“My first touchdown, my first pick in the same play,” Bryant said. “It was a wonderful feeling. I got dog-piled, the guys were so happy for me.”
Bryant was pretty darned happy for himself too. His interception and 77-yard touchdown return capped Mississippi State’s 45-20 victory over visiting Louisiana Tech. And, rounded-out a heck of an eight-day span for this redshirt freshman safety.
The secret to such sudden success? “Coach just put me out there on the field.”
Well, his coaching staff and fate. Bad fate for a fellow Bulldog, too. A rotation strong safety in State’s secondary, Bryant was promoted to starter when senior Kendrick Market’s season ended with a knee injury at Texas A&M.
Much as he hurt for a teammate, Bryant wasn’t shy accepting starting status. Nor did Coach Dan Mullen and safeties Coach Tony Hughes hesitate handing him the job. “He knows I’ve got confidence now, more than I usually have,” Bryant said. “And he’s just putting me in the right spots in the right time.”
Bryant celebrated that first stop when, on the third Troy snap, he blitzed and knocked the football free. DT Nelson Adams recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. There are no assists in this sport so all Bryant had to show for it was a sack and fumble-forced.
Fast forward to late in today’s second quarter. After allowing two long and fast touchdown drives in the opening period, the Bulldog defense gradually gained poise and made stops. Still State was tied 17-17 when Tech was forced to punt from their 23-yard line.
Believe it or not, Bryant said this was exactly a situation Mississippi State had scouted. The Bulldogs sent what looked like half the roster roaring into and through overmatched blocking, and WR Donald Gray stuffed the punt.
“I saw it clear,” Bryant said. “We knew we were going to block the punt, because we schemed it all week. Coach Mullen was telling us we’re going to get one in the game, we’re going to get one. That was the time to go get it and the perfect opportunity to make a play.”
But there was more to the play. Bryant had actually been key to the block because his inside move forced the shield protector to block-down and opened Gray’s path. “Right off his butt,” Bryant said.
“So when I saw Donald blocking the punt I just looped out, saw the ball and scooped it.” Well sort of, he fell on the ball at the two-yard line. Discretion overcame emotion for this freshman. “I was just thinking don’t make a mistake, don’t let the ball roll past you. So I just fell on the ball and let the offense push it in.”
Which Dak Prescott did, immediately for State’s first lead of the afternoon. One which the offense spent the third quarter expanding with Prescott touchdown passes. But Bryant wasn’t done.
Because Louisiana Tech wasn’t through trying to score. Not yet. Down 38-20 the other Bulldogs reached midfield when Jeff Driskel threw a pass…not meant for Bryant. But he had the best position and made the leaping snare at State’s 27.
At what point did Bryant know he had a pick-six in the making? “As soon as I caught it.” No, seriously, that’s what he recognized. “I don’t run a 4.2 for nothing. Coach told me utilize my speed so I did that.”
It helped as Bryant veered to his right that he saw a Tech lineman taking a bad angle. “I was like OK, I’m going to cut back and take it to the deep side of the field.” Turning back to the left Bryant just blew by a couple of frozen Techsters. His reading and running looked more like a receiver, even a back, than a safety.
“I was an offensive guy in high school,” Bryant reminded. “So basically I was just playing off my raw talent with the ball in my hands.”
Bryant finished with six tackles on more mundane plays. Though, his highlights also erased most memories of a first quarter incident. A Tech receiver caught the sideways throw and Bryant seemed in easy tackling position…until the opponent just made a better move and got by for a first down.
Bryant did not let it shake him much. And while Hughes did rotate in other safeties some series Bryant played most. “As a freshman it’s hard if you mess up in a game. You think you want to do everything right. But you have to change the page and move on to the next play.”
The next big plays on a growing chart. Plays that a certain teammate was sure to be talking over with his successor, since Bryant knew he’d be meeting Market shortly.
“Oh, as soon as I leave out of here, probably!”