COLUMBIA — For almost two full quarters of Missouri's 31-3 win over Tennessee on Saturday, it felt as if the devastating loss to South Carolina from a week earlier had never happened.
Memorial Stadium was once again near capacity. The crowd let out a loud cheer at the introduction of kicker Andrew Baggett, who missed a potential game-tying kick in double-overtime the week before. Before long, the Tigers' offense had built a comfortable lead, looking more like the team that had started 7-0 than the one that collapsed late against the Gamecocks.
For a moment at the end of the second half, though, Missouri was having flashbacks to the ending of last week's game. After a magnificent scramble from quarterback Maty Mauk that sent him darting down into Tennessee territory, Missouri was set up with a 28-yard field goal to extend the lead 24 points entering halftime.
Baggett lined up his kick, having already made a 24-yard field goal earlier in the quarter. Unlike a week earlier, this kick didn't have an undefeated season riding on it. The entire crowd wasn't holding its collective breath like it was then either. Baggett was even kicking it at the opposite end zone.
He still thought about it, though. He thought about how it was on the same hash mark as last week, how badly he wanted the kick to sail through the uprights, and briefly, he let last week's kick creep into his thoughts.
"I shouldn't have," Baggett conceded after the game.
The ball was snapped, and the hold looked eerily similar to the one last week, slanted to the left. The kick was almost identical. It left Baggett's foot and clanked off the upright with a familiar ring. Baggett's head sunk in disbelief as the goal posts shook from the collision with the ball.
"Not again," Baggett said to himself.
But before he knew it, Baggett was surrounded by his teammates, who ushered him to the locker room with words of encouragement every step of the way. Baggett could barely walk with his teammates all around him.
"You know what I saw right away?" Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "I saw about seven of his teammates go right to him and put their arms around him. He did a good job today.
"It's a lonely position. You're out there by yourself. It's like golf. It's one position; you can't hide it. Everybody can interpret that. What I saw was the response of his teammates. I thought it was great."
The kick was the second time Baggett had hit the left upright in his last three field goal attempts. While the rest of the Missouri team rebuilt its confidence after last week's tough loss, Baggett struggled to wrestle his demons from the loss. He's still not sure how his kicks keep finding that left upright, either.
"I couldn't hit that if I tried," Baggett said. "I promise you that. Maybe that's the promise, I guess. The pole just really wants it from that spot."
Lucky for Baggett and Missouri, the kick was inconsequential. The Tigers dominated the second half, rushing for more than 300 yards in the game and reverting back to the form they displayed early in the season.
Even if Baggett couldn't get last week's game out of his head, the rest of the team did so emphatically.
"We weren't going to let South Carolina beat us twice," Missouri center Evan Boehm said.
Putting the loss behind them was something Pinkel specifically mentioned before Tuesday's practice.
"Why in the world would you ever be thinking about last week's game when there is so much out there?" Pinkel said. "Are you kidding me? Maybe it wasn't even necessary for me to say it. There's so much out there. So many opportunities."
Even though Baggett's kick didn't factor into the lopsided game, Missouri knows too well how costly a missed field goal can be, especially this time of year. It will take the entire team, not just Baggett, being at its best for the Tigers to accomplish their goals in the final three games of the season.
"When you get in November, 'My bad' doesn't work," Pinkel said. "You have to play your best football if you want to win games."