HOOVER, Ala. — University of Arkansas Coach Chad Morris recruited Kelly Bryant twice.
But Morris never has gotten the chance to coach Bryant.
LAST SEASON 8-5, 4-4 (tied for fourth in SEC East)
COACH Barry Odom (19-19 in three seasons at Missouri)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Derek Dooley
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Ryan Walters
RETURNING STARTERS (13): Offense 7, Defense 6
KEY PLAYERS QB Kelly Bryant, RB Larry Rountree, TE Albert Okwuegbunam, LB Cale Garrett, CB DeMarkus Acy, DE Akial Byers.
SEC TITLE SCENARIO Before Missouri tries to win any SEC games, it hopes to win an appeal against the NCAA, which hit the Tigers with a postseason ban for 2019 as part of penalties for academic fraud. Missouri officials are expected to know the result of their appeal in late July or early August. On the field, the Tigers have a favorable SEC schedule with their West opponents being Ole Miss and Arkansas, having an open date before playing at East favorite Georgia and getting Florida at home in late November, when the Gators figure to have to deal with chilly weather in Columbia, Mo.
Aug. 31 at Wyoming
Sept. 7 West Virginia
Sept. 14 Southeast Missouri State
Sept. 21 South Carolina*
Oct. 5 Troy
Oct. 12 Ole Miss*
Oct. 19 at Vanderbilt*
Oct. 26 at Kentucky*
Nov. 9 at Georgia*
Nov. 16 Florida*
Nov. 23 Tennessee*
Nov. 29 at Arkansas*^
^Little Rock, War Memorial Stadium
Morris was Clemson’s offensive coordinator the first time he recruited Bryant out of Wren High School in Piedmont, S.C., and the dual-threat quarterback committed to the Tigers in spring of 2014 before his senior season.
But by the time Bryant got to Clemson in 2015, Morris had left to become SMU’s coach.
Morris recruited Bryant again last year after he lost his starting job to freshman Trevor Lawrence four games into the season and announced that he was transferring.
Bryant made one of his five recruiting visits to Arkansas, but in December decided he would play at Missouri, where as a senior graduate transfer he was immediately named the starter for this season by Tigers Coach Barry Odom.
“I had built that relationship with Coach Morris coming out of high school and then again having the opportunity to go play for him at Arkansas,” Bryant said at SEC Media Days. “I definitely considered going to Arkansas.
“The offense was very similar to Clemson. I could have come in and — boom — jump-started it and there wouldn’t be any drop-off as far as the learning curve.”
So why didn’t Bryant transfer to Arkansas?
“For me, I had one year,” Bryant said. “I wanted to put myself in position to have a chance to play at the next level.”
Bryant — who also considered Auburn, Mississippi State and North Carolina — said he believes Missouri offers him the best opportunity to win games and showcase his talents for NFL scouts.
The Tigers run a Pro-style scheme under offensive coordinator Derek Dooley and have three returning starters on the offensive line, senior wide receiver Johnathon Johnson (124 career catchers for 1,896 yards and 13 touchdowns), sophomore running back Larry Rountree (1,216 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns last season) and junior tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (43 catches for 466 yards and 6 touchdowns last season).
Senior wide receiver Jonathan Nance, a graduate transfer from Arkansas who had 37 catches for 539 yards and 5 touchdowns for the Razorbacks in 2017, also figures to be a top target for Bryant.
“Up front, that’s a great group of guys,” Bryant said of the offensive line. “Very experienced, veteran bunch. I feel good about those guys from a protection standpoint as well as run blocking.
“Good group of backs. On the perimeter, a bunch of receivers that can make plays. Then Albert O, he’s a mismatch for anybody. He’s a fast guy and very strong.”
Bryant’s new teammates at Missouri said he adjusted quickly after joining the Tigers in January.
“It’s kind of cool whenever you can get a guy like that coming in who has as much experience as he’s had,” senior linebacker Cale Garrett said. “He’s played in the big-time games and we want to learn from him just as much as he wanted to fit in at first.
