The season started ominously for Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett.
Against Murray State, there was a blocked extra point and a missed 30-yard field goal.
Baggett, a sophomore from Lee’s Summit North, missed a 39-yard field goal a few weeks later at Indiana and then whiffed on a 24-yard try the following week against Arkansas State.
Few would have blamed Tigers coach Gary Pinkel for exploring other options, but instead he resisted the urge to bench Baggett.
That faith was rewarded during a 51-28 blowout last Saturday at Vanderbilt when Baggett connected on all three field goals — from 44, 29 and 41 yards.
“For any player, it feels good knowing that your coaches still believe in you even when you mess up,” Baggett said. “At such a high level like this, there are great players at every position. He could easily be like, ‘Hey, you had your shot, sorry’ and move on, but for him to still believe in me means a lot.”
It certainly helps that Baggett leads the nation with a 65.1-yard kickoff average.
He is also tops in the country with 32 touchbacks among 41 kickoffs. Baggett’s 78.1-percent success rate booming the ball for a touchback ranks third in the nation.
“He’s done such a great job on kickoffs and that’s like the greatest thing in the world,” Pinkel said. “I’ve been a head coach for 23 years and haven’t had a guy kick it in the end zone like this, so it’s been great for us.”
Buoyed by his coach’s faith, Baggett vowed to be ready Saturday if No. 25 Missouri’s showdown at No. 7 Georgia comes down to one of his kicks.
“Georgia won this week with a kick, so that goes to show anything can happen. I’m ready for anything — long kick, short kick, game-winners, PATs,” Baggett said. “Whatever we need when coach calls my name, I’m going to go out there and put points on the board.”Other story lines
Until the streak ends, it’s worth monitoring. Missouri has forced at least one turnover in 35 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the nation. Stanford’s 29-game streak ranks second. Forcing a few mistakes from Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray (or recovering the season’s first fumble) could prove pivotal.
Georgia’s secondary is young, including two freshman starters — cornerback Shaq Wiggins (5 feet 10, 165 pounds) and free safety Quincy Mauger (6-0, 200), who is likely to get the nod with fellow freshman Tray Matthews nursing a hamstring injury. Missouri’s senior quarterback James Franklin could carve up the Bulldogs.
•SANFORD ANNIVERSARY: Georgia’s venerated Sanford Stadium played host to its first game on Oct. 12, 1929. It will cost more than $3 for a ticket and $0.50 for a program — the going rate for the Bulldogs’ 15-0 win against Yale — when Missouri hits town for a top-25 clash, hoping to spoil the 84th anniversary between the hedges.