COLUMBIA — Andrew Baggett crouches down to gently place the football on a black tee. His fingers slip off the pigskin lightly so as not to let the ball tumble back to the ground, and then he returns to his full height. He turns to face the opposite direction and begins his steps. Ten forward. Five to the right.
He digs into the spot, turns and then raises his arm. With a blow of the referee's whistle, Baggett begins his cadence back toward the tee. He hits full stride as he reaches his target, plants his left foot and drives his right cleat through the bottom half of the football. It rotates end over end past a Vanderbilt return man and hits the turf 80 yards away.
Baggett, the Missouri placekicker, has done that 32 times this season — the most in the nation. When the Tigers score, they don’t expect their opponents to return the ensuing kickoff.
“That’s what football is all about — field position,” defensive end Shane Ray said. “Andrew’s doing a good job of putting that ball in the back of the end zone and giving us a good chance to go out there and attack.”
The sophomore kicker even has coach Gary Pinkel gushing.
“He’s done such a good job kicking the kickoffs, I think we’re tops in the nation,” Pinkel said. “That’s like the greatest thing in the world. I’ve been a head coach 23 years and I’ve never had a guy kick it in the end zone like this.”
Sheer power is a godsend in the deep kicking game, while accuracy is not really an issue when a guy can smash the ball out of the end zone. But that doesn’t ring true on precision kicks — the field goals and extra points.
If Baggett has a weakness, it is his consistency when three points are on the line. He missed six field goals in 2012 (14-for-20), and he has already misfired on three this season (6-for-9).
“I’m disappointed with any kind of miss,” Baggett said. “But am I worried? No, because I know they’re all really easily fixable.
“I think golf is the best example for it. Sometimes when I’m golfing, I use the same things as when I’m kicking. I’m not swinging too hard; nice and easy. Just focus on the little things like your backswing.”
That backswing is powerful.
“It’s funny because Andrew’s a strong guy,” Ray said. “A lot of people might think kickers are really scrawny and don’t really work, but Andrew works hard in the weight room. Every time he steps out there, we definitely expect him to put the ball in the back of that end zone.”
There are still some kinks to work out in his short game, but the way Baggett talks, he puts more weight on his shoulders than any of the coaches could.
“I want to make everything,” Baggett said. “I think there’s more pressure on me trying to do that than there is worrying about competition, and the coaches know that. They know that I’m definitely the hardest critic on myself, and that they don’t have to sit there and threaten me with competitions to try and motivate me.
“Even these silly little misses have been really frustrating for me. They know I’m mad about it.”
While he still has 2 and a half seasons to solve his accuracy problems, he is already the best in the nation when it comes time to boot the ball from his own 35-yard line.
“It’s kind of an expectation that it’s going to be a touchback,” Baggett said. “It feels good, but I want more.”
Supervising editor is Erik Hall: sports@ColumbiaMissourian.com, 882-5729.