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Bryant expected to start for Missouri, but entire offense needs to bounce back

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Getting Kelly Bryant back is a good first step for the Tigers, but getting production from every part of the offense is the only way to knock off the Gators.

Missouri v Georgia Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Last week, Missouri’s quarterback situation was way up in the air.

Kelly Bryant was listed at the top of the depth chart last Tuesday ahead of the game against Georgia, though he said to reporters that day that his hamstring was only at about 75%. He then went threw warmups Saturday and had pads on the sideline, but he never saw the field as the Tigers fell 27-0 to the Bulldogs.

“It was hard (sitting out). It’e pretty much close to home, I had a lot of family members, but I trusted the coaches and the trainers,” Bryant said. “Just felt that it would be best for me just to hold out another week.”

In his place was Taylor Powell, who made his first college start. The redshirt sophomore wasn’t able to get Missouri on the scoreboard and didn’t play all that well, completing just 10 of 22 passes for 84 yards.

He only managed to lead the Tigers past midfield once while he was on the field, getting Missouri to Georgia’s 24-yard line during the second quarter, but he tried to throw to Albert Okwuegbunam in double coverage and got intercepted instead. Third-string Connor Bazelak entered in the fourth quarter and filled in admirably, throwing 8 for 12 for 84 yards.

But as head coach Barry Odom said during the SEC conference call Wednesday, Bryant is now as close to being fully healthy as he’s been in weeks, at least since three weeks ago against Kentucky but even possibly since exiting with a knee injury against Troy.

Barring a setback, Odom expects Bryant to start Saturday against Florida.

“I think he’s gotten clearance from our medical staff on being in a position to go play,” Odom said. “He looked good today running around, he was able to execute and function the way that we need him to, and I fully anticipate, unless there’s a setback, fully anticipate him playing and playing well.”

So the Tigers have their starting quarterback back in the fold, but his absence wasn’t the only reason the offense was so abysmal against the Bulldogs.

Missouri picked up 148 yards on 18 catches, but couldn’t string together enough receptions for a sustained drive. It didn’t help that Johnathon Johnson was out with an illness plus — as Odom revealed Tuesday — a shoulder strain that still has him limited in practice.

Okwuegbunam had four catches for 30 yards on nine targets (only one less than he had the previous three games combined), but dropped a couple of passes, continuing his inconsistency holding onto the ball. Jonathan Nance had four catches for 45 yards and Barrett Banister had three catches for 31 yards, but no other receiver reached the 20-yard threshold.

Kam Scott — who ended up with just one catch for 10 yards — had an opportunity for the Tigers’ only big play of the night on a free play after a Georgia offsides, but the potential touchdown catch just hit off his fingertips for an incompletion.

“That was a tough break,” Powell said when asked if that play could have changed things. “I could’ve given Kam a better ball, also.”

The running back unit managed just 55 yards on the ground, but Dawson Downing’s average yards per carry of just 3.0 was still ahead of Larry Rountree III (2.7) and Tyler Badie (2.4). Rountree had a sprained toe that kept him out down the stretch, but that still doesn’t explain the unit’s struggles during the current three-game losing streak.

And that’s not to mention the offensive line — whose biggest positive on the stat sheet was limiting the Bulldogs to just two sacks — just can’t seem to open up any holes for the run game to get in a rhythm.

Fixing these issues is easier said than done, though, especially with Florida coming to Columbia on Saturday.

Missouri is 5-0 at home this season, but the Tigers can easily pick up their first loss against the Gators if the offense doesn’t figure out how to move the ball. The defense has been stout, embodying the idea of bending but not breaking, but the lack of offensive support has led to a string of road losses (two of which they were double-digit favorites).

Enough has been made of Missouri’s November success under Odom, because that doesn’t mean anything now that the Tigers are in the midst of their worst offensive stretch of football since 2017.

If the offense can put the road trip behind them and actually compete against the Gators (the team Missouri has beaten the last two years by at least three touchdowns), the Tigers could still have a shot at keeping their November success and undefeated home record alive.

“I still think we’re fighting. I definitely think we’re hungry,” Trystan Colon-Castillo said. “Obviously, we’ve all got a bitter taste in our mouth. Nobody likes losing, and right now we’ve lost three games in a row, so obviously that sucks. It’s not fun to come in the facility after a loss, everybody understands that, but we’re all going to come out and we’re going to keep working and we’re going to do everything we can to try and find a win.”