By Lauren Rosenberg
Clemson transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant and the hyped-up Missouri Tigers visited Sean Chambers and the Wyoming Cowboys in Laramie, Wyoming this past Saturday. The Tigers came into this game with high hopes and expectations set for a blowout win, especially with a former ACC champion quarterback taking the reigns of an already explosive, post-Drew Lock offense.
The Tiger defense started off strong, ending the first drive of the game, Wyoming’s possession, with a three-and-out. Bryant then started the Tigers offense off hot by gaining complete control of the game on his opening drive. The offense started on the Wyoming 35 yard line and marched their way downfield for an eventual 3-yard touchdown pass to former Arkansas wide receiver, Jonathan Nance. The Mizzou defense then did their job once more and forced a three-and-out to immediately give possession back to Bryant and the crew. The offense again marched down the field and scored on a 2-yard touchdown run by running back Larry Rountree.
And then Wyoming started to maintain control.
Chambers and the Cowboy offense marched down the field looking to get on the board. On third down and two, Chambers had an opportunity to get a touchdown but threw the ball on the turf, way out of reach for intended receiver John Okwoli. Instead, they settled for a field goal.
On Missouri’s first play of the next drive, Bryant attempted to scramble left and fumbled the ball, forced by strong safety Esais Gandy, for a loss of 5 yards. Cowboy cornerback C.J. Coldson recovered the ball and sprinted for a 30 yard touchdown.
Wyoming’s defense continued to wake up, and they forced a quick three-and-out on Missouri’s offense. The following Wyoming possession was over in 14 seconds. The Cowboys were up for the first time all game by a score of 17-14 after running back Xazavian Vallady burst up the middle and exploded for a 61-yard touchdown run.
However, it was not doomsday for the Tigers yet. The offense was able to tie the game at 17 a piece through a 22-yard field goal by kicker Tucker McCann. Shortly after, Missouri’s defense got torn to shreds.
Chambers stiff-armed some defenders and exploded for a 75-yard touchdown run, the longest of his career, down the left sideline. Following that, Rountree fumbled on the 2-yard line, forced by linebacker Chad Muma, and the ball is recovered by strong safety Alijah Halliburton. A footrace between Halliburton and Bryant ensued, which resulted in a Bryant tackle and an 84-yard run to the Mizzou 6 yard line. A 23-yard field goal conversion ended the first half, with the Cowboys leading 27-17.
The Tigers started the second half completely stagnant. They weren’t able to produce on either the offensive or defensive sides. The run defense was getting so heavily exposed and split open by Wyoming’s run game that it seemed the Cowboys were competing in a track meet against themselves. Bryant threw an interception to linebacker Cassh Maluia in the endzone which led to a Tiger defensive beating by the run-heavy Cowboy offense.
Chambers and co. ran down the field for what seemed like forever in this game: Chambers ran for 26 yards up the middle, running back Titus Swen ran for 18 yards and running back Trey Smith gained an accolade with his first ever career touchdown, a 2-yard run, to extend the Cowboy lead by 17.
Heading into the fourth quarter it seemed all but over for Missouri. The offense wasn’t producing and the defense looked lost on their ability to stop the run. But Bryant wasn’t an ACC champion without reason. He rallied his team after the defense forced a three-and-out, and with the help of wide receiver Richaud Floyd’s 43-yard punt return, Bryant ran for 13 yards, followed by a beauty of a pass to Okwuegbunom for 12 yards to end at the 1 yard line. Running back Tyler Badie completed the four-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Following this, the Missouri defense was able to hold Wyoming’s offense to a 20-yard field goal.
Bryant was now working with a favorable clock but still needed to get a touchdown, nothing less, to ensure there was still time for a comeback. The transfer connection struck again with Bryant completing a pass to Nance in the middle of the field. Nance broke a few tackles and off he went down the right sideline to the endzone for a 53 yard catch-and-run touchdown. The Tiger defense again did its job and was able to stop Wyoming to give Mizzou a chance to redeem themselves and not flop.
The Tigers started at their own 25 yard line with 2:19 left to go in regulation. Bryant completed two passes for 13 and 5 yards, respectively, to wide receivers Jalen Knox and Jonathon Johnson. Wide receiver Barrett Banister’s catch up the middle for 20 yards charged up the momentum for two more passes to Johnson and Badie for 7 and 6 yards, respectively. Time was ticking. Bryant ran for 4 yards and then was sacked the following play by defensive end Josiah Hall for a loss of 6 yards. Missouri called a timeout with 41 seconds left on a third and 12. Bryant had two chances left to stop the Cowboy upset.
On third and 12, he threw an incomplete pass to Nance. His last hope was long gone right when the ball was snapped. Bryant had to scramble all over the backfield trying to look for an open receiver that never appeared. He took a chance and threw a lob pass right down the middle to a triple-covered Johnson that was well beyond his reach. The Cowboys ended the game in victory formation and spoiled Kelly Bryant’s Mizzou debut, also snapping head coach Craig Bohl’s 0-8 losing streak against Power-5 programs.
If two things were to be taken from this mess of a game, it should be Missouri’s run defense and Kelly Bryant’s leadership.
Missouri’s run defense was knocked and thrown around like a cowboy riding a bull at the rodeo. The pass defense did what they needed to do by only allowing Chambers to complete 6/16 passes for 92 yards and zero touchdowns, but the run defense allowed him to trounce all over them for 120 yards, 118 yards from Valladay, 297 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in total. With a very talented interior defense like Missouri’s, giving up almost 300 yards to a mediocre offense is inexcusable for a team bidding for the SEC East Championship title.
But, in this game you also have to give credit to Kelly Bryant. He never gave up, even despite the scoreless third quarter and turnovers. Bryant showed tenaciousness in leading a fourth quarter comeback and almost miraculously coming back against a team that they were originally 18-point favorites over. Despite the atrociousness of the game as a whole, Bryant threw for a career high 423 yards on 31/48 passing, along with two touchdowns, one interception and a fumble. Bryant’s ability to rally the team together to attempt a comeback on a game that should’ve been a Missouri blowout win shows the true signs of a leader who is ready to redeem himself and his squad.
Edited by Emma Moloney | firstname.lastname@example.org