COLUMBIA — The sound he’s looking for is a thud, not a smack.
When Missouri punter Trey Barrow knows he got all of one, the sound is a duller, deeper thud.
Barrow's 73-yarder against Arizona State was the longest by a Tiger punter since Adam Crossett hit a 79-yard blast against Texas A&M in 2006.
Barrow's average on Friday (58 yards per punt) was the best for a Missouri punter in a game with three or more attempts, breaking Bob Steuber's record from 1942.
Through two games, admittedly a small sample size, Barrow has averaged 49.5 yards per punt, good for fourth in the nation. The Missouri record for a full season is 45.03, set in 1996 by Vince Sebo.
At 42.73 yards per punt, Missouri currently ranks 16th in the NCAA in net punting. The Tigers' best net punting season since the stat began being tracked in 1990 was 2009, when they finished fourth in the country with a 40.48 average.
The feeling in his foot is like when a batter hits a baseball on the sweet spot. When making contact stings your hands in baseball, it usually means you didn’t hit it well. Punting is no different.
Andy Hill, Missouri’s wide receivers coach, who also holds the duty of coaching the punters, said he doesn’t even need to hear the thud to know.
“I can see when he drops the ball well what’s going to happen,” Hill said. “And when he nails it, it comes off the foot and it’s hot.”
Friday against Arizona State, Barrow did just that, blasting a 73-yard punt in the second quarter.
Once it got into the air, it was easy to tell that it was an absolute bomb, either by looking at the trajectory of the ball, or by watching Arizona State punt returner Jamal Miles sprint backwards like he was chasing a lost pet.
“Right when I hit it, you know, you try to keep your head down, and then I looked up and I knew I hit it pretty well," Barrow said. "I saw him running back, and I was just hoping it got over his head and that we had good coverage downfield.”
Hill’s thoughts were slightly less complicated when he saw the punt sail into the air.
“Tackle the dude,” he said, referring to Miles
After both of the Tigers' first two games in 2011, Barrow has received the Special Teams Playmaker T-shirt, given to Missouri’s best special teams player each week. Barrow said he now has the shirt in black, white and gray varieties after receiving the award multiple times.
His performance has been deserving of perhaps more than a T-shirt.
Barrow, a Moberly native, credits his success to an elite punting camp he attended over the summer, but he also said he knew he had this kind of performance in him from the beginning.
“I went to the elite camp, and it really helped my confidence and also my form,” Barrow said. "It’s helped a lot just getting out there and doing it … I knew that I could hit the ball like this.”
Hill isn’t surprised either.
“He hit the ball very well last spring, he hit it very well last fall … He’s been real consistent in practice and that’s the thing you’re not surprised by when he does it on game day,” Hill said. “It’s just like anything else, if you get a little bit of confidence built up, and you see yourself do things right, all of a sudden you start getting into a zone a little bit.”
The big punts allow the Tigers to “flip the field,” as coaches say. What that means is that successful kicks take what might have been a poor field position and turn it into a good one.
“It was unbelievable how we flipped the field several times,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “It’s a remarkable advantage field position wise.”
An advantage that defensive coordinator Dave Steckel said his squad needed to make more use of.
“That field position is awesome, but we didn’t take advantage of it this week,” Steckel said. “Trey has done a great job for us.”
Whether the Tigers' defense can start taking advantage of it remains to be seen, but it looks like the field position is going to be there either way.