COLUMBIA, Mo. — It has been more than six years since Missouri started a backup quarterback because of an injury to the starter. The last time was in 2013, when a shoulder injury to James Franklin thrust Maty Mauk into the lineup for a four-game stretch.
That was after he came in midway through an October afternoon at Georgia.
The Tigers’ continuity at the game’s most important position has been extraordinary, especially considering the streak of quarterback injuries through the Southeastern Conference this season alone. Heading into Saturday’s game in Athens, Ga., Mizzou (5-3, 2-2 SEC) and No. 6 Georgia (7-1, 4-1) are the only SEC East teams to start the same QB each week.
That could change if Kelly Bryant doesn’t recover from a strained hamstring by Saturday’s 6 p.m. (St. Louis time) kickoff at Sanford Stadium. He’s listed as Missouri’s starter on the team’s updated depth chart. But four days ahead of the Tigers’ next game, Bryant said Tuesday he wasn’t certain he’ll play. He put himself at 75 percent.
“It’s feeling better day by day,” Bryant said. “I feel like every day it’s getting better. I just have to continue to rehab it, and I’m just making sure that I’m not putting myself out there if I can’t go. If I can go, I’ll go.”
Asked if his mobility might be limited if he plays at Georgia, Bryant indicated that he won’t play unless he’s able to be the same running threat out of the pocket. Bryant also is recovering from a sprained knee suffered against Troy last month. He left that game at halftime after getting tackled by the leg late but returned to play the next week against Mississippi.
“If I’m going to play, I’m going to make sure that I can do all the things I’ve done all year,” Bryant said. “If I can’t, if I don’t feel confident, I’m not going to put myself out there.”
If the Tigers were playing a game Tuesday, Bryant “wouldn’t be out there,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said.
“We’ll take it day to day,” Odom added. “I think he is a fast healer. I have learned that. I know he was anxious during practice today to do a lot more. . . . He’ll do more (Wednesday) and then we’ll take it from there.”
Odom said Bryant and backup Taylor Powell split snaps evenly on Tuesday. The staff will continue to monitor Bryant’s progression and divide the practice reps accordingly, Odom said.
“You’ve got to make sure that there’s enough reps spread out that the next guy up can go in and has been trained well enough through the week to go prepare,” Odom said. “The benefit for us as we had last week that we got a ton of reps for Taylor in that situation.”
Bryant is coming off his two worst games since transferring to Missouri from Clemson in the offseason. He followed some strong performances in five straight home wins with rough outings, in losses at Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Bryant injured the hamstring on MU’s second series at Kentucky on Oct. 26 then played the next seven possessions before leaving the game for good in the third quarter. For the season, Bryant has completed 62.2 percent of his passes for 14 touchdowns, with five interceptions while rushing for 205 yards and a score.
On Powell’s best drive after replacing Bryant at Kentucky, the redshirt sophomore led the offense into the red zone but couldn’t convert a fourth-down pass.
“He’s ready,” offensive coordinator Derek Dooley said. “He knows the offense well. He can see defenses. He’s just got to get out there and perform.”
“I’ve had great confidence in him,” Odom said. “He’s worked extremely hard. He’s always prepared like he’s going to be the starter. He’s got the respect of his teammates. I know he will go play really well. We need the guys around him to play well and he’ll efficiently run the offense the way we need to.
“I talked to him today out in practice (and said), ‘We don’t have to do anything special. OK? We need to need to efficiently move the ball and find ways. Don’t force the throw if it’s not there. Throw the checkdown if that’s where we need to go. And more than anything, show the confidence that you’ve trained and you’re ready to go.’ He can get us out of calls with the check system that we’ve got built in so he understands it, the football knowledge side of it. He’s going to be in good shape. He’ll be ready to go.”
For his career, Powell has completed 17 of 40 passes for 242 yards. He’s gotten his most extensive action in the two games Bryant left because of injuries, completing 10 of 18 passes for 91 yards against Troy and Kentucky.
Bryant said he had “a ton of confidence” in Powell.
“He just puts himself in that position like he’s going to play every rep,” Bryant said. “He’s a veteran now. He knows this offense. It’s his second year in this offense with Coach Dooley. Everyone knows he can play and can execute at a high level.”
When he met with reporters Monday in Athens, Georgia coach Kirby Smart talked as if his team will face Bryant on Saturday. That could change.
“He has a lot of experience in big games,” Smart said. “It’s not like he hasn’t played in big games and been in these kind of stadiums. He’s been in the SEC and also played at Clemson. I got a lot of respect for the way he plays. He plays with toughness, passion, runs the ball, scrambles, makes a bunch of throws. Really good player.”