After earning their first win against JMU of the FCS last Saturday, Neal Brown and West Virginia will return to the field this Saturday to face their first power five foe on the road in Missouri. The seventh meeting between the two programs will kickoff at noon ET on ESPN2 with the Mountaineers as double-digit underdogs to the Tigers.
Missouri started their season off with a road loss to Wyoming, but Neal Brown refuses to let that define the quality of his second opponent, musing several different causes for the loss — including opening week jitters and the elevation of Wyoming’s stadium.
“You just never know what you’re gonna get in opening games,” Brown said at his weekly press conference. “They didn’t play their best, but I expect to see an entirely different team when we line up to play in Columbia on Saturday.”
The Tigers are led by Barry Odom, a fourth-year head coach with a 19-20 record with the Tigers. Interestingly enough, his Missouri debut was a 26-11 loss to West Virginia at Milan Puskar Stadium in 2016. The Tigers went 4-8 that season, but Odom hasn’t coached his team to a losing record since.
“I think if you look at his tenure…anytime they’ve had adversity,” Brown said, “his teams have always responded in a big way, and I expect them to do that this Saturday and play a lot better brand of football.”
Quarterback Kelly Bryant is the marquee player on the Tiger offense, in his first year at Missouri after transferring from Clemson. With a 12-3 career record as a starter, Bryant made a splash when he made the move to Mizzou.
While Bryant did throw for a career-high 423 yards with a touchdown, his first official start with Mizzou got a mixed review from the Tiger faithful, especially due to some costly turnovers on which Wyoming would cash in.
“Really kind a mixed bag I guess, if you will,” said Chris Gervino of the Tiger Radio Network. “I thought he looked so good at times, put up big, big passing numbers and offensive yardage numbers…but unfortunately, his mistakes were rather costly.”
Those mistakes — which include an interception and a fumble — would both turn in to touchdowns for Wyoming. But regardless of the low points, he did show off his prowess as a passer, and Gervino added that he also demonstrated strong leadership.
Bryant also caught the eye of Brown, who gave the quarterback some praise.
“I think he wants to prove himself as a passer, and I thought he did a nice job of that last week,” he said.
As a passer, Bryant has the luxury of a strong wide receiver corps — his 423 yards were spread among nine different pass catchers, with five of them gaining over 60 yards.
What really leaps out of Missouri’s stat sheet is their defense, or more specifically, their difficulty in stopping the run. Wyoming beat the Tigers despite only completing 6 passes all game, simply because they were able to run the ball with ease on the way to a tally of 297 rushing yards.
“My biggest concern about Missouri’s team coming into the season was the defensive line, honestly,” Gervino said. “They’ve got really three new starters up front….so, not a whole lot of proven production from that group, and of course defense obviously starts right up front in the trenches.”
There are some major differences in the way Wyoming and West Virginia run the ball, namely at the quarterback position — which has caused Neal Brown to take those numbers essentially with a grain of salt.
“We don’t have necessarily a running quarterback, we don’t have that many tight ends that are ready to play,” Brown said. “So, exactly how [Wyoming] ran the ball and how we run the ball don’t necessarily match up.”
After putting up just 34 yards against JMU, West Virginia will look to improve on that number against a Missouri team who obviously struggled to stop the run in their season opener — regardless of any schematic differences with Wyoming.
Ultimately, Neal Brown says that the Mountaineers’ opponent will be “hungry.” They will be looking to bounce back in week two, especially after losing their first game against a foe from a non-power conference. In order to do that, the Tigers are focusing on limiting their mistakes against West Virginia.
“I would expect Missouri at home to come out and be a lot sharper this time,” Gervino said. “They have to be, or else they’re going to be 0-2, and that would be detrimental obviously.”