When Jeremy Pruitt’s defense squares off against Kelly Bryant on Saturday night in Columbia, Missouri, it won’t be the first time Pruitt has faced the dynamic quarterback.
Bryant was one of college football’s biggest transfers on the market last offseason. The South Carolina native ultimately chose to play for Missouri after deciding to transfer from Clemson after he lost his starting job to Trevor Lawrence.
Prior to transferring after his junior season, Bryant led Clemson to the College Football Playoffs as a sophomore in 2017. His season came to an end at the hands of Alabama’s defense, which was led by Pruitt.
In the playoff game against Pruitt and the Crimson Tide, Bryant struggled. He completed 18 of his 36 passes for just 124 yards and threw two interceptions. Bryant didn’t throw a touchdown, nor did he rush for a touchdown, as Alabama held him to 19 rushing yards on 19 carries.
Pruitt believes his previous match-up with Missouri’s transfer quarterback is an absolute advantage, even if the two are with different teams now.
“We’ve prepared against him before and probably have a good idea of their skill set,” Pruitt said on Monday during his weekly press conference. “The offenses are different, but there are some things that they (Missouri) do that are similar, so you probably would draw on some of the past to kind of help create a plan.
“If you look at what (Kelly Bryant) is doing now at Missouri versus what he did at Clemson, they are a bit different offense, but you can see that Missouri has done a few things to cater to what he does best.”
Bryant’s lone season at Missouri hasn’t gone according to plan. Many thought Mizzou could threaten Georgia and Florida in the SEC East, but the Tigers currently sit at 5-5 on the season and are fighting to reach a bowl game.
As for Bryant, he’s been hamstrung by a hamstring injury, causing him to miss the Georgia game in Athens two weeks ago. When he has played, he hasn’t been the most efficient, whether that be because of his nagging injury or because of difficult circumstances surrounding him.
“Well he’s running a little different offense,” Pruitt said of Bryant on the SEC Teleconference Wednesday. “They’ve done a nice job of adapting to his ability to run with the football.
“Obviously, it’s two years later, so he’s more mature, probably has more confidence and can make all the throws. He’s a guy that stretches you all over the field with his arm talent and his leg talent. It will be a tremendous challenge for us.”
This season, Bryant has thrown for 2,049 yards, 14 touchdowns, and is completing 62.5 percent of his passes, but he’s also thrown six interceptions. On the ground, Bryant has rushed for 224 yards and a touchdown on 96 carries.
“He’s probably healthier now than he’s been in quite some time,” Pruitt said. “We’ll have a tremendous challenge for us playing on the road, playing against a good football team — something we’re looking forward to.”
Missouri’s offense has struggled over the last few weeks both with and without Bryant at the helm. The Tigers have scored a grand total of one touchdown in their last three games combined, and the offense has managed just 13 total points over their last 12 quarters of play.
Tennessee and Missouri will kick-off at 7:30 PM Eastern on Saturday in Columbia. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.