Missouri lost four starters to injury during a loss Saturday at Kentucky, a rate of attrition Tigers coach Gary Pinkel had never experienced before.
Junior tight end Sean Culkin went down with a sprained right knee in the first quarter, while sophomore right tackle Nate Crawford (sprained left ankle), senior safety Ian Simon (head injury) and senior linebacker Kentrell Brothers (sprained left ankle) all left the game in the third quarter.
“It has never happened to me before, but if you coach long enough, it’s going to happen sooner or later,” Pinkel said of the rash of injuries.
If there’s a silver lining, Missouri, 3-1 and 0-1 in the SEC, believes Simon and Brothers could be available for an 11 a.m. kickoff Saturday against South Carolina, 2-2 and 0-2 in conference, at Memorial Stadium.
Simon, who was briefly knocked unconscious when his head slammed against the Commonwealth Stadium turf as he broke up a deep pass into the end zone, is probable.
“I’m feeling pretty good. I woke up with a slight headache (Sunday) and (Monday), but otherwise I feel pretty good,” he said.
Brothers, who leads the nation with 52 tackles despite missing the fourth quarter against the Wildcats, is questionable.
“I’m counting on him being available,” first-year defensive coordinator Barry Odom said.
That will not be the case for Culkin, who Pinkel said will miss at least a couple weeks, or Crawford, who Pinkel also ruled out for the game against the Gamecocks.
Sophomore Jason Reese and senior Clayton Echard will pick up the slack in Culkin’s absence, while senior Taylor Chappell moves from left guard to right tackle as Crawford’s replacement.
Chappell started 10 games at right tackle last season. He’ll be replaced at left guard by senior Brad McNulty and sophomore Alec Abeln, who are listed as the co-starters.
Simon, who has started 21 consecutive games, would be a big loss if he’s unable to play — always a possibility with head injuries — but Brothers’ absence might be a bigger blow.
“It would be a big loss, because Kentrell is a very experienced player,” Simon said. “He just has a way about him when it comes to the game and feeling the game out.”
Of course, Missouri also expressed confidence in senior Clarence Green and sophomore Joey Burkett, who would be in line for more reps if Brothers was sidelined.
“I have all the faith in the world in Clarence or anybody else coach we decide to put in there …,” Simon said. “I feel like all of our linebackers are really athletic. They can run and cover. I’ve seen them all make extraordinary place through camp and through the spring, so I have no dip in confidence when it comes to those guys.”
Redshirt freshman DeSean Blair will miss a third consecutive game with a concussion, which he suffered in a Sept. 18 car accident involving Terry Beckner Jr., and junior running back Morgan Steward has been shut down for the season.