The first week of the 2019 football season was not a good one for the Missouri Tigers.
Mizzou went on the road and was favored at Wyoming as the team got its first glimpse at Clemson transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant. The game against the Cowboys began well enough for the Tigers as they ran out to a 14-0 lead, but a 27-point second quarter by Wyoming put the hosts on a path toward a 37-31 win.
It was certainly not the start Missouri coach Barry Odom was hoping for.
“Out of the gate we started 14-0 and were playing well, then we hit some adversity,” Odom said. “We didn’t respond, and by the time we did we of ran out of time. Our margin of error is slim in any game that we’re going to have a chance to win, and we’re going to have to win it in the fourth quarter.
“The turnover margin has got to be in our favor. All the different things that give yourself a chance to win games, we’ve got to continue to work to get there. One game in, and that’s not going to define us, but our response from that game is going to absolutely define us.”
The Tigers’ first opportunity to respond to the loss at Wyoming comes Saturday when West Virginia visits Columbia (Noon, ESPN2). For Missouri, Odom said getting better starts with the run game — both on offense and defense.
The Tigers allowed more that 300 rushing yards against Wyoming, with two Cowboys going over 100 yards on the ground. WVU did not run the ball well in its first game, gaining just 34 yards on 24 attempts. This could be an area the Mountaineers would look to exploit on Saturday, and Odom said as much.
“Talking about my team, we didn’t run it well enough and we didn’t stop [the run] well enough,” Odom said. “The challenge for us is to get that resolved really quickly because any game, especially in the league we play in, you’ve got to be able to run the ball and you’ve got to be able to stop the run. If you can’t, it’s going to make for a long year.
“We’ve got our own ways and ideas on how we can get that fixed, and I know both sides will want to go into the game and have the ability to run the ball. That’s the focus for us and I’m sure it will be for them as well. The great thing about that — we’ll line up and see where we are.”
Bryant had an up-and-down debut performance for Mizzou. On the positive side for Odom and the Tigers, Bryant completed 31 of 48 passes for 423 yards and two touchdowns. He did, however, fumble a ball that was returned for a touchdown and threw a red-zone interception in what turned out to be a one-score loss.
There was a lot of hype around Bryant’s arrival as Missouri as a one-year wonder for the Tigers, and Odom said while his debut didn’t go as planned, there are still plenty of reasons to be excited about what Bryant brings to the table for his team.
“[Bryant] accounted for a lot of yards and put our team in a position to win the game,” Odom said. “He had two turnovers, and obviously you don’t want to turn the ball over. Those two were untimely. One of them was returned for a touchdown — a fumble recovery — and then the other was in a situation where we had a chance to score in the tight red area and [he] threw across his body.
“Mistakes that we learn from and move forward. He’ll play better. I think he threw for 425 yards and extended plays. He really gave us a chance in a two-minute situation at the end of the game to have a chance to win it. He’s going to keep going and get better as the year goes on.”
Neal Brown has only coached one game at West Virginia, but that doesn’t mean Odom hasn’t had an eye on him.
Brown was widely considered one of the bright young minds in college football prior to being hired by WVU in January, and what he was able to accomplish at Troy caught the eye of Missouri’s coach.
“A great scheme,” Odom said of Brown. “Always finding ways creatively to get playmakers the ball. [There are] a lot of things he can do offensively and a number of motions — window dressing so to speak. He’s attacking in the way they go about their game planning and making you defend every inch of the field.
“I’ve studied him a long time and always have been impressed with the game plan he puts together.
In addition to Brown, another Mountaineer caught Odom’s eye.
Odom was asked about Mountaineer inside receiver Tevin Bush — WVU’s leading receiver against James Madison — during the weekly Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference earlier this week and gave a glowing review of the junior from New Orleans.
“He’s a talented player and they find ways creatively to get him the ball,” Odom said. “I would imagine that we’ll get a heavier dose of that this weekend because of the things he earned from Week 1.
“[Bush is] explosive and is terrific in his route running. Looks to me to have really good ball skills and a terrific competitor. You combine all those things and usually you get a guy that you can count on and a guy that wants the ball in his hands.”