Kelly Bryant smiles (copy)

Kelly Bryant, shown here in his Mizzou debut on Aug. 31 at Wyoming, is expected to be back as the Tigers’ starting quarterback against Florida this Saturday.

Missouri should have its QB1 back this weekend.

Kelly Bryant is expected to play Saturday against Florida barring any health setbacks the rest of the week, MU coach Barry Odom said Tuesday. Offensive coordinator Derek Dooley said Bryant isn’t “100%” recovered yet from the hamstring injury that kept him out against Georgia last week, but the grad transfer played every snap of Tuesday’s practice with the starters.

Odom said Bryant has been medically cleared.

“It’s feeling good,” Bryant said. “Feeling better than last week. Feel really great about where I’m at right now with it. Feeling good to get back to running on it and practicing.”

Bryant came up limping after a scramble in the first quarter of the Tigers’ 29-7 loss to Kentucky on Oct. 26.

Odom repeatedly said leading up to the Georgia game that the starting quarterback would be a game-time decision, and in Athens, Bryant took the field for pregame warmups. But after Missouri’s 27-0 loss to the Bulldogs in Athens, backup-turned-starter Taylor Powell said he’d found out the previous Wednesday that he would be starting.

“That was the initial plan: Taylor had the go-ahead,” Bryant clarified Tuesday. “With me, they were just wanting to see if I could run on it a little bit, seeing how I felt on it. I was just trusting everyone that they were making the right decision, because they didn’t want to throw me out there and then I just tweak it even worse where I couldn’t play these last three games.”

Bryant looked loose and mobile during warmups in Georgia. He had said earlier in the week that he was at about “75%.”

After Tuesday’s practice this week, he said he “felt good” during warmups in Georgia, “but that could also be adrenaline.”

Having Bryant back feels like a necessity for Missouri right now. Powell struggled Saturday as Missouri was shut out by Georgia’s stout defense. Powell was 10-for-22 for 84 yards and an interception.

“You try to look at the negatives, things you can work on, more the positives,” Powell said. “I’ve had a lot of good experiences this year. I feel like I’m really prepared. I have a lot of confidence in myself. Now it’s just about going out and doing it.”

With the game out of reach in the fourth quarter, Missouri turned to true freshman Connor Bazelak for the final two series. Georgia’s Sanford Stadium is a huge stage for a freshman, no matter the circumstances, so Bryant made sure he was the last person to speak to Bazelak on the sideline.

“Right before he took the field,” Bryant said, “I said, ‘Just have fun. You’re ready.’ And he just gave me a little smile.”

What he did next was impressive. Georgia still had many of its starting defenders in the game, but Bazelak engineered a long drive that only stalled at the goal line after a pair of dropped passes in the end zone. Missouri’s third-string QB was 8-for-12 for 64 yards.

“Didn’t score,” Bryant said, “but for him to come in late in the game — they have their guys out there, we have our guys out there — and to work the ball down and manage it and take shots, it was good to see as a freshman in a hostile environment like that early in his career.”

Bryant joked that Bazelak is “kind of stiff, personality-wise.” But after the freshman returned to the sideline, he quickly started asking Bryant whether he had made the right reads on certain plays.

“Ultimately, quarterbacks are judged by whether the offense moves the ball, scores points and they don’t make decisions that derail the game,” Dooley said. “Those are the three things. (Bazelak) went in there and he was three for his first three on third downs. Hats off to him. It’s a one-drive sample, but I was proud of him.”

Bazelak has played in two games this season. Under the NCAA’s new redshirt rules, he can play in as many as four games without losing his redshirt status. If things take a turn and Bryant isn’t healthy enough to play against Florida, would Missouri consider playing Bazelak again?

“We’re not afraid to put him in the game, and he’s earned the right to play,” Dooley said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that.”

Odom added that the Tigers would play both Bazelak and Powell if Bryant were unavailable. But as of now, it seems that won’t be necessary.

“I fully anticipate (Bryant) playing,” Odom said, “and playing well.”

  • Bennett Durando covers Mizzou football for the Missourian. Reach him with tips, story ideas or Mizzou-induced rage at bdurando@outlook.com, or in the newsroom at 573-882-5700.

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