The Star-Tribune is taking an early look at each of Wyoming’s opponents in the order they appear on the Cowboys’ 2019 schedule. First up are the Missouri Tigers.
LARAMIE — Losing a high-round draft pick at quarterback usually leaves that team with questions as to what’s next at the position.
Wyoming’s opening opponent is a rare exception.
Whether Missouri can duplicate the production of Drew Lock this fall remains to be seen, but the Tigers have their answer at quarterback in Kelly Bryant. Wyoming will be the first team to get an up-close look at the Clemson transfer when the Cowboys host an SEC team at War Memorial Stadium for only the second time in program history Aug. 31.
Bryant was arguably the nation’s most sought-after graduate transfer when he decided to leave Clemson last year. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder started the first four games last season and went 16-2 as a starter for the Tigers before losing his job to true freshman Trevor Lawrence, who went on to lead Clemson to its second national title in three seasons.
Meanwhile, Bryant never took another snap for the defending national champions and ultimately chose Missouri over Auburn and North Carolina among others for his final season of eligibility. It seemed as if Bryant might have another decision to make when Missouri was hit with a one-year bowl ban in January as a result of NCAA rules infractions, but rather than choosing to relocate yet again, Bryant stayed at Missouri and was named the Tigers’ starting quarterback before the start of spring practice.
Bryant will bring a different dimension to Missouri’s offense than the strong-armed Lock, a four-year starter who finished his Missouri career as the second-leading passer in school history before being taken by the Denver Broncos with the 42nd overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Bryant, who accounted for 158 total yards in the first half of Missouri’s spring game, ran for 973 yards and 16 touchdowns during his time at Clemson in addition to completing 66.2 percent of his passes.
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Bryant will have help from an offensive line that returns three starters and a backfield with experience. Larry Rountree III is back after leading the Tigers in rushing (1,216 yards, 11 TDs) a season ago while Tyler Badie is a change-of-pace back that contributed last season as a true freshman.
Bryant also won’t have any shortage of targets in a passing game that ranked third in the SEC last season. Missouri has arguably the league’s most talented tight end in Albert Okwuegbunam, whose 6-5, 255-pound frame makes him a difficult matchup for most defenses. Johnathan Johnson is back on the outside after leading the Tigers with 737 receiving yards last season, rising sophomores Jalen Knox and Kam Scott combined for 633 receiving yards and five touchdowns a season ago, and the Tigers added another playmaker out wide in Arkansas transfer Jonathan Nance.
The Tigers will need Bryant and company to produce at a high level if a defense that finished in the bottom half of the SEC in yards and points allowed last season isn’t better.
Defensive lineman Terry Beckner Jr. and sack leader Terez Hall were two of the more disruptive players in Missouri’s front seven a season ago, but both are off to the NFL. Former Texas defensive tackle Jordan Elliott will be counted on to take another step in his development while leading tackler Cale Garrett (112) is back as the defense’s unquestioned leader at linebacker.
The back end was the Achilles heel last season for a defense that gave up more passing yards than anybody in the SEC (262 per game). The good news for the Tigers is they return their top two cornerbacks, DeMarkus Acy and Christian Holmes, as well as experience at safety in Tyree Gillespie and Joshuah Bledsoe.
Missouri went 8-5 overall last season, which included a 40-13 win over Wyoming in the first-ever meeting between the teams. Wyoming has yet to knock off a Power Five opponent under sixth-year coach Craig Bohl.