That’s the Missouri football team I expected to see this season. I have no idea what happened against Wyoming, but this team did not resemble the squad we saw in week one.
With that in mind, here are my top five takeaways from Missouri’s dominant 38-7 victory against West Virginia.
Welcome back, run defense
The defensive performance against the run last week was probably the most surprising aspect of the game. Mizzou finally made strides against the run last year, and all of it went away in week one.
Well, the run defense certainly looked good against West Virginia. Some of that is because the Mountaineers are... well... less than good. But I’m going to give some credit to the defense for allowing less than one yard per carry, and a total of -5 rushing yards through three quarters. That’s what a dominant performance looks like against a team you should take advantage of.
Missouri might have something in this linebacker duo.
One of the big questions going into the season is how Missouri would be able to fill the hole left by Terez Hall next to Cale Garrett. Nick Bolton was tasked with doing so... And it didn’t go particularly well in week one. Saturday was a different story. Bolton was everywhere. He officially finished the game with seven total tackles, two tackles for loss, two interceptions and one touchdown. I unofficially had him down for 327 tackles. Again, that was very unofficial.
But it wasn’t just Bolton in this game. Garrett looked like himself again. There was one drive in the first half when Garrett just destroyed the West Virginia offense on back-to-back plays, effectively ending the drive before it really began. There were never any true worries about Garrett, but if what we saw on Saturday from Bolton was real, this could be a really fun duo to watch in the weeks to come.
Kelly Bryant looks like the real deal.
Bryant has his weaknesses. He has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long sometimes. His designed runs have not been as effective as I’d hoped. But his ability to extend plays is phenomenal. And his ability to keep the offense on schedule with the short passing game has been better than expected.
Through 7 quarters, Bryant is now completing 66 percent of his passes for 573 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception. That means Bryant is on pace for 3,500 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and six interceptions. That would be one heck of a season. For context, Drew Lock finished last season with 3,500 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Missouri’s running game finally got on track.
The Tigers absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage in this game in a way you would expect a solid SEC team to do against a stumbling Big 12 foe. Larry Rountree III, Tyler Badie and Dawson Downing (!!!) combined for 227 rushing yards on 40 carries (5.7 yards per carry). That’ll play.
Looking a little bigger picture here, I’m ready to buy into any running back Barry Odom’s staff goes all-in on. The Tigers have “hit” on just about every target they’ve recruited heavily since they arrived in Columbia. It feels like a new star back emerges every season. First it was Damarea Crockett, then Rountree, last year it was Badie. It looks like Downing may be the #3 running back for now, but I’m already excited to see what freshman Anthony Watkins can bring this year or in the future.
This is why I wasn’t willing to overreact to the loss at Wyoming.
We Tweeted a new over/under for Missouri after the game, setting the total at 8.5. After nearly 300 votes, 65 percent of the audience took the over.
I’ll take the over and run with it.
This is still a good team. Week one was not fun to watch. I’m not going to get into that anymore here— I wrote extensively about it earlier this week— but it didn’t alter the goals or expectations for this season.
The schedule sets up nicely. Next week is another tune-up game against SEMO. Then comes South Carolina. That’s where the season truly begins. 10-2 is very much still on the table, and 9-3 is now my expectation.
But the Tigers must play with the same defensive energy they had against West Virginia. The running game has to keep rolling like this. And Bryant can’t take a step back with his efficiency in the passing game. If all of that keeps up, we’re still in for a fun year watching - what I still believe - is the most likable Mizzou football team in years.
Settle in, friends. We’re in for a fun ride.