Missouri's Football Season of 1976

Inconsistent...Improbable

Spectacular

 

AL ONOFRIO

In 1976, Missouri was unranked to start the season. They had an unspectacular 1975 campaign, finishing 6-5, but kicking off the season with a  20-7 upset of #2 Alabama at Birmingham on national television. The new season was promising, with a bevy of stars returning, including quarterback Steve Pisarkiewicz and tight end Kellen Winslow. But, even with that kind of talent, the Tigers were picked to finish in the middle of the pack in a tough Big Eight Conference. Weighing against them was the fact that they had three extremely tough road games against top ten powers USC, Ohio State and Nebraska.

 

Before the season began, Missouri Coach Al Onofrio said that his biggest nightmare would be Pisarkiewicz sustaining an injury late in a close game against USC in L.A. Ironically, Pisarkiewicz was injury, having cut his finger severely before the game. But, it was never close. The improbable occurred on that first night of the season as Missouri crushed #8 ranked Southern Cal in the Coliseum, 46-25. The Tigers rose to #6 in the rankings on the strength of the upset. But, it was all for not as they were beaten soundly by a mediocre Illinois team at Columbia the following week, 31-7. Having been brought  back down to earth, the now unranked Tigers ventured to Columbus, OH to face #2 Ohio State and Woody Hayes at The Horseshoe. Without the services of Pisarkiewicz, the Tigers did it again. They stunned the Buckeyes on a last second two-point conversion, winning 22-21.

 

Now the Tigers rose again in the rankings to #12. With easy wins at home against North Carolina and on the road at K-State, Missouri was #9 at 4-1 on October 11. Then disaster struck. They were beaten by Iowa State and again fell mightily in the rankings to #17. Would it not have been for the impressive upsets of USC and OSU, the Tigers surely would have disappeared from the polls entirely.  Now, another titanic road game faced them. This time they would travel to Lincoln, NE to face #3 Nebraska. Could it happen again?

 

It did.

 

On the strength of a miracle 98 yard touchdown pass from Peter Woods to Joe Stewart, the Tigers stunned the Cornhuskers, 34-24. In spite of the Iowa State loss, the victory put the Tigers in the drivers seat for the Big 8's Orange Bowl birth. But, it was not to be.

 

Inexplicable failures like a loss to Illinois in week #2 characterized the season.

Missouri lost three out of their last four games. They lost to #14 Oklahoma, defeated #14 Colorado, and lost  to #16 Oklahoma State. Still ranked #19, in the final game of the season in a game with bowl implications, the Tigers faced unranked Kansas and were soundly crushed, 41-14, ending with a 6-5 record.

 

It is easy to say in retrospect that the Tigers were inconsistent and poorly coached by Al Onofrio, who was in his last years. However, the Tigers were plagued by injuries at the quarterback position and just had one hell of a schedule. That season, the Tigers faced six teams that finished in the final top twenty (#2 USC ,  #5 Ohio St. , #6 Oklahoma , #7 Nebraska, #14 Oklahoma St., #16 Colorado). All of these teams played in the post-season. It should also be noted that Missouri lost on the road to Oklahoma State by only 1 point and to OU by 7. Against Kansas they simply ran out of steam and bottomed out. The roller coaster that had been their season had come to an end

 

The 1976 Missouri Tigers have to be considered on of the worst, best team in NCAA history.

 

 

 

The Season Schedule, Results and Rankings:

 

Date

Missouri's

Ranking

Opponent

Opponent's

Ranking

Result

9/11 

NR at USC (8) 46-25 W
9/18 (6) Illinois NR 6-31 L
9/25 NR at Ohio State (2)  22-21 W
10/2 (12) North Carolina NR 24-3 W
10/9 (9) at Kansas State NR 28-21 W
10/16 (7) Iowa State NR  17-21 L
10/23 (17) at  Nebraska (3) 34-24 W
10/30 (10) at  Okla. St. (16) 19-20 L
11/6 (16) Colorado  (14)  16-7 W
11/13 (11) at Oklahoma  (14)  20-27 L
11/20 (19) Kansas NR 14-41 L

