COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Andrew Baggett insists he doesn’t think about ”The Kick.”
Eleven months after the Missouri kicker missed a game-tying, 24-yard field goal in double overtime against South Carolina, the Tigers travel this week to face the 13th-ranked Gamecocks in the first of eight consecutive Southeastern Conference matchups.
Missouri (3-1) enters the game unranked following a stunning 31-27 home loss to Indiana, but remains untested in SEC play. A victory against the preseason favorite to win the East division would go a long way toward returning to the conference championship game.
”We’re going to put our foot on the gas,” quarterback Maty Mauk said. ”We’ve got to get ready to go. When you start SEC play, you’ve got to make a statement early.”
Baggett says he dealt with fans’ reaction to last year’s loss ”for a while,” but realized it meant little as the Tigers went on to win their following four games to capture the division. Besides, it’s a new year and a new team.
With one problem of old, though.
Missouri allowed 11 tackles for loss to Indiana, which yielded 45 points to Bowling Green the previous week. The consistent pressure prevented the Tigers from establishing any rhythm on offense, and outside of two early long runs by Russell Hansbrough, the team averaged just 1.9 yards per rush.
Part of the issue could be attributed to a makeshift offensive line following the loss of fifth-year senior left guard Anthony Gatti, who tore his right anterior cruciate ligament in the first quarter. In 2012, when Missouri went 5-7, only one lineman stayed healthy enough to start every game.
”You look at us last year, we were able to keep the same five guys in the same five spots for every game but (two),” offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. ”So does that lead to more consistent, better play? Sure it does. But when you get injuries, this is what happens.”
Brad McNulty relieved Gatti last week and is expected to start for the first time at left guard against the Gamecocks (3-1, 2-1 SEC). He started five times at center two years ago before backing up Evan Boehm at the position last season.
Connor McGovern will move from right tackle to right guard, where he started every game last season. Taylor Chappell is expected to make his first career start at right tackle in McGovern’s absence.
Only Mitch Morse (left tackle) and Boehm (center) carry over. But Boehm wasn’t immune to the line’s struggles against Indiana, as he snapped the ball too high several times throughout the game.
”Once you start thinking about it, you just tend to start doing it more and more,” Boehm said. ”Like I said, I had a (bad) day. I don’t have an excuse for it. I found out what I was doing, and I went out on Sunday and corrected it.”
Defensive end Markus Golden is expected to return after missing last week with a strained hamstring. Indiana recorded 493 yards of total offense and repeatedly ran toward his usual side of the field. Golden and fellow defensive end Shane Ray have combined for 16 tackles for loss, including 10 sacks, this season.
The Tigers can also take solace in not having to face quarterback Connor Shaw, who unexpectedly came off the bench with a sprained left knee to lead South Carolina back from a 17-0 fourth-quarter deficit in last year’s matchup. With his current employer, the Cleveland Browns, not playing this week, Shaw is expected to rejoin the Gamecocks on the sideline.
So who knows?
”Hey, it’s the SEC,” Missouri linebacker Michael Scherer said. ”It’s what everyone talks about.”