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story.lead_photo.caption Kelly Bryant throws as offensive coordinator Derek Dooley stands off to the side during practice earlier this month on Faurot Field. Bryant has not played in a college football game since Sept. 29, 2018, against No. 15 Syracuse. Photo by Associated Press / News Tribune.

COLUMBIA — Week Zero of college football — the handful of mostly neutral-site games played last weekend — ended the long drought of college football with two great games for neutral fans.

Miami vs. Florida and Arizona at Hawaii were both exciting one-possession games late, with the Gators and Hurricanes each doing their best to give the opponent every chance to win the game, and Wildcats ending up a few feet short of a potential game-tying or winning touchdown on the final play of the game.

It was also useful for coaches in every other program around the country, but as a lesson in what not to do in sloppy execution.

Florida racked up 10 sacks and its skill players showed off some big-play talent and converted 4-of-4 fourth down attempts, but the Gators held the ball for 23 minutes against their in-state rival, averaged 1.79 yards per carry, lost two fumbles and committed nine penalties for 100 yards, including several pass interference calls on the final drive of the game that kept the Hurricanes alive. Miami, meanwhile, could have won the game but gave the ball away three times, averaged 2.42 yards per carry and committed 14 penalties for 118 yards.

The Rainbow Warriors benched starting quarterback Cole McDonald, because while he completed 70.7 percent of his 41 passes for 378 yards and four scores, he also threw four picks, as Hawaii ended each of its seven first-half drives with either a score or a pick. Arizona, which was favored by double-digits entering the game, converted 3-of-11 first downs and couldn't do much with a full field despite the fact the Wildcats turned Hawaii's six turnovers into 28 points.

Missouri will try to avoid similar issues on the road today at Wyoming, when the Tigers take on the Cowboys at 6:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network. Missouri's starting quarterback, Kelly Bryant, and a starting wide receiver, Johnathan Nance, neither has played in a college football game in at least 11 months.

"I worry about everybody. It's game one," offensive coordinator Derek Dooley said Tuesday. "Did y'all see that opener for college football (Miami vs. Florida)? Was there any rust on anybody? How many games had they played? Yeah, of course we do."

Florida-Miami should offer some comfort to Tiger fans: both teams in that game had inferior offensive lines and deeply skilled defensive lines. Line play, particularly on the offensive side where Missouri has three starters with at least two years of experience each, should be a point of strength for the Tigers this season.

That is amplified in this game by size. Missouri's smallest offensive linemen are center Trystan Colon-Castillo (6-foot-4, 315 pounds) and right tackle Hyrin White (6-6, 305). Wyoming's four starting defensive linemen go 6-1, 236 (defensive end Josiah Hall), 6-3, 264 (nose tackle Mario Mora), 6-5, 276 (defensive tackle Javaree Jackson) and 6-5, 242 (DE Garrett Crall).

Last season in Columbia, the Cowboys had three tackles for loss for just four yards. Wyoming returns linebacker Logan Wilson, who had 11 TFLs in 2018, and Crall, who led the team in sacks last season with 4.5, but loses productive defensive linemen Youhanna Ghaifan and Carl Granderson as well as prolific defensive back Andrew Wingard.

On the reverse side, getting pressure was an issue for Missouri's defense last season, particularly in SEC play, but the Tigers had seven TFLs and two sacks against Wyoming. The Cowboys start three redshirt sophomores with a season of experience each and two juniors with two years of experience on the offensive line, the biggest of whom are the right and left tackles. Jordan Elliott, Kobie Whiteside, Markell Utsey and Akial Byers are expected to be big contributors this season.

Missouri's defense battered true freshman Tyler Vander Waal in Columbia last season, but redshirt freshman Sean Chambers is the starter this time around, a more mobile quarterback. Wyoming was distinctly a run-first team last season with 1,300-yard rusher Nico Evans and looks like one again this season, so a successful day for the Tigers' defensive line will probably include more TFLs than sacks, but Missouri can make things easier tonight in Laramie with consistent pressure.

In fact, Chambers will likely give Missouri fans a look at the kind of quarterback many expect Bryant to be. Before breaking his fibula in the season finale against Air Force last season, Chambers led the Cowboys to a 3-0 record after the team started 2-6, but ran the ball more than twice as often as he dropped back to pass. Some of that had to do with Wyoming's dire situation at receiver, but isn't the whole story: Chambers completed 15-of-25 pass attempts for 266 yards, three touchdowns and no picks, an average of 10.6 yards per attempt and a QB rating (in a very small sample size) of 188.98.

Only Tua Tagovailoa and Kyler Murray (both just shy of a 200 QB rating) posted a better rating over an entire season. Drew Lock's QB rating in 2018 was 147.65, and 165.67 in his record-setting junior season. So Chambers can clearly throw the ball, and knows where to throw it when called upon. He's just more comfortable running, which he did 59 times for 329 yards and two scores, or averages of nearly 15 times per game for 82 yards.

It will be interesting to see if head coach Craig Bohl deviates from the team's usual strategy and gives the ground game over entirely to sophomore Xazavian Valladay, grad student Trey Smith and freshman Titus Swen and testing out Chambers' arm against an experienced Missouri secondary, or (more likely) has Chambers continue as a run-first quarterback and pick his spots with his arm.

Missouri, meanwhile, has two proven backs in Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie, and after running a 55-45 percentage split in run-pass ratio last season, there is little reason to think Bryant will be a similarly-oriented run-first guy, which he was not while at Clemson, anyway. His running ability does give Missouri some options in situations where the Tigers need a first down, but he can just as easily throw a quick slant to Johnathon Johnson, Johnathan Nance, Albert Okwuegbunam, Jalen Knox, Dominic Gicinto or Kam Scott.

"You don't have to be a football coach to understand that," Dooley said. "How we use it is going to be the key, you know, how do you implement it? So it's easy to say, 'Well, just use his legs, and it'll be great.' Right? But how do you implement it. There's a lot of quarterbacks out there that can make plays with their legs, and they don't win every game.

"He's got to make the throws, he's got to make good decisions, he's got to be good with the ball. Right? You can't just go out there and run around, play rat trap football."

Missouri will try to avoid traps of every kind tonight out on the High Plains and win their first road opener since 1978 at Notre Dame and snap a four-game losing streak in road tilts to start the season. Five straight home games, which carries the team into mid-October, await the Tigers when they return.


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Missouri Tigers Football Podcast [Wyoming preview, Aug. 31, 2019]

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