One minute, it was a cathartic and unrelenting beatdown, a back-and-forth between the Tigers pounding their chests on defense and operating with ease on offense.
The next, it was a sobering, sickening feeling for a team whose quarterback has been its most protected, prized possession.
“A morale drainer,” defensive lineman Jordan Elliott called it.
Missouri (4-1) handled Troy (2-3) with ease Saturday, winning 42-10. But the outcome came with an ominous asterisk, as graduate transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant left the game late in the first half with a dangerous-looking left knee injury, suffered on a late hit. He did not return to the sideline the rest of the game.
MU head coach Barry Odom said after the game that he doesn’t have an official update yet. The indication from team doctors was that it “seems like it’s good news, but I don’t want to go there until I get it confirmed,” Odom said.
Bryant was still in the team facilities with his teammates after the game, and players said the quarterback was walking and in good spirits. The attitude among the Tigers was that the injury wasn’t as serious as it initially seemed, although none of them are doctors. Center Trystan Colon-Castillo joked with Bryant after the game: “So you were faking out there?” which got a laugh out of the Clemson transfer.
“It’s unfortunate; Kelly Bryant is a great kid,” said Troy coach Chip Lindsey. “I remember him in the recruiting days. Barry and I are really close. Hopefully (Bryant) is not hurt bad.”
The injury was suffered on the same play as Missouri’s sixth touchdown of the half, which turned out to be its final points of the game. Bryant completed a 6-yard pass to Jalen Knox on the play, capping a run of 42 straight points for the Tiger offense after it trailed 7-0 to the upstart Trojans early.
He took a late hit on the play and was down on the turf holding his left knee. Bryant was able to walk off the field under his own power, but he went to the locker room early before halftime; the play happened with 1:12 left in the second quarter.
“It feels deflating when you’re out there on the field, but you’ve got to lock in,” Colon-Castillo said. “You’re still playing, you’re still in the game, you’re still in the fight, so you can’t just sit there and think about it.”
What spectators watched before that play, as opposed to after it, was in essence a tale of two teams: Missouri with Bryant, and Missouri without him.
Up to that point, he had one of his most impressive halves of the season, completing 12 of 19 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns plus a rushing touchdown. He didn’t throw an interception.
The Tigers answered Troy’s opening touchdown with an easy scoring drive capped by a 1-yard run from Larry Rountree III. Bryant utilized a lesser-seen target in sophomore receiver Kam Scott, whose 49-yard reception set up the touchdown.
Bryant engineered an 85-yard touchdown drive on the next series, and he finished it with a 3-yard run to give Missouri the lead for good. The next time MU had the ball, Bryant hit Jonathan Nance with a smooth 64-yard touchdown pass.
“Kelly was in a good rhythm,” Nance said.
Missouri’s defense, led by Cale Garrett, took the baton and dominated the second quarter. Garrett returned an interception to the 1-yard line, and after a penalty, Albert Okwuegbunam made an acrobatic toe-grabbing touchdown catch for 16 yards in the back corner of the end zone. Odom credited Bryant’s throw placement for making the near-impossible catch possible.
“I would say that probably ranks in the top three, top five (Okwuegbunam plays at MU),” said offensive lineman Yasir Durant. “I didn’t think he got his foot down at first, but when I watched it I was shocked he got his foot down.”
On Troy’s next possession, Garrett erased any regret at not scoring on his first interception by picking off another pass ... and this time, he took it 33 yards to the house. It was Garrett’s third defensive touchdown of the season on four takeaways.
Missouri added yet another takeaway when Troy fumbled the ensuing kickoff, setting up the final tally and the fated play.
“Kelly’s an upbeat guy,” Durant said. “He’s never going to let anybody see him sweat.”
So ... then there was the Missouri after the injury.
Missouri’s offense went flat without Bryant. The Tigers didn’t score in the second half and totaled 122 total yards of offense. Fifty-seven of those yards belonged to Taylor Powell, the next-in-line quarterback who completed 6 of 8 passes to turn in a decent performance.
“He is a great kid, good quarterback,” Lindsey said. “I thought he did a nice job getting in there and managing the offense. He is a talented guy. I think down the road his future is bright for sure.”
Powell was quick to point out the lack of scoring, though; Missouri punted twice, missed a field goal and ran out the clock on its four possessions of the half. Part of that might have been that the Tigers were only running a small handful of plays, Odom said, and because he sat most of the starters after halftime of a chippy game.
“Third downs, and in the red zone, we’ve got to score,” Powell said. “I’ll have to look back at the tape and see where we can get better.”
Missouri has two options to back up Bryant at quarterback if necessary: Powell and true freshman Connor Bazelak.
“(Powell) can do everything that Kelly — well, not everything Kelly can do,” Nance said, laughing. “But we can run all our plays and he can handle our offense the same.”
Whether Powell will be needed is an another question entirely, though. Now Missouri waits.