COLUMBIA, MO. • Spring football has come and gone at Mizzou. Barry Odom’s team played a fairly clean spring game on Saturday — just one turnover and three penalties in 109 snaps — and gave the estimated crowd of 18,000 a sneak peek into the 2019 Tigers. The man under the brightest spotlight was new quarterback Kelly Bryant, who gave fans their first glimpse of the graduate transfer from Clemson. Let’s take a closer look at his performance.
In his one half of work, Bryant completed 12 of 17 passes for 150 yards. That’s a completion percentage of 70.6 percent and an efficiency rating of 144.7.
It’s such a small sample size, and it comes with one major caveat: Bryant was throwing against MU’s second- and third-team defenses. On the other hand, he was missing his two most experienced and most accomplished targets in tight end Albert Okwuegbunam and slot receiver Johnathon Johnson, along with backup tight end Daniel Parker Jr.
Bryant played four series and just one half. Double his numbers for a full game and he’s 24 of 34 for 300 yards. Twelve games like that won’t win you the Heisman, but 70-percent completion will move the chains up and down the field.
Here’s a closer look at some of Bryant’s splits, first taking into account how he performed throwing the ball different lengths:
On throws targeting receivers from the line of scrimmage to up to 5 yards, he was 4 of 4 for 23 yards.
On throws 6-10 yards, 4 of 6 for 40 yards.
From 11-15, 2 of 3 for 26 yards.
From 16-20, 1 of 2, 25 yards.
Beyond 20, 1 of 2 for 36 yards.
Let’s group some of those together:
From the line of scrimmage to 10 yards: 8 of 10 for 63 yards. 80 percent completion, 132.9 rating
From 11 yards and farther: 4 of 7 for 87 yards. 57.1 completion, 161.5 rating.
That’s in ideal split. You want your quarterback accurate on the short and intermediate throws and efficient on the longer attempts. One area of concern would be the red zone. Bryant led the Tigers inside the 20-yard line three times, scoring only one touchdown. He only attempted two passes in the red zone, both incompletions. His worst throw of the day came in the latter of those two red-zone attempts, when safety Mason Pack should have intercepted a pass near the goal line for Brendan Scales in double coverage.
Bryant did a good job of distributing the ball to all areas of the field. Mizzou worked out of an 11 package for almost every play with Bryant in the game: one running back, one tight end, three receivers.
On passes to his right outside receiver (Jalen Knox, Alex Ofodile), Bryant was 2 of 5 for 17 yards.
On passes to his left outside receiver (Jonathan Nance), Bryant was 3 of 3 for 48 yards.
On passes to his right slot receiver (Barrett Banister, Dominic Gicinto), he was 3 of 4 for 50 yards.
On passes to his left slot receiver (Gicinto, Banister), he was 3 of 2 for 23 yards.
On passes to his running back out of the backfield (Tyler Badie) he was 1 of 1 for 7 yards.
On passes to his tight end on the left side of the formation (Scales), he was 1 of 2 for 5 yards.
For a small sample size, that’s a healthy balance from one side of the field to the other.
Lastly, here’s how Bryant’s passes for each down:
First down: 6 of 9 for 96 yards
Second down: 3 of 4 for 30 yards
Third down: 3 of 4 for 24 yards
Bryant’s three longest completions all came on first down: the back-shoulder fade down the sideline to Nance for 25, the 36-yarder down the seam to Gicinto and a 15-yard crossing route to Nance.
All in all, a promising half of football for the veteran rookie.
Other takeaways ….
• The slimmed down Jordan Elliott was a constant problem for the backup offensive line. He consistently got a push inside without relying on any fancy pass-rush moves. Giving up about 25 pounds to the 6-7, 320-pound Mike Ruth, Elliott bull-rushed the redshirt freshman guard into the backfield straight into the quarterback for what went down as a sack. If he does that consistently this fall he’ll have a chance to enter the 2020 draft a year ahead of schedule.
• The top competition for the No. 1 defense appears to be at strong safety, the hybrid strongside linebacker/safety/nickelback position, where Ronnell Perkins and Khalil Oliver swapped series. Both are likely to play and could be deployed based on matchups or down and distance. The Tigers kept Perkins on the field for the game’s first third-and-long and he had to cover slot receiver Khmari Thompson on a deep ball down the seam. Odom has typically kept that position on the field for those situations, and with both Perkins and Oliver you have natural safeties on the field for coverage.