 

Mizzou Shows 'Em Up, 46-25

Bell’s 172 yards not enough for SC

 

By LOEL SCHRADER

Staff Writer

Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram

Sunday, September 12, 1976

 

It was a night on which USC expected to display a Heisman Trophy contender and a football team that would begin an upward surge in the national rankings. Instead, as 49,535 fans looked on in astonishment Saturday evening at the Coliseum, Missouri blitzed the Trojans, 46-25, with a dazzling assortment of running and passing.

 

The Tigers shot to a 30-10 halftime lead as Curtis Brown scored three touchdowns, one a 95-yard kickoff return, and the Trojans never really regained their poise.

 

The defeat, occurring on the debut of John Robinson as head coach, was the worst in the school's history for an opening game, the other being a 27-7 loss sustained by

John McKay's team to Georgia Tech in 1961.

 

It was also the most points scored against the Trojans in an opener and the fourth highest total registered against a USC team since the school began playing football in 1888.

 

Trojan tailback Ricky Bell pounded for 172 yards in 29 carries as he attempted to match the nationally-televised performance of Pitt's Tony Dorset earlier in the day. But despite Bell's valiant effort, the Trojans were no match for Missouri's fleet runners and receivers, who sliced USC's line apart and had the Trojan secondary in disarray.

 

The Missourians may not be the class of the Big Eight Conference, but they were without competition Saturday night as quarterback Steve Pisarkiewicz drilled receivers for 171 yards and touchdown passes of 15, 25 and 49 yards.

 

Slotback Joe Stewart, split end Leo Lewis and tight end Kellen Winslow found plenty of daylight in the Trojan secondary and Pisarkiewicz, despite playing with an injured finger, rarely missed when it was important. The Missouri quarterback had sustained a cut finger that required four stitches and a skin graft Tuesday night, but he showed few effects of the soreness.

 

Tiger coach Al Onofrio staged his second major upset in an opening game in two years. A year ago, Missouri drilled Alabama, 20-7, in a nationally-televised opener.

 

Onofrio's game plan was brilliant. He used a three-deep umbrella on defense to cut off long USC passes, and contained Bell with eight defenders near the line of scrimmage. He was willing to be "soft" in certain areas in order to make the Trojans work for their touchdowns.

 

That opened the way for USC quarterback Vince Evans to work on medium-range passes, and he was mildly successful Although a bad pass with 10 completions in 18 attempts and 154 yards until sustaining a bruised thigh late in the game.

 

On offense, Onofrio exploited the weaknesses of USC's deep three, and kept USC's defense bewildered and off-balance. A defense which was supposed to carry the Trojans collapsed in the face of Missouri's speed and power.

 

The only bright spot for USC, which went into the game favored by seven points, was the performance of freshman tailback Charles White. The 1976 high school 330-vard hurdles champ from San Fernando scored on runs of 6 and 79 yards in his Trojan debut.

 

"That was a hell of a night, wasn't it?" said Robinson. "The game was my responsibility and my fault, not the players. We weren't prepared to play the game. That's my job."

 

Referring to Missouri's 486 yards, he said: "Our defense was jolted. We couldn't tackle. Maybe we expected it to be easier." Looking ahead, he said, “believe in this team. I believe in myself. We just did a lousy job."

 

Brown's 95-yard kickoff return rocked the Trojans, who had world-class quarter-miler Kenny Randle perfectly placed in a safety position. Brown blew past Randle as though the USC defender were tied to the turf and outsped Trojan pursuer Carter Hartig for the touchdown.

 

Although a bad pass from center on the extra point attempt kept Missouri’s margin to 13-7, the Tigers were ahead to stay.

 

USC pulled to within 13-10 on Glen 25-yard yard field goal, but Missouri countered with a 28- yarder by Tim Gibbons and then exploded for two more touchdowns to take a 30-10 halftime lead.

