[Editor’s Note: This column was written before the update on Kelly Bryant’s knee and the subsequent news of Cale Garrett’s season-ending injury.]
Whatever you think of his on-field performance, it’s hard to argue that Kelly Bryant has been all Missouri fans have wanted and more.
When Bryant committed to the Tigers in December 2018, Tiger fans were in the first stages of recovery from the Drew Lock era, a time of Mizzou Football that offered plenty of style without much substance. Yes, Lock was the legacy kid with the golden arm and the winning personality that everyone loved. But no one could deny it, even in the midst of his highest highs — the guy didn’t win a whole lot at the University of Missouri.
Kelly Bryant, for all his differences — and some deficiencies when compared to Lock — was billed as one thing: a winner. Despite his ousting at Clemson, the transfer QB had a career record of 16-2, notching victories over programs like Auburn, Florida State, Texas A&M and many others. He wasn’t the prototypical Heisman-winner with the cannon arm and the flowing hair, but Bryant’s pedigree as a leader and a winner made him a hot commodity when he left South Carolina. It’s not fair to call him the antithesis of Drew Lock, but the differences between the two are noteworthy.
In his brief time, Bryant has lived up to that billing, and then some. Yes, the Wyoming loss was brutal, and Bryant certainly didn’t play a perfect game. But since the disaster in Laramie, Bryant has been the efficient, play-extending rockstar that Missouri fans had hoped for. He’s a lean, quick, strong-armed playmaker with a winning smile, killer dance moves and the respect of an entire team after one offseason.
It’s funny, then, that it will take an injury to reveal just how much he means to the 2019 Missouri Tigers.
For as good as Bryant has been — and believe the numbers; he has been quite good — he has not been the main storyline of the season thus far. That would be a shockingly elite defense, led by a host of veteran talent and exciting recruits that harken back to some of the great Mizzou defenses of the 21st century. The defense has been so good, in fact, that it’s taken home multiple SEC awards already. It even had a leading candidate for All-American linebacker, until the news of Cale Garrett’s pectoral injury came out last night. The secondary has become a force. Jordan Elliott and Kobie Whiteside are wrecking shop.
All the while, Kelly Bryant moves in the background, chucking highlight fades to Albert O. and finding his receivers in open spaces. While the defense soaks up the glory, Bryant has seemed content to fill in the gaps, providing style and substance to go with it.
However, that’s all up in the air. While initial reports have been good and the news reports suggest Bryant will suit up next week, it’s hard to imagine Missouri will be getting the best of Bryant’s talent — at least, not for a few weeks. We’ve studied how Bryant adds a dynamic QB run game to the mix, and it’s hard to miss the ways that Bryant keeps plays alive when nothing else seems to be working. His knee injury, whatever its severity, could hobble Bryant where a lack of mobility dampens and his arm becomes the most important part of his game. On one hand, Missouri’s offense has shown how prolific a passer KB can be. On the other, it hasn’t lessened the importance of his mobility.
As the week progresses, we’ll learn more about Bryant — how he’s feeling; the specifics of the injury; takes of every magnitude from every corner of the internet. At some point we may debate whether or not it’s smart to play him in games Missouri should be able to win with Taylor Powell (“should” being the operative word.)
We’ll also learn just how important a fully healthy Kelly Bryant is to a Missouri team that hasn’t needed him at his best so far. Or has it? Either way, we’ll find out.