1995: Not Quite Ready to Roar (Part Two)

Part One

In Part One, Mizzou managed a 2-2 non-conference record with an okay running game and relatively salty defense.  What would happen when the big boys started coming at them, week after week?  Pain.

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October 7: Missouri (2-2) at #13 Kansas State (4-0)

October would see Mizzou take on three ranked teams in four games.  It started with a trip to Manhattan.

One year earlier, when Bill Snyder's turned-around KSU Wildcats had visited Columbia, Mizzou had almost stolen a big upset, losing 21-18.  After the game, Mizzou DT Steve Martin told reporters that KSU was pretty soft.  Needless to say, those words were recalled in the week leading up to the rematch.

Coming off of a couple decent offensive performances against bottom-tier teams like North Texas and NE Louisiana, Mizzou now got the chance to see what their offense could do against the big boys.  It did not go well.

After posting a respectable 71 yards of offense in the first quarter, Mizzou managed just 47 the rest of the gameBrandon Corso went 6-for-18 (2-for-13 after Q1) with an interception, and was sacked five times (once, he was sacked while two different Mizzou offensive linemen got called for holding).  Even if there were open receivers (there weren't), Corso didn't have time to find them, and after a while he forced the issue a bit.  KSU's defenses were getting more and more stout with each passing year, and Mizzou's first scoring opportunity came early in the fourth quarter, when Lou Shepherd dropped a potential touchdown pass.

Not that that play would have mattered.  The Mizzou defense held on as long as possible--sophomore Shad Criss had two first-half interceptions, and KSU was only up 10-0 at halftime.  But Mizzou's offensive ineptitude eventually wore out Mizzou's defense, and the points piled up in the second half.  The game's biggest fireworks came late, when KSU, with their starters still in the game, threw a 22-yard touchdown pass in the final two minutes.  Mizzou's defensive players--who really had played pretty well all game--took umbrage to KSU's attempt at running the score up, and there was quite a bit of verbal sparring after the game.

Bill Snyder: a) curmudgeon and b) guy who went undefeated against Larry Smith.

In post-game interviews, an embarrassed Larry Smith promised a complete revamp of the offense the next week.  While Corso wasn't playing well by any stretch of the imagination, the offense's struggles weren't entirely his fault--he wasn't getting any blocking, the receivers were dropping too many passes (and failing to get open), and the running backs were fumbling too much.  But the biggest change Smith had in mind was directed entirely at the QB position.

Signs of life: Honestly, the defense played well.  Shad Criss intercepted two passes, and Mizzou only gave up one first-half touchdown.  But when your offense puts up 47 yards in three quarters, it doesn't matter what the defense is doing.

Kansas State 30, Missouri 0

October 14: Missouri (2-3) at #2 Nebraska (5-0)

A lot of program-changing moments and decisions don't necessarily seem program-changing at the time.  It's not until a few years later when you understand what you may have witnessed.  For the few Missouri fans who made the trip to Lincoln on October 14, 1995, they got to see the first steps in what would eventually become Larry Smith's (brief) turnaround of the Missouri program.  You can be pretty sure it didn't seem like it at the time.  You can also be pretty sure that plenty of people still justifiably question the wisdom of the move that was made.

When Missouri inked its 1995 recruiting class, a few names stood out.  SLUH's John McArthur was once considered one of the top high school QBs in the country.  DL Henry Thomas was one of the top JUCO players in the country.  DB Randy Potter was the St. Louis area player of the year.  Devin West was a big, raw speedster from right up the road in Moberly.  Kansas City area products like Eddie Brooks (Blue Springs South) and Harold Piersey (Harmon) would be put in position to make immediate impacts.

But for Missouri fans, the biggest name on the list by far was the kid from Hickman.  Corby Jones had offers from Nebraska and Illinois but had turned them down to turn around the Missouri program.  Clearly it helped to have his dad on the coaching staff, but he also wanted to be remembered.  Play for Nebraska, and you'll win a lot of games and be appreciated; turn around the local team, and you'll be worshiped.

We all know what Missouri would eventually accomplish with Jones behind center--and over time, we will get into the highs that followed the early lows--but to say the least, it was an inauspicious start.

Larry Smith had promised a revamped offense after a poor showing in Manhattan the week before, but it's hard to see the point of making any rash changes before playing one of the best teams in not only Big 8/12 history, but in college football history.  While the defending national champions spent half the season ranked #2 behind Florida State, little stood in their way throughout the 1995 season.  They faced four Top 10 teams--Kansas State, Colorado, Kansas, and Florida--and outscored them 196-73.

