Missouri using kicker to cut down on punt returns - KMOV.com

Missouri using kicker to cut down on punt returns

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- Two weeks ago, Missouri kicker Jeff Wolfert set the school career scoring record. In that game, his job description also expanded.

Wolfert punted five times in losses to Oklahoma State and top-ranked Texas, drawing on his soccer background to minimize returns. After taking the snap, he rolls out in the direction of either sideline and tries to take advantage of misdirection and a roll with a low effort.

Missouri (5-2, 1-2 Big 12) is averaging 44 net yards since making the change from emphasizing hang time, with regular punter Jake Harry also still being used at times.

"That's been very productive for us so I think you will see a combination," coach Gary Pinkel said. "The punting averages have been the best it's been for quite some time."

The inspiration for the change was Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant, who leads the Big 12 in punt returns.

"I tried to keep the ball away from him being able to make a return with the rugby style right and rugby style left punts," Wolfert said. "We had a good day against Oklahoma State punting-wise."

Only one of Missouri's four punts was returned by Bryant, for 6 yards. Results were mixed in last week's 56-31 loss to Texas, with Wolfert shanking a 10-yarder and he and Harry combining for a 34.2-yard average.

Wolfert likes the idea, even if it doesn't always work out.

"You can get your coverage guys downfield quicker, which is different from a normal sky punt," Wolfert said. "Right now, we think that will work out in our game plan."

Before the Oklahoma State game, Missouri barely needed the punter. The Tigers have punted 18 times all year while their opponents have punted 39 times.

Harry is averaging 42.2 yards on 12 punts and Wolfert 43 yards on five attempts.

"I think it's something that's working," Wolfert said.

As for his regular job, Wolfert is on a pace to break an NCAA career record for accuracy on combined field goals and extra points with a 95.5 percent success rate that's better than the 93-percent showing by John Lee of UCLA from 1982-85. Wolfert has made 200 of 210 kicks, 48-for-58 on field goals and a perfect 152-for-152 on extra points.

He has 296 points, shattering the previous mark set by quarterback Brad Smith from 2002-05, although he hasn't been quite as accurate as a senior.

He's 9-for-13 on field goal attempts this year, with two misses against Oklahoma State that could have made the difference -- a 52-yarder at the end of the first half and a 34-yarder that was partially blocked. That was the first kick he's had blocked in his career.

Wolfert did not miss a kick in conference play his first two seasons.

"The kicking has gotten a little more challenging and I've been put in situations where I have needed to make more difficult kicks," Wolfert said. "My confidence is still high, and I still think I'm kicking at a high level."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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