On Monday, Missouri linebacker Cale Garrett earned the Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Week honor after his strong performance against South Carolina.
Garrett led the Tigers in total tackles and was a force in both coverage over the middle and applying pressure on the backfield. His day was highlighted, though, by a heads up fumble recovery after Gamecocks quarterback Ryan Hilinski was ruled to have thrown a backward pass that sat in the end zone until Garrett picked it up.
His importance to the defense is well-documented, and his game Saturday was exactly what Missouri needed to finally knock off South Carolina for the first time in head coach Barry Odom’s tenure.
When asked Tuesday about receiving the honor — already the second time a defender has received it this season after linebacker Nick Bolton’s Week 2 performance — Garrett was hesitant to trumpet his own play, pointing out some of his teammates who also impacted the game defensively en route to the resounding win.
“I think that’s kind of a whole defensive honor,” Garrett said. “Not necessarily like a personal award as much as I see it as just me doing my job. ...I felt like there were other guys who could’ve won it on our team, too.”
And he does have a point.
The opposition didn’t put a point on the board until late in the first half, and they went into halftime down 10 points. And after a 75 yard touchdown pass from Hilinski to Bryan Edwards on the first play of the second half cut the lead to three, South Carolina didn’t score for the last 14 minutes, 49 seconds of the game.
In beating a team that’s had their number for three years straight, Garrett surely wasn’t the only Tigers defender to leave his mark on the field.
Just looking at the stat sheet alone, a number of Missouri players stood out: defensive tackle Kobie Whiteside recorded three solo tackles, with two of them being sacks; safety Joshuah Bledsoe had five tackles and two pass breakups; Bolton had five tackles of his own while recording two quarterback hurries.
And that does nothing to diminish the impact of safety Ronnell Perkins, who didn’t show up much on the stat sheet but managed to pick off a Hilinski pass at the goal line and return it 100 yards to put the Tigers up by 17 in the third quarter.
Perkins is a redshirt senior whose playing time has fluctuated since his redshirt freshman season in 2016. He’d been solid throughout his career but had failed to make his mark in the turnover department. Now, though, he’s got two interceptions so far the season, with his most recent becoming the longest pick-six in Missouri history.
“Isn’t that awesome (to see him make big plays)?” Odom said when asked about Perkins. “You look at the story of having an opportunity to just stay with it. Just stay the course and understand that in life, things aren’t always going to go your way. Anything worthwhile you’re really going to have to work hard for, and you might get knocked down four times but you’ve got to get up five.”
Clearly, a ton has gone into creating this kind of defensive dominance. In comparison to the rest of the country after Week 4, the Tigers rank:
- No. 4 in yards per pass
- No. 5 in yards per play
- No. 6 in total defense
- No. 7 in passing defense
- No. 19 in scoring defense
- No. 25 in yards per rush
- And No. 27 in rushing defense
And let’s not forget the defensive scores leaderboard, where — after Garrett and Perkins’ touchdowns Saturday — Missouri leads the entire nation.
All of this comes after some chatter about defensive regression heading into the season — due to the losses of leaders like Terry Beckner Jr. and Terez Hall — and the dud the Tigers’ put up against Wyoming. After that Week 1 loss, fans voiced their frustrations about the defensive performance. Many thought this would be the “same old” disappointing Missouri team that would fail to live up to the expectations placed on it prior to the season.
The Tigers might not have faced the stiffest competition thus far, but looking at the sample size of their first four games and seeing how they compare to other teams around the country, it’s clear this defense has the chops to excel against most of the offenses it’ll face the rest of the season.
And if last week’s win is any indication, there’s potential for any player to standout on any given Saturday.