Mizzou’s miss keeps hope alive for Florida-Georgia winner

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The kick heard ’round the SEC East ignited very different reactions based on locale in the conference standings.

Not long after Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett’s 24-yard field-goal attempt clanked off the left upright Saturday night — securing South Carolina’s come-from-behind 27-24 win in double-overtime — Baggett began to receive death threats via social media.

Meanwhile, folks in Gainesville and Athens — and those back in Columbia (the one in South Carolina, not Missouri) — breathed a sigh of relief.

Missouri’s SEC East title hopes hit a speed bump while those of South Carolina, Florida and Georgia were taken off life support, at least temporarily.

Gators defensive back Cody Riggs watched South Carolina’s riveting comeback at home on TV. Seven days earlier Riggs watched on a laptop in the visiting locker room at Faurot Field as Baggett made five field goals in Missouri’s 36-17 victory over the Gators. He was ejected on the game’s first play for a targeting penalty.

Riggs’ mood took a turn north late Saturday when Baggett missed the chip shot, prompting him to quickly call teammate Jaylen Watkins.

“We’re back in it. We’ve still got a chance,” Riggs shouted to Watkins. “It gave us a little hope. The minute that kick hit the upright, I opened my computer and started watching film on Georgia.”

Florida (4-3, 3-2 in SEC) and Georgia (4-3, 3-2) remain technically alive behind SEC East leader Missouri (7-1, 3-1) and second-place South Carolina (6-2, 4-2) entering their annual clash in Jacksonville on Saturday.

It’s a must-win game for both teams if they want to stay alive.

“It’s kind of like a one-game playoff. If you lose, your season’s kind of done or down in the dumps,” Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy said Monday. “Both teams are going to come out hungry and ready to go.”

Both Florida and Georgia opened the season ranked in the top 10. Georgia was No. 6 and the Gators No. 10. However, both programs have been decimated by key injuries and unexpected losses.

Georgia has lost back-to-back games at Vanderbilt and at home to Missouri, and Florida is coming off back-to-back road losses at LSU and Missouri. They both enter the game unranked for only the second time since 1980. (Both were unranked in 2010 when Florida won 34-31 in overtime.)

This year’s matchup has been referred to by the media as “The world’s largest outdoor pity party.” When told of that moniker on a conference call with reporters Sunday night, Georgia coach Mark Richt laughed at the creativity but not the implication.

“We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves,” Richt said. “I doubt Florida is feeling sorry for themselves. I think both teams know if they win, we stay in the race for the East. So that’s nothing to feel pitiful about.”

Like Riggs, Richt was watching the Missouri-South Carolina game at home Saturday night.
He flipped the channel when Missouri took a 17-0 lead into the final quarter.

Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier probably would have, too.

“I thought we were dead,” Spurrier told reporters after the game. “We had nowhere to go but up.”

“I picked it back up when it was 17-7,” Richt said. “And from that point on, it was very painful, as well. But in the very end it came out good.”

Saturday’s game in Jacksonville will be Gators coach Will Muschamp’s seventh Florida-Georgia game. While a player at Georgia, he went 0-4 against the Gators. As Florida’s head coach, he is 0-2 against the Bulldogs.

Muschamp wants a Florida win in the rivalry as much as anyone. While the Bulldogs have suffered some key offensive injuries this season, quarterback Aaron Murray is not one of them.

“Georgia starts with Aaron Murray on offense,” Muschamp said. “Four-year starter, very experienced, very accurate with the football. He’s having an outstanding season and an outstanding career.

“We’re probably not going to show him anything he’s not seen over the four years at Georgia. We just need to execute and play well. We need to be able to pressure the quarterback with four guys rushing.”

If the Gators win Saturday, they will need to beat Vanderbilt at home the following week and then win at South Carolina on Nov. 16 to have a shot at the SEC East title. Missouri would need to lose two of its final four SEC games. The Tigers host Tennessee on Saturday, and then play at Kentucky on Nov. 9, have a bye week, travel to Ole Miss on Nov. 23, and then close the regular season at home against Texas A&M on Nov. 30.

As they say, anything is possible.

The first domino that must fall for the Gators is their first win over the Bulldogs under Muschamp.

“We need to focus on Florida in this game and what our opponent does well and what we’re going to try and take advantage of in the game and not worry about all the other stuff at this point,” Muschamp said. “We just need to concentrate on us right now.”