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Missouri K Baggett moves ahead

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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Andrew Baggett couldn't sleep.

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Hours earlier, he missed a 24-yard field goal attempt that ended Missouri's first loss of the season, a 27-24 double-overtime setback to South Carolina. When the ball thudded off the left goal post Saturday night, few in Memorial Stadium could believe it, least of all Baggett.

How could a kicker who tied a school record with five field goals the week before then miss a chip shot to tie the game?

''In the locker room, I just wanted to go crawl in a hole and disappear for a day or two,'' Baggett said.

Sitting at home after the game, the sophomore wondered whether the whole situation was a dream. The brownies his parents gave him that evening helped bring Baggett back to reality.

''They still love me,'' he said.

The Lee's Summit, Mo., native returned to practice Sunday afternoon where teammates and coaches consoled him, telling him there were other plays that affected the outcome of the game.

The reaction wasn't as kind on Twitter, where users disparaged the 21-year-old using homophobic slurs; one tweeted ''go kill yourself everyone in Missouri hates you.''

Baggett says he turned his phone off after the game but that ''99 percent'' of the messages he read later were positive. He didn't search his name on social media, but said nothing online could make him feel as bad as he did on the field after the miss.

''My players are like my kids,'' coach Gary Pinkel said. ''I get bothered when people fire at any particular player. He's a Missouri Tiger. I understand fans are fans, but we're a family here, and I just wish people would back off.''

Baggett leads the Southeastern Conference with 12 field goals this season, though he's taken 17 attempts. He's also converted 40 of 42 extra point attempts, helping No. 10 Missouri (7-1, 3-1 SEC) take a one-game lead in the SEC East Division. He earned SEC All-Freshman honors last year after making 14 of 20 field goal attempts, including a 35-yarder in quadruple overtime last Nov. 10 to defeat Tennessee 51-48.

Baggett doesn't think he's experienced two more different weeks in terms of emotions than the past two, going from scoring 18 points (five field goals, three extra points) in a 36-17 win against Florida on Oct. 19 to Saturday's miss. He insists he's going into this week's matchup against the Volunteers (4-4, 1-3) with a clear mind.

''I feel for him, but that comes with the territory,'' Tennessee kicker Michael Palardy said. ''I say it all the time: You're either the hero when you're playing well or you're the zero when you're not playing well.''

Baggett wasn't the only factor in both the double-overtime miss as well as a 46-yard failed attempt in the fourth quarter. Holder Braylon Webb didn't spin the ball to position the laces away from the kicker. The result was an uneven surface for Baggett to kick, causing the ball to fly in an unpredictable direction.

The Tigers' kicker brushed aside that excuse, but said he's not changing anything about the way he practices. If he starts worrying about making field goals, he says, he'll miss them all.

''He knows he should have made it, but that's part of maturing as a competitor,'' special teams coach Andy Hill said. ''The week before, he tied a Missouri record. So you've got to be consistent and you've got to be able to make the stuff that you're supposed to make.''

Asked if he's ready for the next important kick, Baggett said he treats every attempt the same. Whether he's carried off the field or looking for the nearest exit, he won't soon be trading his job for anyone else's.

''That's the life of a kicker,'' he said. ''If I thought it was smooth sailing, I wouldn't be a kicker. I'd be at home watching TV or something.''

AP NEWS
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The Associated Press
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