By: Nate Smith
On late Sunday night, it was announced that Missouri Tigers’ star linebacker Cale Garrett will miss the remainder of the 2019 season after suffering an injury to his pectoral tendon. Garrett, a team captain, was having a sensational season for the Tigers, establishing himself as one of the most impactful defenders in the country.
Prior to being hurt, Garrett’s leadership and on-field play had already landed him on several prestigious award watch lists. Garrett was one of the leading candidates for the Butkus Award which goes to the nation’s top linebacker, and the Bednarik and Nagurski Awards, each going to the country’s top defender. Garrett has stuffed the stat sheet this season, recording 29 solo tackles, and assisting on 14 more. The senior from Kearny, MO also has five tackles for loss, two sacks, three interceptions, and one fumble recovery. After scoring another touchdown on Saturday, Garrett has now tallied an eye-popping three defensive touchdowns on the year, to lead all FBS players.
After the victory over Troy, Missouri fans were already bracing for bad news on the injury front. However, the player in question was a different Tigers star: quarterback Kelly Bryant. Bryant exited Saturday’s contest just before halftime after being the recipient of a late hit from a Troy defender that caused Bryant’s knee to bend rather awkwardly. Early reports indicate that Bryant will likely be back in time for the Tigers’ upcoming homecoming game against Ole Miss. Garrett, on the other hand, won’t be so lucky.
For an idea of exactly how much Garrett means to the team, look no further than his teammate’s post-game comments following the win over Troy. Wide receiver Jalen Knox told me “Cale is a dog, just watching him play, and watching all the things he does, like—how much success he brings to the team, it makes you wanna go out there and do the same things, you know. And Cale is not like one of those outspoken or cocky guys, he (is) humble and (keeps) to himself. (He) just loves to play football and goes out there and does everything he needs to for the team, (and the team is) just happy to see that.”
Knox wasn’t the only one to praise Garrett. Missouri Head Coach Barry Odom called the 6’3” linebacker the “heart and soul of the team”. I asked fellow senior Jonathan Nance if he thought Garrett should win his second 2019 SEC Defensive Player of the Week award this week for his contributions last Saturday. Nance joked that answering that question was too easy, before exclaiming ‘of course!’. Junior cornerback Adam Sparks elaborated even more on Garrett’s play, saying “We already know what he (does on the football field)! And he’s not done! Of course (Garrett’s interception return for a touchdown) was an excellent play, but we weren’t shocked by it, just like with Nick (Bolton) or any other player on the defense. We’re always looking for them to make a play.” Sparks’ comments came before the official injury news, but they are eerily and oddly perfect nonetheless. Sparks was eagerly talking about Garrett continuing to perform well this season, while also alluding to the expectations the team has for all of its players to step up and make plays.
Missouri will need increased contributions from every member of its defense. Pictured is Adam Sparks (14) leading a pre-game huddle prior to the Troy game.
With Cale Garrett lost for the season, Missouri will indeed lean more on Nick Bolton, who has started at the other linebacker position for the Tigers this season and done a fantastic job. While the Tigers won’t try to replace Garrett’s production with one single person, having Bolton on hand is a luxury that should immediately come in handy. Bolton, like Garrett, has scored defensively this year and also won an SEC Defensive Player of the Week award. Junior Jamal Brooks is listed as Garrett’s direct backup with sophomore Cameron Wilkins also on hand to help out.
The good news for Garrett is that the same level of that play that has thrust his name onto award watch lists has also impressed NFL scouts. While he has played his last game as a Missouri Tiger, fans in all likelihood should still be able to see Garrett suit up down the road—in the NFL. For Missouri, the Tigers will begin the Garrett-less portion of their schedule on Saturday when they host Ole Miss for homecoming. When the Tigers take the field against the Rebels, Mizzou fans will still have plenty to cheer for. On the Tigers’ approach for homecoming, Jalen Knox told me, “We’re gonna do everything we can to come out with the win. Most definitely for homecoming. We know how important it is to our Mizzou fanbase, (Mizzou started) the tradition of homecoming, so we’re gonna make sure we come out there and play as hard as we can (to try to) win.”