“The thing with him is he’s such a naturally genuine person, he doesn’t know anything other than to be himself, his goofy self. So he fit right in. He won us over instantly.
“It’s not hard to tell that he means everything he says. He’s authentic and he wants to help lead this team to win a lot of football games.”
Bryant became a member of the Tigers’ leadership council.
“He was talking like he’d been here three or four years,” senior cornerback DeMarkus Acy said. “He’s not shy. You can talk to him and he’s a very charismatic dude.”
Garrett added, “I think you could put Kelly in a room with 10 strangers and he’d be friends with them all in five minutes.”
Dooley, the former Tennessee coach, was the Dallas Cowboys’ receivers coach for five seasons from 2013-17. He brought a pro-style offense to Missouri last season when Drew Lock was the starting quarterback.
Lock passed for 3,498 yards and 28 touchdowns making the transition from a spread to pro-style offense as a senior and was a second-round NFL draft pick by Denver.
“Coach Dooley has pretty much the same offensive style and terminology at Missouri that they had in the NFL,” Bryant said. “It was a whole new offense and terminology for me, but I was like, “I’m up for that challenge to see where I’m going to be at the end of the day.’ “
Bryant waited two years behind Deshaun Watson — who now plays for the Houston Texans — to get his chance to be Clemson’s starting quarterback.
As a junior in 2017, Bryant started every game when the Tigers went 12-2 and made the College Football Playoffs, where they lost to Alabama in the semifinals. He completed 262 of 398 passes (65.8 percent) for 2,802 yards and 13 touchdowns with 8 interceptions as a junior and rushed 192 times for 665 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Last season Bryant completed 36 of 54 passes (66.7 percent) for 461 yards and 2 touchdowns and rushed 30 times for 130 yards and 2 touchdowns as Clemson started 4-0, but Tigers Coach Dabo Swinney announced before the fifth game that Lawrence would start against Syracuse.
Lawrence took over as the starter after passing for 600 yards and nine touchdowns in the first four games. He helped the Tigers finish 15-0 and win the national championship with a 44-16 victory over Alabama.
When Bryant lost the starting job and was still eligible to redshirt, he decided to transfer and have the chance to be the No. 1 quarterback again for another team.
“I wasn’t really in a good spot, because I’d been in a routine for four years, being with the team, getting ready for games,” Bryant said. “Then at that moment, it wasn’t in the equation.
“I was working out on my own and scheduling visits, going to schools. It was definitely different.
“It took some time to get used to it. But I had a great support group of friends. They made sure I was doing good mentally.”
Odom said Bryant proved in spring practice he had a good grasp of Missouri’s offense.
“Kelly has got a skill set through the air or on the ground,” Odom said. “He’s going to be able to help us gain an advantage in a number of different ways from that position.”
Odom said Bryant’s upbeat personality was evident when he visited Missouri.
“I saw interaction between him and our team in the locker room,” Odom said. “He’s a very selfless person — low, low ego — and one of the best competitors I have ever been around. That fit with who we are as a program and as an organization.”
Bryant said he’s confident he’s also a good fit for Dooley’s offense.
“He’s very quarterback friendly,” Bryant said. “He’s going to put you in position to be successful.
“I feel like I’m going to be able to make all the throws he’s going to ask of me. We’re still going to attack you vertically down the field. I also can run and make plays with my legs outside of the pocket.”
Bryant said he never considered leaving Missouri for another school after the NCAA hit the Tigers on Jan. 31 with penalties — including a bowl ban — for academic fraud.
“I already had a good relationship with these guys,” Bryant said of staying at Missouri. “I felt like I was in a good spot. I was at peace with my decision.”
Missouri will present its appeal before the NCAA Committee on Infractions later this week, according to CBS Sports, in the hopes of having the bowl ban waived.
“We’re trying not to look ahead and just focus on what we can control at the moment,” Bryant said. “We’ve still got 12 games to do what we need to do. We’re just going to make sure we put our best foot forward and do what we can within those 12.”
Missouri’s 12th game will be against Morris and Arkansas in Little Rock on Nov. 29.
Second in a series previewing the 2019 SEC football season.
Sports on 07/17/2019
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