COLUMBIA — You could say the Missouri football team had an extra point blocked Saturday because of a lack of preparation.
You could look at the “running into the kicker” penalty Markus Golden committed or the 50-yard kick return the coverage team allowed, and say there wasn’t enough attention to detail.
You could point out Marcus Murphy’s two fumbles on punt returns and say he should have practiced more during the week.
You could say all of those things, but according to Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, you would be wrong.
After Missouri’s 33-10 win over Kentucky on Saturday, Pinkel sat in the team’s media room next to the home locker room, staring straight ahead at three rows of reporters and cameras. His lips were pursed, his tone defensive.
After his team’s first Southeastern Conference victory, he should have been happy. He wasn’t.
“Does anybody have any idea how hard we work on the kicking game? The attention to detail, the minute details in every phase of the kicking game,” Pinkel said, his voice trailing off.
“We had a PAT blocked in the ‘A’ gap. We muffed a couple punts. We ran into the punter. It was only a 5-yard penalty, thank heavens. I hadn’t seen (Murphy) drop a punt in four weeks. So that’s why this is a crazy business.”
Pinkel was clear — sometimes, football is just unpredictable.
A team can come off a bye week, with two full weeks to practice and prepare, and still fail to execute. At least for Missouri, though, the repeated special teams gaffes did not cost the game.
Murphy, who has a Missouri-record four return touchdowns this season, says he was trying to score a fifth Saturday before remembering to first catch the football. He fumbled two punts — one in the first quarter and one in the second — with the latter resulting in a turnover and eventual field goal.
“Sometimes, you just have to sit yourself down and focus on the things you need to focus on. You can’t get ahead of yourself, start thinking about scoring touchdowns and making plays,” Murphy said. “The main thing you have to do is catch the ball, and you can make plays from there.”
On Sunday, Murphy watched those plays on tape. He saw the first drop, watched himself misjudge the ball in the air, then dive for the ball but have it bounce off his arm to the turf. He watched himself drop the second ball, too, with Kentucky’s Malcolm McDuffen diving over his body to recover it.
He says that sense of disappointment, as well as the image of McDuffen recovering his football, will cause him to focus on securing the ball in the future.
“I think this game will help me. I know what it feels like to go out and drop the ball, more than one. It wasn’t a good feeling,” Murphy said. “Even watching it on film, it was kind of bad. So that’ll put my main focus on catching the ball, and the play will happen for itself.”
The blocked extra point came in the fourth quarter, after Murphy had somewhat redeemed himself with his first rushing touchdown of the season to put the Tigers up 26-10.
Senior defensive end Collins Ukwu broke through Missouri’s offensive line on the play and got a hand on the ball, knocking it out of the sky.
Redshirt freshman kicker Andrew Baggett, who is now 21 of 23 on extra points this season, had difficulty explaining exactly what went wrong. He thought his kick was high enough, and he wasn’t sure exactly how much penetration Kentucky’s defensive line had gotten on the play.
He could only find one explanation: Ukwu.
“He was like 6-foot-8,” Baggett said of Ukwu, who is officially listed at 6-5. “He was a big ole dude.”
There wasn’t just one person to blame for Missouri’s sloppy special teams play Saturday. It wasn’t just Markus Golden running into Kentucky’s punter. It wasn’t just Murphy fumbling two punts, or the fact that Ukwu is “a big ole dude.”
Missouri was poor in every facet of special teams, a fact that left Pinkel shaking his head after Missouri’s win. That performance, he said, will result in losses more often than wins.
“We had a great kicking game against Alabama, and then to come out here and not be as good … there’s a reason why you win games and there’s a reason why you lose games,” Pinkel said. “And the kicking game – we call them special forces, even though they weren’t very special today – if you don’t have that on your side, you start decreasing your chances of winning.
“It’s age old. It will never change. It’s a formula for winning. That’s why I get really frustrated when we go backwards.”
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.