Late on Sunday night, Mizzou Athletics announced Cale Garrett was having surgery on his pectoral muscle and that it would probably end his season.
You don’t have to go too far back for Mizzou fans to experience this kind of news. On Halloween 2016, middle linebacker Michael Scherer tore ligaments in his knee against Kentucky and was lost for the season. An unknown freshman named Cale Garrett replaced him.
But that’s not the sort of gut punch Tiger fans are going through now. For that, you’d have to go all the way back to the magical 2007 season where starting strong safety, Pig Brown, was having an All-American caliber season before tearing his Achilles tendon in the waning moments of the Iowa State game. He was lost for the season.
With Garrett, much more like Brown, this is a loss on several levels. Yes, you lose the production: 39 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 passes defensed, 3 interceptions. Yes, you lose your quarterback of the defense. But most importantly, you lose your leading tackler of every game, the defense’s (team’s?) best player, the “heart and soul”, and the all-intangible player who emulates the coach on the field. You have one of those in a given year and Mizzou’s is now potentially lost for the rest of the season.
Justin Garrett filled in admirably for Pig Brown in 2007, but never provided the game-changing impact Brown provided. Garrett stepped up for the fallen Scherer, but didn’t really find his groove until the following seasons. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it’s all going to be ok, because it’s not. Jamal Brooks will get a shot to start his legacy, but even if he puts up similar numbers, he likely won’t provide that same level of command of the defense, and he certainly won’t be in the running for consensus All-American.
Where does the defense go from here? Garrett and Bolton have taken almost every single snap at the two linebacker positions as long as the game has been in question. Aubrey Miller, Jr. is out at least another two weeks, possibly four. Cameron Wilkins, Gerald Nathan, Jr., and Jamal Brooks have all seen spot-duty and clean-up responsibilities, but only Brooks and Wilkins have really stood out. Since Walters is only truly playing two linebackers at a time, you’d assume that Bolton stays on the field and either of the two youngsters step up. In theory, you can have Bolton slide over to Mike linebacker position and have Brooks or Wilkins take over Bolton’s Will position. How that plays out can only be told once we see the product on the field, and you have to imagine that there will be plenty of tinkering to attempt to replace the output of what was, arguably, the SEC’s best linebacking tandem.
All of our best wishes and speedy recoveries go to the young man who has given everything he has to the Tiger program.
The season marches on, however, and with Kelly Bryant seemingly ok, there’s still a lot of potential (just like ‘07) for a truly transcendent year. It just won’t be with a man playing a truly transcendent season.