Kelly Bryant leads high-flying Mizzou offense into Laramie
CHEYENNE – Let’s take a quick look at Wyoming’s non-conference football schedule.
Who do they have coming back? Where are their strengths, weaknesses? What are the chances the Cowboys come out with a win?
There are plenty of questions surrounding the Wyoming football program in Craig Bohl’s sixth season. Let’s see if we can at least get an early look at what the Cowboys will face in their first four games of the 2019 campaign.
Missouri Tigers, Southeastern Conference, 8-5 overall in 2018
WHO YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Well, there’s one name you probably already know – Kelly Bryant.
The quarterback transfer from Clemson enters his first and only season in Columbia as the starter, replacing Drew Lock, who was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the second round of last season’s NFL Draft. Bryant has big shoes to fill. Lock passed for 12,193 yards and 99 touchdowns.
Bryant is not too shabby himself.
He didn’t get a ton of playing time, sitting behind former first-round pick Deshaun Watson at Clemson, but when he did get on the field, he was dynamic.
He can sling it:
He can sprint:
In just 19 games with the Tigers in orange, Bryant amassed 3,338 yards, including 16 passing and rushing touchdowns, mostly in mop-up duty. The 6-foot, 4-inch, 220-pound signal caller played in just four games for Clemson last season before being unseated by Trevor Lawrence.
You remember him, right? He was the long-haired freshman who lit up Alabama in the National Championship game.
Just when most though the biggest question mark for Missouri was under center, Bryant could be even better.
Time will tell.
RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: (7)
Mizzou will return a bevy of talent on the offensive side of the ball, including three offensive linemen, starting running back, Larry Rountree III, and wide receivers, Jalen Knox and Johnathon Johnson.
The Tigers featured the third-best scoring offense in the Southeastern Conference and were No. 18 in the nation, averaging 36.6 points per game. The rushing attack, led by Rountree, was ranked 33rd in the country, eclipsing the 200-yard per game mark.
Lock led the 22nd-ranked passing attack in college football, averaging 279.4 yards per game through the air.
Rountree rushed for 1,216 yards on 275 carries and found the end zone 11 times for the Tigers.
He can scoot:
Johnson returns after hauling in 59 passes for 737 yards and five touchdowns, and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri’s second-leading receiver is back in the fold after a 43-catch, 466-yard season. He caught a team-high six receiving touchdowns.
RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: (6)
Both starting cornerbacks – DeMarkus Acy and Christian Holmes – return for the Tigers, along with both top defensive ends, Akial Byers and Chris Turner.
That’s not all.
The defensive line also returns Texas transfer, Jordan Elliott, who finished his sophomore season with 24 tackles, eight tackles for loss and three sacks. His 6-foot, 4-inch, 315-pound frame plugs up the middle of the Tigers’ defensive line.
Look at this monster:
Missouri featured the 22nd-ranked rushing defense in the nation in 2018, allowing just 126.5 yards per game. The passing defense, which should be better in 2019, was the Tigers’ Achilles heel last season, surrendering 262 yards per outing.
The Tigers allowed just 25.5 points per game, which was good enough for 50th overall in the country.
Surprisingly, Missouri compiled just 27 sacks last season. Turner had two. Byers finished with zero. The most came from Terez Hall (5), who is now a linebacker for the Patriots.
Cale Garrett might be the best Tiger defender returning in 2019. The senior middle linebacker leads the team with 264 tackles in his three-year career in Columbia. He finished with 112 last season.
Trajan Jeffcoat is another defender to keep an eye on. The former LSU Tiger is primed for a breakout season from the defensive end spot.
HOW 2018 WENT:
Head coach Barry Odom's Tigers started off 3-0 before dropping their first three SEC games to Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama.
The biggest win of the season came in Week 9 when Missouri went down to The Swamp in Gainesville and knocked off the Florida Gators, 38-17. The Tigers won their final four games to finish 8-5 overall and 4-4 in conference play.
In Lock's final game, Missouri was edged by Oklahoma State, 38-33, in the Liberty Bowl.
HISTORY WITH MISSOURI:
Last year, these two programs met on the football field for the first time in their histories.
It didn't go well for the road team.
Lock completed 33 of 45 passes for 398 yards and four passing touchdowns. The senior quarterback also rushed for another score in the 40-13 Missouri rout at Faurot Field last September:
The Tigers racked up 602 yards of total offense compared to just 248 for the Cowboys.
Jevon Bigelow scored the lone touchdown for Wyoming late in the third quarter and Cooper Rothe hit field goals from 51 and 36 yards out.
Emanuel Hall, who was a senior last season, hauled in a game-high 10 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown, while Johnson and Okwuegbunam each caught seven passes for a combined 111 yards and two scores.
Wyoming gave up two sacks and fumbled the ball twice in the loss.
Missouri will be solid.
Especially on offense.
Bryant will not rack up the yards Lock did, but he can tuck the ball and get where he's going in a hurry. And with the returning weapons at the skill positions -- plus, three veteran offensive linemen -- the Tigers could be a dark-horse team in the SEC East.
The defense will be stout, too. They always are. Having six returners on that side of the ball, plus help from guys with huge expectations like Elliott and Jeffcoat could really make Missouri a scary team this season.
However, how will this squad react to the sanctions handed down by the NCAA? A 29-page report that details academic cheating. A slap on the wrist that includes a bowl ban this season.
Will this squad play for a championship even though they have no legit shot of winning one? Will they take a step back?
The talent on this roster screams contender. It will be interesting to see how the Tigers respond to adversity. And it will come quick in 2019.
Missouri opens up at 7,220 feet of elevation in Laramie before hosting West Virginia of the Big XII Conference. The Tigers don't play Alabama this season, but they do get to travel to Kentucky and Georgia in back-to-back weeks in mid-October. They will host Florida and Tennessee late in the season before closing out at Arkansas.
GAME DAY INFO:
WHO: Missouri (0-0, SEC: 0-0) at Wyoming (0-0, MWC: 0-0)
WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019
TIME: 5:30 p.m. MST
WHERE: War Memorial Stadium, Laramie, Wyoming (capacity: 29,181)
TV: CBS Sports Network (Dish: 158, DirecTV: 221, Verizon Fios: 94, XFinity: 734)
ROSTERS: Wyoming I Missouri
BETTING LINES: TBD