Take a close look at the No. 7 on Kelly Bryant’s chest. Squint, maybe. That’s when the S might come into view. Might. And it’s not just any S. It’s the same S that belongs to Clark Kent.
To see it, glance through the eyes of West Virginia defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. They are the same two eyes that watched Bryant dance around his defense for several hours Saturday.
“We made Kelly Bryant look like he had an S on his chest,” Koenning said.
Whether it’s Superman, Batman or even Houdini, Bryant proved elusive Saturday while playing hero. In his first game at Memorial Stadium, Bryant seemed to extend play after play with his legs, making defenders look silly at times as the Tigers won their first game of the season 38-7.
“He never stops,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “When you think that he’s in a position to be tackled, he’s really not. He is a strong, strong runner.”
West Virginia found out the hard way. Several times.
Mountaineers defensive tackle Darius Stills broke through the offensive line with about 6:40 left in the second quarter. Nothing remained between him and Bryant as he closed on the quarterback. Moments later, Bryant ran toward the right sideline with Stills in his dust before he hit tight end Daniel Parker Jr. for an 18-yard gain. It converted a 2nd and 17.
Yasir Durant couldn’t pick up Stills on the stunt, which gave the defensive lineman a free run at Bryant.
“Kelly bailed us out a lot today,” Durant said. “We are so appreciative of that, the fact he can extend plays with his legs.”
About a minute later, Bryant put his elusiveness on display again. Linebacker Josh Chandler blitzed from the left side of the defense, and no Missouri players picked him up. No problem for Bryant.
Chandler flew by Bryant as the quarterback sidestepped him with ease. Then Bryant fired a touchdown strike to tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. Bryant finished the day with three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
“With him being more of a running type quarterback, he’s a taller and bigger guy, and we underestimated that a little bit,” Chandler said. “So we were going high when we should have been hitting him (low).”
Missouri defensive tackle Jordan Elliott can relate to Chandler’s plight. Facing Bryant in practice, Elliott knows the side step all too well.
“You think you’re about to make a sack and boom, he takes that little stutter step,” Elliott said. “A little half inch step makes a huge difference. That’s your fingertip touching him and your hand grabbing him. He has really good awareness.”
For Bryant’s style – extending plays, using his legs – to work, it takes collaboration and understanding on behalf of his offensive colleagues. So much so that they work specifically on it in practice through scrambling drills, Okwuegbunam said.
First, it takes a nimble offensive line. If the big men up front can hold their blocks for four seconds, that’s plenty of time for most quarterbacks. But when Bryant needs more than six seconds, that requires an adjustment for his blockers.
“Just blocking until the whistle is something you have to do no matter what, but with Kelly, the defense starts getting out of your frame,” center Trystan Colon-Castillo said.
They have to have their heads on a swivel at all times, looking for who might be running after their quarterback. Running back Tyler Badie, often Missouri’s choice for passing downs, stands next to Bryant as the chaos unfolds and the quarterback performs his magic. Whether Badie is blocking or trying to make a catch out of the backfield, Badie has to always be doing something until he hears a whistle. It’s too difficult to try and track Bryant.
“Half the time, I’m like, ‘Where is Kelly?’” Badie said. “I am looking over my shoulder, trying to find where Kelly is.”
Then, Badie typically hears the crowd cheer. Bryant’s gone. He is either running down the field or finding a receiver.
“I’m like, ‘Dang, Kelly you got out,’” Badie said.
The wide receivers play the final role in Bryant’s escape.
“Whenever he is out there running around, we have just got to always give him an option,” slot receiver Barrett Banister said. “If he decides to turn and run with it, we’ve got to block for him. We can spring him loose.”
No matter the role in these super escapes, they all get to play Robin to Bryant’s Batman. That’s the super hero to whom Badie and Colon-Castillo liken their quarterback. Elliott, however, picked Superman.
“That fits him,” Elliott said.
And like Superman, Bryant apparently has his kryptonite. He left the game in the third quarter and went to the locker room because he was overheated, an MU spokesperson said. Bryant also didn’t speak with reporters after the game.
But before he left, Bryant, Superman, Batman or whatever name you want to give him, had led Missouri to a 31-0 start.
Not all super heroes wear capes, but sometimes they wear No. 7.