LARAMIE, Wyo. – In what was supposed to be Kelly Bryant’s grand debut as Mizzou’s one-year wonder at quarterback, the Wyoming Cowboys turned the Tigers into rodeo clowns Saturday night and planted their branding iron square on Mizzou with a scorching letter L.
Wyoming 37, Missouri 31.
This one’s going to sting for a bit.
Favored by 18 points against a Mountain West Conference team they steamrolled 40-13 last year in Columbia, the Tigers turned the ball over three times, wilted against Wyoming’s running game and might have squandered an offseason of goodwill that had fan enthusiasm at its highest in years.
Instead, it was the Wyoming fans who rushed the field at War Memorial Stadium as the Tigers (0-1) now limp home with their second loss to a team outside of the Power 5 conferences under Barry Odom. For Wyoming, it was the Cowboys' first win in 10 tries against a Power 5 team under coach Craig Bohl. The program's last win over a Power 5 team came in 2008 at Tennessee.
“It’s a reality check. It’s a wake-up call. It’s all of that,” linebacker Cale Garrett said. “You can have all the preseason hype you want about how good you’re supposed to be, but at the end of the day you’ve got to line up and play and get wins on the field.”
Mizzou will have to wait another week for that to happen as West Virginia (1-0) visits Memorial Stadium on Saturday, the first of five straight home games for the Tigers. In the locker room Odom’s players quickly turned the attention to the rest of the season that lies ahead.
“We can’t be too down on ourselves,” defensive tackle Jordan Elliott said. “All we can do is move on. We’ve got 11 games to play. We can’t go back in time.”
For Bryant, in his first game since leaving Clemson four games into the 2018 season, he gave the Tigers everything they could have asked for as Drew Lock’s successor. He passed for a career-high 423 yards, threw two touchdowns and used his legs to extend plays outside the pocket. But he had two costly turnovers and didn’t get enough from his supporting cast, especially a running game that struggled to control the line of scrimmage after the opening two series. The Tigers averaged just 2.7 yards per carry on the ground. After a fumble on the goal line on the final play from scrimmage in the first half, starting running back Larry Rountree mysteriously disappeared from the game plan the rest of the game and watched Tyler Badie get most of the work the rest of the night.
“I need to guard on some comments before I look at the video, but I didn't think we established the run," Odom said. "I thought we were going to be able to do that."
As poorly as things went for Odom’s team, Bryant gave the Tigers a chance in the final minute, driving the offense as deep as Wyoming’s 20-yard line. But with 41 seconds left, things imploded. He got sacked on second down and misfired on his final two passes.
“We drove all the way down and collapsed,” center Trystan Colon-Castillo said. “It definitely hurts. It (stinks). But it’s something we’ve got to learn from.”
The Tigers had showed some fourth-quarter pluck after a dreadful second quarter. A 43-yard Richaud Floyd punt return set up a Badie touchdown. Then it was Bryant to Jonathan Nance for 53 yards, getting the Tigers back within a touchdown, 37-31 with 6:19 left.
But Mizzou’s jabs weren’t enough to overcome Wyoming’s early barrage of haymakers.
The second quarter was an absolute disaster for the Tigers, who watched the Cowboys (1-0) explode for a 27-3 rampage before the halftime break.
Four huge plays by the Cowboys, two on defense, two on offense, seemed to stun the Tigers into a stupor ... in a game Missouri led 14-0 before fans had settled into their seats.
After he led the Tigers to two early scores, the Bryant honeymoon went poof into the Laramie thin air. Out of an empty backfield, Bryant attempted a draw up the middle – only to be form-tackled and stripped by safety Esaias Gandy near the line of scrimmage. Cornerback C.J. Coldon, from Belleville, Ill., snatched the ball off the turf and raced 30 yards to the end zone. Nance had a chance to take him to the ground but inexplicably tried to strip the ball instead and missed Coldon completely.
“I should have tackled him,” Nance said. “That’s my fault.”
Wyoming punched the ball loose again late in the quarter, this time stripping Rountree just short of the goal line. Wyoming safety Alijah Halliburton scooped up the loose ball and sped the opposite direction as the clock turned to all zeroes. Bryant prevented a touchdown but drew a horse-collar penalty for dragging the Cowboy safety to the ground, giving Wyoming an untimed down to kick a field goal, good for a 10-point halftime lead.
The Tigers outgained Wyoming in total yardage 282-217 in the half and stopped the Cowboys on four of five third downs, but the two turnovers proved disastrous for the visitors. For the game, MU outgained Wyoming 537-389.
Missouri’s defense did its share to put the Tigers in the second-quarter deficit. Suddenly unable to handle any misdirection in the backfield, Mizzou gave up consecutive touchdown runs of 61 and 75 yards by running back Xazavian Volladay and quarterback Sean Chambers, respectively.
On a day when two of Missouri’s SEC East Division peers started their seasons with upsets — South Carolina lost to North Carolina and Tennessee went down in a blaze of orange flames against Georgia State — Mizzou dominated this one early. With a decided advantage along the line of scrimmage, the Tigers marched to their first touchdown of the season without much resistance from Wyoming in the trenches. In his first Mizzou series, Bryant was every bit the dual threat the Tigers expected. On and third and 2 in the red zone, he burst off the left corner on a read-option keeper and easily picked up 8 yards for a first down. Three players later, the graduate transfer connected with Mizzou’s other grad transfer, lofting a 3-yard touchdown to Nance. The Cowboys had Bryant corralled in the pocket but he calmly stepped through the carnage and found Nance for the score.
The Tigers kept their next possession alive with a fourth-and-1 conversion and later Rountree punched in a touchdown for a 14-0 lead.
It was all downhill from there.
“We were able to rally a little bit at the end,” Garrett said, “but we couldn’t overcome the hole we put ourselves in.”