Missouri picks up first win of season over West Virginia

Quarterback Kelly Bryant threw three touchdown passes in the route.
Quarterback Kelly Bryant gestures to the crowd as he emerges from the Missouri locker room prior to Saturday's home opener against West Virginia. Bryant finished the 38-7 win with 150 yards and three touchdowns. Madeline Carter

As quarterback Kelly Bryant dropped back on second-and-11 in the second quarter, he saw a West Virginia defender coming after him unblocked from the left side. With the score just 17-0 in favor of the Tigers, a sack could have been a momentum-swinging, point-saving play.

But that sack never happened.

Bryant stepped forward and to his left, an almost effortless glide that gave him enough time to connect with tight end Albert Okwuegbunam for a 16-yard touchdown strike for the second time in the afternoon. It was the kind of play Missouri had been waiting for since Bryant announced his intentions to transfer last winter, the kind that showed off his athleticism and ended in a connection a top red zone target in Okwuegbunam.

“[Bryant’s] gonna be able to extend the play,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “He’s gonna break tackles. He’s gonna make moves. He’s gonna make throws. When you think that he’s in position to be tackled, he’s really not. He is a strong, strong runner and he’s got elusive speed. I’m sure glad he’s our quarterback.”

Bryant finished 17-for-25 with 150 yards and three scores in a 38-7 Missouri (1-1, 0-0 SEC) victory over West Virginia (1-1, 0-0 Big 12).

After each team punted on its first drive, Missouri pieced together three Tyler Badie runs and two Bryant completions to move into range for a 43-yard Tucker McCann field goal and take an early lead.

On the ensuing drive, West Virginia redshirt junior quarterback Austin Kendall threw an interception to sophomore linebacker Nick Bolton. Four plays later, Bryant found Okwuegbunam in the front corner of the end zone for the duo’s first touchdown connection.

“It’s just all about trust. I feel like after my performance today, it just boosts the trust even more than what it was,” Okwuegbunam said. “Every game where we have positive victories like that, it’s just huge for us.”

Missouri forced another takeaway on West Virginia’s next possession. Taking the snap from his own 40, Kendall’s pass was deflected by senior linebacker Cale Garrett before settling into the hands of redshirt senior safety Ronnell Perkins.

The Tigers kept the ball on the ground during their next drive, feeding junior running back Larry Rountree III five times for 31 yards, punctuated by a 10-yard touchdown run extending the Tiger lead. Rountree finished with 18 rushes for 99 yards, a return to form after he was benched in favor of Badie during the fourth quarter of Missouri’s week one loss to Wyoming.

“Larry was trying to press and do something he’s not,” Odom said. “The greatest thing you can do -- you’ve been voted captain by your teammates because you’re Larry Rountree -- don’t do something that you’re not.”

Missouri’s onslaught kept coming. Bryant’s elusiveness set up Okwuegbunam’s second score and capped an efficient 12-play, 76-yard drive, and redshirt sophomore Barrett Banister’s first career touchdown, a reception from three yards out just before halftime, pushed MU’s lead over 30.

Missouri’s defense, meanwhile, remained stout. After being torched for 297 yards on the ground by Wyoming, the Tigers kept West Virginia in check, allowing only 30 yards.

“I think last week, people were trying to do a little too much, possibly,” Bolton said. “This week, everyone just did their jobs, did one [through] eleven, and ended up with a bunch of tackles for losses and really shut out the run game for the most part.”

The Mountaineers weren’t much more successful throwing the ball. Kendall finished 15-for-25 and 137 yards with three interceptions, the final of which was returned for a touchdown by Bolton, his second of the contest.

The Mountaineers got on the scoreboard on redshirt senior George Campbell touchdown catch to avoid being shut out.

Missouri will play next against Southeast Missouri State at home on Sep. 14 at 6:30 p.m.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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