Kelly Bryant committing to Missouri over Auburn on Tuesday was a pretty huge deal.
ZouKeeper talk buddy Pete Scantlebury wrote a good piece on the ramifications for the Tigers’ program writ large, so, just to put another bow on it, Missouri went up against a traditional SEC power to procure the one-year services of a former starting quarterback of a College Football Playoff team and won.
No small potatoes.
Now I’m going to get into Bryant’s addition writ small. Excruciatingly, annoyingly, message board complainingly small. Because it’s what I do.
What does having Bryant do for Missouri’s 2019 offense?
To start generally, better things than Taylor Powell, Micah Wilson, Lindsey Scott, Jack Lowary or Connor Bazelak would have done. Not meant as a knock against those players, but just by sheer virtue of Bryant’s prior experience running a plus Power 5 offense competently for a year and a third.
(Sidebar: anybody want to place bets on how many of those aforementioned players will still be in Derek Dooley’s quarterback room with Bryant come fall camp? I’ll put the over/under at 1.5.)
Circling in more specifically, Bryant’s inclusion could move Dooley and the offense definitively in a more run-heavy direction for 2019, which is something Pete and I discussed on the season-ending podcast.
And which is something that, with two 1,000-yard rushers (Damarea Keener-Crockett and Larry Rountree) and a Murph Lite (Tyler Badie) returning to the backfield, does not seem like a bad idea at all.
I looked at how Clemson’s offense changed from 2016, when Deshaun Watson called the shots, to 2017, when Kelly Bryant took over.
Basically, most stat categories took a pretty precipitous fall: points and yards per game went down 15 percent, yards per play down 7 percent, pass yards per game down 30 percent, yards per pass down 12 percent, passer rating down 13 percent, pass plays per sack down 50 percent and plays per tackle for loss down 16 percent.
I mean, that’s to be expected. Watson was a finalist for the Heisman. He set the bar high.
Have you noticed what’s missing from all those doom and gloom stats, though? Clemson’s rushing metrics, which actually saw a boost under Bryant.
Those Tigers ran for 14 percent more yards per game, 9 percent more yards per rush and 43 percent more touchdowns per game. Counting sacks and lost yardage in the pass stats, they ran 52 percent of the time and got nearly 49 percent of their yards on the ground, bumps of 12 and 38 percent, respectively, from the previous year.
They also turned the ball over 50 percent less: once every 65.5 plays as opposed to once every 43.6 plays.
Doesn’t seem like a bad blueprint to follow for Missouri in 2019, right? Rely on a trio of dependable backs and a quarterback with wheels who doesn’t turn the ball over all that often?
I went ahead and set the Clemson differences to Missouri’s per-game stats this year and got a little something like this as a rough, extremely early projection for a 2019 offensive ballpark:
31.3 points, 72.2 plays (44.6 rush, 27.6 pass), 417.1 yards (225.5 rush, 191.5 pass), 5.78 per play (5.05 rush, 6.95 pass)
Not as explosive as this year, sure, but — with a resurgent defense — definitely enough to threaten the top half of the SEC East. Kind of reminds me of a more efficient 2014, with Bryant a better passer (and possibly runner) than Maty Mauk and the Crockett-Rountree-Badie triumvirate being at least as productive as Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough.
That team, remember, won its division.
I do have a note of caution, though. And the “recruiting rankings don’t matter” crowd might want to leave the room for this one.
Because they do. And I’m going to talk about them. Anybody still with me? Good.
Bryant inherited more talent, recruiting ranking-wise, at Clemson than he’s going to do at Missouri.
I looked back through Clemson’s 2017 stats and found the 19 key contributors around him on offense — 12 skill position players and seven offensive linemen.
Out of those 19, 68.4 percent (13) were four- or five-star recruits, according to 247Sports.com’s composite rankings.
How many of those guys can Bryant expect at Missouri next year? Say it with me now: 0.0 percent.
Crockett and Rountree, recruiting profile-wise, are not Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster. Johnathon Johnson, Jalen Knox and Jonathan Nance are not Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud and Tee Higgins. Shoot, Trystan Colon-Castillo and Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms are not FIVE-STAR tackle Mitch Hyatt or four-star guard Tyrone Crowder.
All very good players for Missouri, yes. Not Clemson-caliber when it comes to recruiting prestige.
(Bryant even had even had Missouri beat in scrappy underdog stories at Clemson, with former walk-on and championship game hero Hunter Renfrow.)
You know where 2019 Missouri will have 2017 Clemson beat, though? Experience.
Missouri key contributors are returning 161 starts on offense, as opposed to 109 for Clemson. The Columbia Tigers have the edge in career starts per player across the line (15.0 to 11.9) and have a huge advantage in career returning starts per player at the skill positions (7.82 to 2.17). Oh, and I added projected starts to people who started the Arkansas game for the bowl game as well to come to my totals.
Experience and an offensive framework that seems conducive to heading in a direction that plays into Bryant’s talents.
Not a bad place to start.
Here’s my work, if you wanted to see: