COLUMBIA, Mo. — With another stifling defensive performance and enough offense to build a comfortable cushion, Missouri had no trouble with Troy on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. But the Tigers’ season might have taken an ugly turn on their final possession of the first half in a 42-10 victory.
After quarterback Kelly Bryant unloaded a pass that went for a touchdown, Troy defensive tackle Travis Sailo tackled him low and grabbed his left leg, causing Bryant to fall backward and land awkwardly. After the team's medical staff visited him on the field, Bryant walked to the sideline and headed to the locker room. He did not return to the field as backup Taylor Powell closed the game.
After his team’s fourth consecutive win, Tigers coach Barry Odom was hopeful but cautious.
“I know that Kelly's getting checked out now and he did at halftime. I’ll hopefully find something out later tonight,” Odom said. “He was in great spirits. Our docs seemed like it was good news, but I don't want to go there until I get it confirmed.”
On the run-pass option play that knocked Bryant out of the game, he connected with Jalen Knox for a 6-yard touchdown as he crumpled to the turf. Offensive guard Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms had pushed Sailo in the back before the collision, but Troy’s defensive lineman not only hit Bryant low but wrapped his arm around Bryant’s left leg and hung on as Bryant toppled over backward. Sailo was flagged for a personal foul.
“The only things I heard was the crowd start booing,” center Trystan Colon-Castillo said. “I heard Kelly give kind of an, ‘Ahhhh’ noise. Immediately when you hear those kinds of things some panic goes through (you) a little bit. . . . I saw him on the ground holding his knee and was like, ‘Wow, this is not good whatsoever.’”
Bryant wasn’t made available to the media after the game.
“He was smiling, goofing around (in the locker room),” Colon-Castillo said. “I hope everything turns out fine.”
“He said he’s going to be fine,” left tackle Yasir Durant said. “It’s just the next man up. If Taylor happens to play next week, then we have to keep it rolling. . . . Kelly is an upbeat guy. He’s never going to let anyone see him sweat. He’s still smiling and laughing with me.”
In front of 50,023, the smallest crowd of Mizzou’s four home games, Bryant finished the half with 221 yards passing and three touchdowns and added a rushing score. Should Bryant be unavailable for next Saturday’s homecoming game, against Mississippi, it will be Powell’s first career start.
“It starts with self confidence at the quarterback position. I’m pretty confident in myself,” Powell said after completing six of eight passes for 57 yards in four scoreless second-half possessions. “I’m ready to go. If Coach needs me, if the team needs me, I’m ready to go.”
If Bryant misses significant time it would continue a trend that’s haunted teams across the SEC East. South Carolina, Kentucky and Florida have lost their starting quarterback for the season because of various injuries. For his career, Powell has completed all of 13 passes in nine games.
“I feel confident with Taylor,” Colon-Castillo said. “Obviously there’s things Taylor can’t do that Kelly can do running the ball and things like that with his feet. But if you told me Taylor would be the starting quarterback next week, I wouldn’t be like, ‘Oh, (shoot).’ I’d be pretty OK with it.”
Shortly after the game, the conversation of Bryant’s injury quickly turned to the hit itself. Asked if Sailo’s hit on Bryant was a dirty play, Odom chose his words carefully.
“I should probably see it (on replay),” he said. “It was a low tackle. I’ll take a look at it then have an opinion after that. . . . I’ve learned to take a step back before I say something that I probably shouldn’t.”
Odom took out most of his established starters for the second half because, he said, of the lopsided score and to protect his players from a game that turned chippy throughout the first half. Before he left the game, Bryant took a couple shots along the Mizzou sideline on plays that could have been flagged for Troy penalties, including one blatant shot to the helmet.
“We’ll be able to look on video and see how far or where he was on the field,” Odom said. “I know there were plenty of guys who had eyes on it, so they saw it the way they did.”
The Tigers (4-1) could afford to keep it conservative in the second half with another dominant performance from its defense. After a game-opening hiccup on the first drive, Mizzou held Troy's usually explosive attack scoreless for nine straight possessions until giving up a field goal late in the third quarter.
Before Bryant’s injury overshadowed the rest of the game, Cale Garrett stole the spotlight — again. Missouri's senior linebacker intercepted Troy passes on consecutive drives in the second quarter, returning the second one for a touchdown, his third straight game with a TD. The Tigers have scored five defensive touchdowns this season and have returned a pick for a score in four straight games.
"He's playing really, really well," Odom said of Garrett. "Hit the record button on what I said two weeks ago. . . . His instinctual feeling of how to go play is off the charts. He's the heart and soul of our team."
Garrett's defense will look to extend its scoring streak next week against the Rebels. But will Bryant be on the field, too?