By Garrett Jones
Nick Bolton says he has the best hands on the Missouri defense, and on Saturday, he had a chance to prove it.
“As of right now, I’m leading the team in interceptions,” Bolton joked postgame.
Missouri’s linebacker read West Virginia backup Jack Allison like a book on his second interception of the day and returned it back for a 20-yard pick-six, the first score of his career. It was the finishing touch on a 38-0 domination of the Mountaineers in the Tigers’ home opener.
Bolton was a big part of a dominant defensive performance that saw the Tiger defense hold West Virginia to a measly 171 yards- and a near shutout if not for a late Mountaineer score. Offensively, Missouri thrived again.
For the second straight game, quarterback Kelly Bryant was the best player on the field. He threw 3 first-half passing touchdowns on the way to an efficient performance. Backup Taylor Powell took over under center before the end of the third.
Bryant finished 17-25 passing with 150 yards and the three scores. It was the first time he’d hit that number since he was Clemson’s starting quarterback against The Citadel on Nov. 18, 2017.
Where Missouri’s secondary was its biggest struggle in its week one loss, it was its strong suit on Saturday. Bolton and Ronnell Perkins both intercepted West Virginia quarterback Austin Kendall off two separate deflections in the first half.
Missouri also limited the ‘big play’- West Virginia’s longest rush from scrimmage was 9-yards. In last week’s game, the Tiger defense gave up two 60-plus yard touchdown runs.
The Mountaineers recorded an abysmal 24 total rushing yards in their week one win over James Madison- and had even worse luck against a vaunted Missouri front. The Tigers held West Virginia to just 30 yards on the ground, and sacked Kendall three times.
It was also the debut of Memorial Stadium after the offseason remodeling of the south end zone facilities. Saturday’s attendance was announced at 51,000-plus- and head coach Barry Odom said the crowd had a big impact.
“I could feel the energy on big plays,” Odom said. “That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Missouri was held back by penalties throughout the afternoon, but it had such a large lead for the entirety of the game, it didn’t have a huge impact. Nonetheless, The Tigers were penalized 10 times for 100 yards.
“We need to correct the habit and fundamental of our technique,” Odom said. “We’ve had officials at practice just about every day. That’s helped, but we need to keep coaching.”
Missouri improves to 1-1 with the win. The team is back in action next week against Southeast Missouri State at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6:30 PM.