Kelly Bryant finished 12-17 for 150 yards in Missouri’s spring game, making a couple of big-time throws while also forcing two passes that could have been intercepted.
While we won’t get a full look of what Bryant adds to this offense until he’s a realistic threat to run the ball, here are a few key takeaways from Missouri’s Black & Gold Game.
Embrace the freelance
There are two key plays that show what Bryant can do when a play breaks down.
First, the 36-yard completion to Dominic Gicinto:
And then an 11-yard completion to Barrett Bannister:
We all knew that Bryant’s going to bring considerable mobility to the position, something we haven’t seen since Maty Mauk. Key difference here — Bryant looks much more accurate on the run than Mauk was. These two plays show another thing:
Bryant may be willing (too willing?) to break the pocket if an early read isn’t over. On the throw to Gicinto, for instance, there appears to have been little pressure before Bryant bounced back and rolled right.
A key takeaway from this is that the best Missouri receivers this season will be the ones who know how to freelance with Bryant. Bannister, especially, seemed to possess the intuition to extend his routes along with Bryant’s trajectory, finding space to give his quarterback a chance to make a play.
And, if Bryant is just more comfortable making plays downfield while on the move, Saturday showed he has the accuracy to handle it, so expect a lot of rolling pockets this season.
This one looked similar to a Drew Lock throw. Early in the second quarter, Bryant identifies Nance having a favorable match-up on the left sideline, with trips right. Bryant got the snap, briefly looked right and then threw between two defenders to hit Nance before he went out of bounds.
Early in the game, the pre-snap reads were working. If you look back at Bryat’s 8-for-8, and then 10-for-11, start, most of those throws (when he didn’t roll out) were quick reads to the first open receiver. Many of them were shorter passes — we even saw a return to tunnel screens, something that wasn’t that prevalent over the last few years — as well as swing passes to running backs out of the backfields.
I think this important to consider, especially in the context of this game. With Missouri’s running attack this season, you’ll have to expect defenses, especially the athletic defenses, to load the box and play tight on the outside, forcing Bryant to beat them over the top. The throw to Nance showed that Bryant can make that read and make that throw.
But he also showed the willingness to take the quick throws, when the defense was playing off.
After the game, Barry Odom said they have more of the offense installed at this point than they did at the same point last year. That’s a compliment to Bryant, but it’s also kind of a “Duh” statement. That was Derek Dooley’s first few months at offensive coordinator; of course the entire offense wasn’t installed.
But Bryant’s ability to both take what the defense was giving him and make some tough throws off of pre-snap reads show that Dooley wants this offense to remain varied, and Bryant seems to be ready to handle that.
The concerning throws
There were two of them and I don’t have GIFs of them so hopefully the descriptions will work.
On second-and-two in plus-territory early in the second quarter, Bryant throws deep to Dom Gicinto in the endzone, into double coverage and it’s nearly picked.
On the play, Alex Ofodile was on outside with Gicinto in slot. It looks like man-to-man coverage, with Ofodile running a deep post cutting under Gicinto. Ofodile either doesn’t sell the post well enough or there’s miscommunication, but Ofodile slows and this allows the man covering him to switch to Gicinto after ball is in air, leading to near interception.
I think this one just comes down to chemistry, and maybe some good luck for the defense. Based on the defense, I think Bryant was expecting Ofodile to pull his man back to the middle of the field, giving Gicinto a one-on-one in the endzone.
But the second “bad” throw — this one seems to be all on Bryant.
It’s the same drive, a few plays later, a first-and-ten from the 15. Bryant throws an incomplete pass to TE Brendan Scales in the endzone, and it’s nearly intercepted by walk-on safety Mason Pack.
It starts with a fake to Larry Rountree, and the middle linebacker steps up but Pack, at deep safety, doesn’t bite and reads the play. Bryant stares down Scales and doesn’t seem to see Pack. It appears like this is that tight-end pop pass that Drew Lock ran so well with Albert Okwuegbunam, but this is read well by the defense. It’s a throw that shouldn’t have been made in that situation — usually, on that play, it works because the receivers are trips right with a tight end attached to the left. That formation usually catches the defense in a mismatch, and a safety will come over to the right side to cover someone.
This time, however, Pack stayed deep and was ready in coverage for the throw to Scales.
Now, in the future when Bryant is a legitimate threat to run and Okwuegbunam is back healthy, this play could open up more and more. Perhaps even more than it did for Lock. But, until then, Bryant will have to be judicious in making that read beforehand to find the favorable matchup.