 

Pisarkiewicz lofted a 25-yard scoring pass to Lewis, who got behind defender Mike Burns. The Tigers went 76 yards in four plays and consumed only 53 seconds for the second TD.

 

Pisarkiewicz nearly was leveled on the scoring play by Trojan tackle Gary Jeter, but broke loose and flipped a pass into the flat to Brown, who took off like a rocket. The Missouri halfback cut back but appeared hemmed in by USC defenders. However, Lewis gave him a fine block and two Trojans ran into each other as Brown went the distance..

 

Once the Tigers got the Trojans on the run, they never let up. Gibbons kicked his second field goal of the game early in the third quarter to give Missouri a 33-10 advantage and Lewis ran 24 dazzling yards on a reverse to make the score 39-10.

 

The Trojans countered with an 89-yard drive that featured a 32-yard run by fullback Dave Farmer. White swept right end for the final six yards.

 

USC's miseries were compounded in the fourth quarter when Evans, attempting to pass, fumbled and Missouri recovered at the Trojan 11. After losing a touchdown by Brown on a holding penalty, the Tigers cashed in on the opportunity when Pisarkiewicz passed 15 yards to slotback Joe Lewis.

 

White scored his second touchdown of the game for USC in the late minutes when he took a pitchout, cut back across the middle and raced 79 yards. Bell's two-point conversion cut Missouri's margin to 46-25.

 
 

Sub Passer Hero in Tigers Upset

 

By CHUCK DELL

News Sports Editor

Lima News

Sunday, Sept. 26, 1976

 

COLUMBUS- Pete Woods, a 6-4. 210-pound junior quarterback starting his first game ever, blasted into the end zone on a two-point conversion play with 12 seconds remaining as the fired up Missouri Tigers upset second-ranked Ohio State 22-21 before 87,936 stunned Ohio partisans at Ohio Stadium Saturday afternoon.

 

Woods, a native of University City. Mo., got the call when regular quarterback Steve Pisarkiewicz failed to answer the bell because of a shoulder injury, sustained in last week's 31-6 loss to Illinois. Woods' heroics ended Ohio State's Ohio Stadium victory streak at 25 and dropped the Buckeyes to 2-1 on the season.

 

"This was the greatest football game in the history of Missouri." Said Tiger coach Al Onofrio as he entered the press interview room following the game.

 

"Pete (Woods) did one hell of a job for his first start," Onofrio said in the day's greatest understatement "He has good speed, he's strong, he's a great athlete, but he doesn't throw the football with as much zip as Zark (regular starter Pisarkiewicz).

 

Ohio State had waltzed to a 21-7 halftime lead, scoring 21 points in the second quarter, and appeared well on its way to what might be another easy victory.

 

But Woods and his mates had other plans.

 

With exactly nine minutes left in the third quarter tailback Curt Brown scored from four yards out and the extra point cut the Buckeye margin to 21-14.

 

And for the next 19 minutes of playing time the two giants slugged it out in the bloody combat of the trenches

 

With 4:42 remaining in the game Missouri took possession at its own 20 and Woods went to work. At the 1:12 mark of the contest Missouri had penetrated to the OSU 44 and the Buckeye lead appeared safe.

 

But on third and three at the OSU 40, Brown exploded 31 yards to the Ohio State nine and suddenly the Ohio throng fell silent.

 

Three plays later Woods lofted a perfectly thrown pass over the head of a Buckeye defender into the corner of the end zone where Brown hauled it in for the touchdown that cut the Buckeye margin to 21-20.

 

Woods (#18 at bottom) scores winning two point conversion.

Missouri elected to go for two points and a win instead of a tie. Woods passed high over the head of Brown and Ohio Stadium exploded in happy tumult. But the happiness was short-lived as the Buckeyes were called for holding and the Tigers were to get one last chance at one of the major upsets in this season of upsets.

