Bruce Walker watched Saturday as Justin Britt writhed in pain, struggling to get off the ground.
At first, Missouri’s co-offensive line coach thought his big right tackle had simply knocked himself out. Just seconds earlier, Britt had sprinted to the MU sideline and leveled Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins, who was trying to run back an interception.
But Walker would soon find out that Britt had instead suffered a knee injury and could not return to the game. The news only grew worse on Monday, when Missouri coach Gary Pinkel revealed that the 6-foot-6, 315-pound junior had torn his ACL, effectively ending his junior season.
Britt, who had made 22 straight starts for MU, became the fifth offensive lineman to suffer a knee injury this season, joining three other starters — Elvis Fisher, Mitch Morse and Jack Meiners and a top backup in tackle Taylor Chappell.
“It’s a very peculiar or unique situation,” Walker said. “(I’ve) never been around (something) like this before in 25 years of coaching.”
Even worse, the injury to Britt — who Pinkel said has been MU’s best offensive lineman this season — appeared somewhat fluky. Walker said Britt somehow hurt his knee when he got tangled up with receiver L’Damian Washington, who was also trying to tackle Watkins near the sideline.
“Britt stepped on L’Damian’s foot and he hit the heck out of the guy on the interception,” Walker said. “I thought he knocked himself out because he folded up so bad.”
No such luck. Pinkel said it appeared Britt’s knee simply “gave out on him” during the Tigers’ 14-7 loss, and added that he will have surgery Nov. 16.
In Britt’s absence, Pinkel said sophomore center Mitch Morse will move from center to right tackle — where he’s actually logged some snaps this year due to the Tigers’ maddening injury situation — while redshirt freshman Brad McNulty will start at center.
“I feel pretty comfortable out there,” said Morse, who did play some offensive tackle when he was a freshman. “And to make the best of a worst-case scenario, Brad has had well over 150 snaps this season and performed very well out there.”
Morse and McNulty could be playing at those spots for a while, too. Pinkel said reinforcements may eventually come when Meiners and senior left guard Travis Ruth — another projected starter who injured his triceps in preseason camp — heal up, but for now, both are unable to contribute.
In the meantime, the Tigers will simply make due. If Morse and Fisher get injured this week, sophomore Anthony Gatti will likely fill in at tackle, and if something happens to McNulty, Morse will move back to center. If starting guards Max Copeland and Evan Boehm get hurt, Walker said a few decisions will have to be made, though redshirt freshman Connor McGovern is in the mix to play.
“Then if anybody else gets hurt, I’m going to go play,” Walker joked.
But the whole topic that prompted this conversation – Britt’s injury – was clearly no laughing matter to Walker, who expressed relief that one of his biggest, strongest and most consistent linemen is expected to be full-go by the time spring practice starts next March.
“Hopefully he can have a real good senior year,” Walker said, who is high on Britt’s long-term potential. “He’s got a chance to play more football when he’s done here.”