ATHENS, Ga. – If you turned off your TV or walked out of the stadium after Georgia took a 27-0 lead over Missouri early in the fourth quarter Saturday, you missed it.
You missed out on a chance to see a slight reason for optimism about the offense.
After Georgia’s final score of the game, Missouri redshirt sophomore quarterback Taylor Powell played his last series of the day, which resulted in another three and out. Then, the Tigers decided to send in another player with 11:43 left in the game: True freshman quarterback Connor Bazelak.
He played the final two series of the game, one which lasted 17 plays. Missouri didn’t score, but it came the closest it did of the entire game — Bazelak couldn’t complete a pass to Dominic Gicinto on fourth and goal from Georgia’s four.
Coming into the game, the question remained whether Powell or Kelly Bryant would start for the Tigers against the then No. 6 Bulldogs. Bryant was dealing with a hamstring injury from the Kentucky game.
But after the game, it’s more than fair to ask – who’s the quarterback if Bryant must miss more time?
Missouri coach Barry Odom said postgame he is certain the Tigers will get Bryant back and that he will be ready to go, but he didn’t specify when that might be. The fact Bryant warmed up and wore pads during the game Saturday indicates he’s closer to returning than not, but a hamstring can be unpredictable.
“He wanted to play and felt like that he could,” Odom said. “But the percentage of being able to run and function and do the things that you need to be able to do at that position, I don’t know that it would have been wise to put him out there.”
Either way, Missouri will have to prepare for the scenario that Bryant can’t go against Florida.
Powell has not made much of a case that he is the clear-cut best option. He won the backup job in camp, but his performance in limited game action this season hasn’t solidified that role.
It’s not difficult to find numbers that showcase Powell’s struggles. But here’s one simple yet startling one from Saturday’s game: First downs. The Tigers gained only five first downs while Powell played.
Sure, Powell was facing one of the nation’s best teams and an elite Georgia defense. But Bazelak did more damage against the same team. And he only needed one drive.
Missouri picked up more first downs (six) in one Bazelak drive than 10 drives for Powell (five).
Granted, Bazelak’s playing time came late in the game when Georgia’s victory looked all but solidified. Even still, Bazelak looked sharp against a Bulldogs defense that kept many of its starters on the field.
He completed passes to six different receivers on the 17-play drive that traveled 76 yards.
Bazelak finished the day having completed eight of 12 pass attempts for 64 yards on 19 snaps. Powell finished with 10 completions on 22 attempts for 84 yards with one interception.
“I thought it was just good to get in and get some experience against one of the top teams in the nation no matter what the score was,” Bazelak said. “I thought it was good to just get in and move the ball down the field.”
He may have done more than that, though. He may have earned himself more playing time.
“Both (Powell and Bazelak) have unique and different skill sets than maybe what we’ve seen so far this year, and they’re going to continue to grow, and they’re going to be good players,” Odom said.
But who is better, or more specifically, a better option to lead the Missouri offense if Bryant has to miss another game?
Bazelak said he plans to prepare the same way moving forward, despite the uncertainty with what is ahead for the quarterback position.
“I know the coaches will make the best decision on the player who will give us the best chance to win,” Bazelak said.
Bryant could very well return to action against Florida, and this discussion may go away for now. But no matter when Bryant returns, uncertainty with the quarterback position won’t dissipate in future years.
Bryant, a graduate transfer this season, won’t be back next season. Shawn Robinson, who is ineligible this season after transferring from TCU, is a favorite for that spot. Including the 2020 season, he will have two years of eligibility remaining.
Powell will also have two years of eligibility left after this season. Bazelak could have four, as long as he doesn’t play in more than four games this season.
At the very least, on Saturday with a small sample size, Bazelak showed that he could have a bright future as a starting quarterback for Missouri.
That moment may not come for three years, though. Or, it could be next week.
Missouri doesn’t necessarily have a quarterback controversy. It’s just a quarterback conundrum that, based on Saturday, doesn’t look as if it is going away anytime soon.
Liam Quinn contributed to this report.