COLUMBIA, Mo. — Hope hinges to the hinges that connect the rest of Kelly Bryant’s body to his magic feet.
And they fill Drew Lock’s shoes quite nicely.
“It changes things for us,” Mizzou receiver Barrett Banister said. “It brings a great aspect to our offense.”
Much is made about Bryant’s brain and brawn and arm, but these feet are game-changers. They are exceptional extremities. And in the new quarterback’s home opener, Bryant’s footwork created offense in ways we haven’t seen on Faurot Field in a while. It reassured the fan base and resuscitated the season, as Missouri stomped all over West Virginia, 38-7.
“He’s an explosive play waiting to happen,” Mizzou linebacker Cale Garrett said. “His ability to extend the play is crazy. It’s really impressive. And just that run threat – it’s certainly something that other defenses have to account for. It adds another layer to the game. That’s the biggest thing. And it adds to his ability to make throws down the field, if he’s able to extend the play.”
Now, while we’re talking about Bryant’s feet, it’s not necessarily in regards to just rushing. He actually finished with five ground yards in the game. It’s about how his feet give his offensive options – while not literally running the option.
Three plays defined this.
Play No. 1 was on a second down in the second quarter.
Mizzou was 17 yards from the first-down marker, courtesy of yet another Mizzou penalty (perhaps more astounding than Bryant’s fleet feet was that Mizzou committed 10 first-half penalties, yet didn’t allow a first-half point).
“Whenever you’re in second-and-long right there,” the receiver Banister said, “a lot of offenses are either going to drop-back or have a screen game. When you’ve got a guy like Kelly who can extend plays like that, there is a lot of stuff going on back there for defensive backs, and for receivers it’s easier to find holes out there when he’s running around. You saw that happen with Daniel.”
Daniel is Daniel Parker Jr., the Missouri tight end who was, admittedly, pretty pleased with his route run … but then he saw Bryant “in a jam.” The jam was a mauling defensive lineman with two hands on the quarterback.
“Knowing Kelly,” Parker Jr. said, “I figured he was going to escape it. That’s why I kept running my route.”
Bryant suddenly did both the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers parts of the Missouri Waltz, going both forward and backward to shake off the nose tackle’s tackle. Suddenly unfettered, Bryant spotted Parker Jr. What could’ve been a 10-yard loss turned into an 18-yard gain – just enough for the first down.
“Having that elusiveness he has?” running back Tyler Badie said. “It shocks me sometimes. I was blocking, and I hear the crowd go crazy. I’m like, ‘Oh dang, Kelly got out!’ He just bounced out, and I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get my block!’ It’s definitely different.”
Play No. 2 was two plays later.
The quarterback back-peddled in the pocket, as an untouched Mountaineer bee-lined for Bryant. Sack for sure. Except Bryant planted his feet and did a slide-shuffle to the side. Before you could comprehend how he wasn’t sacked, he zipped a 16-yard touchdown pass to Albert Okwuegbunam, Parker’s partner at tight end.
Play No. 3?
Bryant was sacked.
Yet it might have been his most-impressive play of the day.
A Mountaineer bulldozed up the gut, violently colliding with Bryant. Somehow, Bryant remained calm. Cool, even. The quarterback kept his feet moving while being shoved 10 yards, and then curled away and free.
It was inexplicable “escapability.”
But … they blew the play dead. Mizzou coach Barry Odom said the official told him that “his forward progress had stopped.” But it sure didn’t look that way. It was called a sack. But probably not one the Mountaineer will be showing off about over a beer.
“Some plays you think are just done for, and he just runs around,” Banister said of Bryant. “It’s just always being ready. Kelly can run around and it can be four or five seconds before he throws that ball. Whenever he’s out there running around, we always just have to give him and option, and if he decides to turn and run, we have to block for him. He can take it the full distance.
“I remember our first fall camp scrimmage. The quarterbacks are in the yellow jerseys. But he broke loose on a play and he turned around the edge of the left side line of scrimmage. He got up on the sideline – and he took off. They blew the play dead, because obviously they didn’t want anything to happen to him, but he ran for the first time I’d really seen him run. I turned to (associate director of athletic performance) Corey Smith. We looked at each other. And I said, ‘Hoooooooly smokes. He’s running like a running back.’”