LARAMIE, Wyo. — The honeymoon phase for Kelly Bryant and Missouri came to an abrupt end.
The expectations the Tigers had of running through the first part of their nonconference schedule unblemished to send a nationwide message about their lofty goals went out the window in pain-staking fashion.
The Tigers were outscored by 31 in the second and third quarters combined and couldn’t find a comeback route, falling to Wyoming 37-31 Saturday night at War Memorial Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 26,037.
“I didn’t deliver my best, I know that,” Missouri head coach Barry Odom said, seeming to speak on behalf of many of his players. “... I’m disappointed obviously in an opportunity that we had that we didn’t capitalize on. Starting with me on down, everybody in the organization, let’s look in the mirror. Didn’t script it this way, but you got to decide which direction you’re going to go.”
MU was as close as the Cowboys’ 20-yard line in the closing minute but couldn’t complete the comeback.
Tigers starting quarterback Kelly Bryant led a 10-play drive to the red zone, but it ended with a sack and two incompletions.
On an otherwise career day for the Clemson transfer in his Missouri debut, the closing image of his first outing will be throwing into quadruple coverage.
He ended the day with his career high in pass completions (31), passing yards (423) and total yards (443).
Bryant also connected with nine different Tiger receivers, five of whom had 62 or more receiving yards.
The reviews of Bryant from Odom and teammates were completely positive.
“He’s a mature competitor. He’s going to be really hard on himself,” Odom said. “That’s to be expected. He’ll bounce back. He’s been through a lot, and I’m confident that he’ll be alright.”
The first win of the season for Bryant and the Tigers will have to wait at least until next Saturday against West Virginia at Faurot Field. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. on ESPN.
“It’s a life lesson for us to learn,” Bryant said. “Just keep playing, never give in no matter the situation.
“... We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot. I don't think there was any comfortability.”
Bryant’s fumble midway through the second quarter sent a disastrous 27-point swing in motion. His actions on the Tigers’ final offensive play of the quarter most likely saved four points as well.
After Wyoming's Alijah Halliburton made a long return on a fumble recovery, Bryant corralled the Cowboy any way he could before blockers could catch him. At the end of his 85-yard sprint, he got called for a horse-collar tackle but saved a touchdown as time expired in the first half.
Wyoming used an untimed down for a 23-yard Cooper Rothe field goal.
While Bryant’s tackling ability is far away from a point of emphasis for Missouri, it shows his effort that he’s not in Columbia just to grow his resume before turning pro.
“I will continue just to challenge everybody. It’s not over,” Bryant said. “I would mention it to guys on both sides of the ball.”
One anchor for Missouri (0-1) against Wyoming was its rush defense. Last season, Missouri ranked 58th in the FBS, allowing 159.6 rushing yards per game.
The Tigers let the Cowboys run for 297 yards on their home turf, a higher total than the last-ranked rush defense from last season.
“For us, it was just missed tackles, little things like that,” Tigers defensive tackle Jordan Elliott said. “(Wyoming) had a good game plan and executed it well. But at the end of the day, we didn’t tackle well. That’s one thing we've got to continue to work on.”
In taking a 14-point, first-quarter lead, MU dominated the line of scrimmage. After that, neither side of the ball could prevent getting pushed around.
Wyoming (1-0), which had two 100-yard rushers, carved out a path consistently as the game went on, while the Tigers relied more on Bryant’s arm in the second half and didn’t have many outbursts from the backfield.
In the lead-up to the showdown with the Cowboys, Odom admitted he would learn a lot more about his team than in a typical opener, such as against UT-Martin last year.
Heading back to Columbia with a zero in the win column, the Tigers will have more questions and much less clarity than they anticipated after flying into the Mountain Time Zone.
There are several ways to go about fixing the issues the Tigers encountered, but limiting turnovers and causing some of their own would’ve helped flipped the result. Missouri had three turnovers and a few other plays that nearly gave the ball to Wyoming.
If Missouri is to course-correct, that trait has to be one of the first to change.
This wasn’t the early-season gut punch Missouri was expecting, but it's one the Tigers have to take — with their appeal of NCAA sanctions still looming.
“Adversity is always going to be a part of any football game, no matter who you’re playing,” Elliott said. “... We’ve got 11 more games to go. We’re just looking forward to the next one. That’s all we can do.”