• The staff gave sophomore cornerback Jarvis Ware several chances with the No. 1 defense, first replacing starting corner Christian Holmes on the field side (far side) of the defense and then later in place of DeMarkus Acy on the boundary side (short side). Holmes and Acy make up the best cornerback duo Odom’s ever had at Mizzou, and both are likely to start and earn votes for preseason All-SEC, but the staff plans to use Ware this year, even once junior Adam Sparks is back from offseason leg surgery.
“That’s nothing circumstantial at all,” defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said of Ware’s playing time. “He’s earned it. He’s worked at it. He’s been blessed with some size and measurable that lend itself to having special traits. If he can maximize his potential he’s got a chance to be special.”
• Sophomore Trajan Jeffcoat and Jatorian Hansford are going to get chances to boost the pass rush from the defensive end position. They didn’t produce much last fall as freshmen. Walters expects that to change.
“Way more consistent,” he said. “Last season there was a lot of mental errors because it was all new. To see that cut way down — and we’re doing a lot with our front — but to see them handle it and play fast I like where they’re at.”
• The staff doesn’t seem to expect much drop-off from departed senior Terez Hall to sophomore Nick Bolton at the weakside linebacker position. Odom and his coaches raved about Bolton last August, when he edged some older backups for the No. 2 job behind Hall. Now he’s clearly a starter going into preseason. He played every snap for the Black defense on Saturday.
“A lot of times the offensive line can’t climb up to our WILL with things we do in the boundary and with our front, so you need a savvy player back there,” Walters said. “We had one in Terez and have one now in Nick who can make plays and stay off blocks and leverage the ball the right way.”
“He’s got a chance to be a special player,” Odom said. “The guy’s got all As in the classroom. He’s just dependable and cares about being really good. He works at it. He spends extra time. He’s a competitor. I’m excited to see how he’s going to continue to move on that role and grow and become a veteran in some sense.”
• Seeing the Tigers miss two field goals inside 30 yards on Saturday, Derek Dooley better spend the summer drawing up more red zone plays to get his receivers open in confined spaces.
• Even when Johnson is healthy, the Tigers have to find snaps from Banister. All he does is catch the ball and move the chains. Just call him Bryant’s new Hunter Renfrow.
• Odom made it clear the backup quarterback competition will continue into the offseason. Taylor Powell seemed like the safe bet in favor of Lindsey Scott Jr. considering Powell was Drew Lock’s backup last year and Scott didn’t make the travel roster. Neither was incredibly productive on Saturday. To Scott’s defense, he was playing behind the backup O-line and with backup playmakers against the starting defense, which puts more context into his 6 of 11 for 38 yards. Powell played with the starters on offense and against the backups and completed 10 of 20 passes for 142 yards and the day’s only touchdown pass — a 31-yarder to Kam Scott, who probably would have been ruled out of bounds with a replay review. The derby gets a third quarterback in the mix in June when Connor Bazelak moves to campus. The incoming freshman from Dayton, Ohio, was at the game Saturday and later visited with Dooley in the team facility. (Bazelak is clearly going to be the biggest QB on the roster in the fall. He’s every bit of his listed 6-4, 210 pounds).
• Back to Bryant. The Clemson transfer looks especially comfortable on designed sprint-outs, when Dooley gets him on the run out of the pocket. As noted in Saturday’s story, the staff is working hard with Bryant to refine some of his throwing mechanics, but far more often than not he gets the ball to his target. Once the Tigers are playing with a full playbook — they rarely changed formations Saturday and didn’t use any shifts or motions — Bryant will be able to dissect defenses with run-pass option plays.
“He’s so good out of the pocket,” Knox said last week. “He can roll out and make the same throws he can make inside the pocket. Having that extra option on read-option runs adds extra pressure on the defense because they really have to sit in there and read all their keys.”
That wasn’t the most impressive thing about Bryant’s spring game debut. The press corps grumbled after the scrimmage when Bryant never showed for media interviews at the team facility. But he wasn’t dodging questions. Instead, he was visiting with a crowd of special visitors who traveled all the way from Clemson to see him make his Mizzou debut. Several current Clemson players were on hand: receivers Tee Higgins, Diondre Overton and Cornell Powell, linebacker Isaiah Simmons and defensive lineman Jordan Williams. That says a lot about the respect Bryant earned in his three-plus years in the Clemson program and how much he still means to one of the nation’s elite programs.