 

The Missouri coaches called Woods to carry on an option left. If he saw daylight he was to cut for the goal, if not he was to pitch to Brown. Woods was hit and apparently stopped by defensive end Kelton Dansler but refused to go down, diving across the goal for the winning points.

 

Woods' heroics overshadowed a three-touchdown performance by Buckeye fullback Pete Johnson who scored on short plunges of two, two and three yards. Johnson ended the game with 119 yards in 23 carries and junior tailback sensation Jeff Logan collected 110 yards in 13 carries, the third consecutive game over the 100-yard mark for the Canton native.

 

But no story of this game would be complete without proper credit being given the Missouri defense, which completely stymied the Buckeye offense in the second half.

 

Tigers' 98-yard 'Crazy' Play Breaks Huskers

 

Jefferson City News-Tribune

Sunday, October 24, 1976

 

LINCOLN, Neb . (AP)- The game-breaking, 98-yard touchdown pass that shocked No. 3 Nebraska and lifted No. 17 Missouri to a 34-24 football victory Saturday falls into the "crazy play" class, said a jubilant Peter Woods. "They sent the play in and I could see that Nebraska was playing very run conscious, with both safeties up near the line,"

 

Woods, who lofted the scoring strike to Joe Stewart, said afterward, "I knew Joe could beat anybody if he got (covered) one-on-one,” he said.

 

Woods said he wasn't surprised at the play called by coaches with the ball on Missouri's 2-yard line. "We run a lot of crazy plays," he said.

 

Woods carries against Nebraska.

Missouri Coach Al Onofrio said the Big Eight record pass was less risky than it appeared, thrown when the Tigers were trailing 24-23.

 

"We figured we couldn't lose on it because a safety wouldn't have hurt that much and an interception would be as good as a punt," he said.

 

"Twenty-four points is enough to win," said Husker defensive Coach Monte Grjffin, taking the blame for the Big Eight Conference defeat. "We just can't give up the long bomb."

 

After Woods' long bomb, Tim Gibbons iced the game for-the Tigers with a late 34-yard field goal. Nebraska's hopes waned with five minutes left when a broken Husker play led to Dave Shamblin attempting what appeared to be a feeble throw when Missouri defenders converged on him. The play was ruled a fumble, which was recovered by Missouri's Bruce Carter.

 

Nebraska had one more shot after the Shamblin fumble but Husker quarterback Vince Ferrragamo threw an interception picked off by Mark Kirkpatrick.

 

Nebraska's only second half scoring came from field goals of 20 and 21 yards by Al Eveland, the second giving the Huskers a 24-23 lead before Wood came back with his game-breaking touchdown strike.

 

Woods most of the season has been tagged the Tigers' No. 2 quarterback, but has logged more playing time because of an injury to top signal-caller Steve Pisarkiewicz.

 

Handling the running chores the bulk of the afternoon for Missouri was Dean Leibson, a replacement I-back for the injured Curt Brown, the Big Eight Conference's leading rusher.

 

The teams matched each other with three touchdowns each in the first half, but two Missouri kick conversions and a field goal by Gibbons provided the 23-18 halftime score. Nebraska missed all its first half conversion attempts, once on a kick and twice on two point pass efforts that failed.

 

Missouri struck first after a Rob Fitzgerald interception of a Ferragamo pass and Woods scored later from the 1. Nebraska bounced back with a pair of touchdowns, one when Kent Smith covered a punt blocked by Larry Valasec in the end zone and another when I-back Monte' Anthony plunged over from the 1.

 

The Tigers put together a pair of TD’s 37 seconds apart, the first on a Woods-to-Kellen Winslow pass covering 9 yards. Nebraska’s Richard Berns fumbled on the ensuing kickoff and a Missouri reverse by Leo Lewis took the ball within inches of the Husker goal. Woods dived over.

 

Nebraska added one other TD on a Ferragamo plunge after Missouri's Mike Newman fumbled a Husker punt. Missouri capped the first half scoring with a Gibbons' field goal.

 

RETURN