We knew coming into this season that linebacker Cale Garrett has the right mix of ability, football IQ, instincts and leadership that could make him an all-time Missouri great.
The senior defensive captain had been consistently very good and often great throughout his first few years in Columbia, which led to him being ranked among the top linebackers in the Southeastern Conference prior to this season. He was named first-team All-SEC by Pro Football Focus and second-team by the conference’s coaches, so surely he was bound to put up a season that would secure him a spot near the top of that list.
But did he have a shot at All-American status? It would’ve had to take a tremendous season from Garrett, but so far he’s provided that for Missouri.
The Tigers now have defensive touchdowns in four straight games for the first time in school history. Garrett has scores in the last three, including the Tigers’ 42-10 win over the Trojans on Saturday.
“He’s playing really, really well,” head coach Barry Odom said. “He’s playing really well ... and it’s a thing he does everyday in practice. His instinctual feeling of how to go play is off the charts, and he’s the heart and soul of our team.”
Midway through the second quarter, Garrett tipped a pass from Troy quarterback Kaleb Barker, caught it with one hand and ran toward the right side of the end zone. It took multiple Trojans to stop him short at the 1-yard line, and he still almost dragged them with him on his way to the house.
Not to be denied, though, Garrett got his revenge on Troy’s very next offensive drive.
Facing a third and one, Barker dropped back, looked for a receiver to the right and let the ball fly. Garrett, always one of the smartest players on the field, read Barker like a book and jumped the route. This one was a much easier catch for Garrett, and he took it to the left side of the field before running into the end zone.
That pick-six now has Garrett tied with Eric McMillan in 1987 for the most defensive touchdowns scored by a Missouri player in one season — and there’s still seven games left to play.
Outside of the main highlights, Garrett was productive across the board Saturday.
On top of the interceptions, he added five total tackles, two tackles for a loss and two quarterback hurries. Add that to the 37 total tackles, the two tackles for a loss and the sack that Garrett put up through the first four games, and you’ve got the makings of an all-time senior season.
“It’s essential for everybody to be around somebody they look up to, to play at a very high level,” linebacker Nick Bolton said. “People talk about him being an All-American, and he’s playing at a high level and me just taking everyday, just learning from him.”
Garrett already has one SEC Defensive Player of the Week award this season, and it’s likely he gets another after this game.
How would someone describe the ideal All-American linebacker? Would a two-time Defensive Player of the Week in college football’s top conference that’s on the cusp of breaking his own school’s record for defensive touchdowns in a season fit the description?
“I already know the type of guy he is. That’s not what he’s focusing on, but the way he’s playing, it has no choice,” cornerback Adam Sparks said. “Stats don’t lie, and the way he’s playing, every week he’s consistent with it.”
Rarely do you see one player who can take over a game in such a big way as quickly as Garrett can. If Garrett can stay anywhere near the pace he’s been at through five games, you better believe national voters will be taking notice before the season is over.
And if he wasn’t already in the minds of voters before today, defensive tackle Jordan Elliott thinks he’s firmly entrenched in the All-American conversation now.
“Without a doubt,” Elliott said.