When Kelly Bryant found receiver Jalen Knox deep downfield for 54 yards in the first quarter against Southeast Missouri State on Saturday, it was the first time the quarterback had really been able to show off his arm this season.
In the second quarter Bryant found Knox again, this time for 50 yards. Those two receptions propelled Knox to the top of the team’s receiving yards leaderboard, with 192.
Missouri’s wide receivers have yet to make a big impact this season. Knox’s two big catches could be a jumping off point for more success and the Tigers’ receivers believe they are headed in the right direction.
Bryant tried to go deep early against Wyoming, nearly finding slot receiver Barrett Banister on third down, but it fell incomplete in tight coverage. Banister doesn’t want that to be the last time he is targeted downfield.
“Hopefully I’ll get another chance,” Banister said. “You just have to convert them when they come your way.”
Banister said he has worked hard to make deep routes a bigger part of his game.
“That was a goal of mine coming into this spring,” Banister said. “Throughout the summer it was trying to put that in my game a little more and be more than just a short route receiver.”
Banister has eight catches through three games, third most on the team.
To date, Bryant has connected with seven different receivers. His top target has been redshirt senior Johnathon Johnson, who has 12 catches.
“I feel good about our receiving unit,” Johnson, the most experienced of Missouri’s receivers, said. “We got a good group, one that comes to play every day.”
Johnson expects deep passes to become a bigger part of the Tigers’ game plan.
“I feel like (Bryant) is going to start throwing it up a little more,” Johnson said. “(Bryant) is getting more comfortable with the receivers going downfield and making plays.”
Wide receivers coach Garrick McGee is also bullish about the team’s means to beat defenses vertically.
“We have the ability to get the ball down the field,” McGee said. “We have a lot of plays in our sets to get the ball down the field. It’s just a matter of what the defense is doing.”
McGee thinks his unit has made good progress. The SEMO game was a chance for MU to experiment on offense, and McGee said it was the team’s best game yet.
Banister said the Tigers’ Week 1 loss has been a source of motivation for him and his fellow receivers to get better.
“We’re using (Wyoming) as fuel,” Banister said.
His coach expects improvements, too.
“Coach McGee has a high standard for us,” Banister said. “I think that’s awesome.”
Knox, the recipient of Bryant’s bombs, feels good about MU’s wide receivers. He said they lean on each other and hold each other accountable.
South Carolina starts two sophomores at cornerback, which means there could be an opportunity for Bryant to air it out against a somewhat inexperienced opponent.
Is Knox excited for that next opportunity?
“Yeah, most definitely, you already know that,” Knox said.