Ask somebody to start listing former Husker greats, and the odds are decent that almost every player they name played on the 1995 team.  Tommie Frazier, Lawrence Phillips, Ahman Green, Joel AND Jeff Mackovicka, Christian AND Jason Peter, Jared Tomich, Grant Wistrom, Mike Rucker, Mike Minter, Tony Veland, even Kris Brown, who kicked for Nebraska for about 17 years.  There was nothing to suggest that any offensive adjustment Larry Smith could make would slow down Nebraska's offense enough to make a difference.  I realize you have to put on appearances--you can't just say "We don't have a chance, so we're going to do what we did last week, when we got shut out by Kansas State."  But not only did Corby Jones' redshirt officially come off halfway through 1995, it came off to make him part of a three-man QB rotation.  Corso would still get playing time, as would redshirt freshman Kent Skornia (who actually got the start).

No matter how bad the final score was, it could have been worse.  On Nebraska's first possession, Demontie Cross and DE Brian Cracraft stuffed Ahman Green on 4th-and-goal from the 1.  Nebraska only led 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, and after a short NU punt, Mizzou took over at the Husker 35 looking to potentially even the game.  Quickly, though, Jones overthrew Martez Young and was intercepted by Veland.

So ended Mizzou's scoring chances.  And the game.  Eventually the game Mizzou defense wore down, and the points started piling up in a hurry.  Neither Skornia, nor Jones, nor Corso was able to generate any offense whatsoever.  At one point in the fourth quarter, Corso was sacked, appeared to berate his offensive linemen, and then was almost immediately sacked on the next play--quite possibly the offensive linemen sending a message.

That was one of the highlights for Missouri.

Signs of life: Well, the defense really did play well for about 25 minutes.  There was that.

Here are a couple of clips from the NU-MU game, among a game-to-game, full-season look at the ridiculous greatness that was Nebraska '95.

Nebraska 57, Missouri 0

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October 21: Oklahoma State (1-5) at Missouri (2-4)

It was a hollow Homecoming in Columbia, and not only because Missouri was 2-4, facing an Oklahoma State team that hadn't won a conference game since 1992.  On the Thursday before the Mizzou-OSU game, Don Faurot passed away at age 93 from congestive heart failure.  He had coached the football team, run the athletic program, hired Dan Devine, and even maintained an office and attended practice well into the 1990s.  He had done everything for Missouri Football except lay the sod at the stadium (oh wait, he did that too), and he was gone.  The Columbia Tribune covered Faurot's death like they were covering the death of a former President.  As far as the University of Missouri athletic department is concerned, they basically were.

With Faurot passing away that close to the game itself, what happened on the field was of secondary importance.  Unfortunately for the Mizzou defense, they played like it.  OSU running backs Andre Richardson and David Thompson combined for 253 yards rushing, and after Mizzou scored two third-quarter touchdowns to give them a 20-17 lead--really, their first strong third quarter performance all year--Richardson and Thompson tore up the Tigers.  OSU converted on far too many third down attempts and left Faurot Field with their first conference win in 36 months.

Signs of life: It wasn't enough, but Corby Jones ripped off a 40-yard option keeper that set up an early score.  It was the first glimpse of hope from the legs of Mr. Corby.

Oklahoma State 30, Missouri 26

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October 28: #23 Oklahoma (4-2-1) at Missouri (2-5)

Missouri was now on a 3-game losing streak, flush in the middle of a ridiculously tough stretch of five ranked opponents in six weeks.  In the first two conference games, the Mizzou defense put up at least a bit of a fight, but offensive ineptitude let the game get out of hand.  Against Oklahoma State, the offense got rolling a bit, but the defense fell apart.  Against Oklahoma, it was back to the first verse.

Oklahoma's 1995 season is not remembered fondly by Sooner fans.  It was the first (and last) year of the Howard Schnellenberger experiment, and while it wouldn't end well for OU (they would lose their final three games and miss a bowl), it was still shaping up alright in late October.  A 4-1 start had faded a bit after a 24-24 tie with Texas and a 38-17 home loss to Kansas, but in the mid-1990s, Missouri was a pretty solid antidote for a struggling team.

Really, the 60-minute game between the Sooners and Tigers came down to about two minutes.  Embarrassed by their horrid performance against Oklahoma State, the Mizzou defense showed up and played well against a decent OU offense led by QB Eric Moore and RB Jerald Moore.  OU basically ran two good plays all game in racking up just 246 yards of offense; unfortunately, both plays went for touchdowns.  Jerald Moore scored on a 72-yard reception and a 41-yard run...and that was enough.

The Mizzou offense managed just three field goals and a miserable 153 total yards.  Corby Jones and Brandon Corso combined to go 8-for-24 passing for just 48 yards.  With chances to still win the game in the fourth quarter, Corso went 1-for-10 for 3 yards.  Three!

Signs of life: Once again, the Mizzou defense, in particular a secondary that gave up a single big play, was rock solid.  It's hard to believe now--knowing what we know about the eventual prolific nature of a backfield featuring Jones, Brock Olivo, Devin West, and Ernest Blackwell--but late in 1995, the hard-nosed defense seemed like much more of a building point for the Larry Smith program than the offfense.

Oklahoma 13, Missouri 9

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Next up: Kansas looks to prolong the downward spiral, but instead finds a dogfight.

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