew Lock's four-year run as the team's starting quarterback. Lock started the next 46 games, through the end of the 2018 season.

Sailo was flagged for roughing the passer on the play that knocked Bryant out of Saturday's game. In a game that got chippy early and led Odom to pull most of his starters early in the second half, Bryant didn’t think Sailo’s hit was malicious.

“I don’t think he tried to do it,” Bryant said. “He happened to dive and my leg happened to be right there. I wouldn’t classify it as a dirty hit. That’s just football.”

His head coach agreed.

“The kid beat our offensive lineman and he was straining to try to make a tackle,” Odom said. “It looked awful, but I didn’t think there was any intent there to injure a player.”

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