The 1976 season is one of most exhilarating and frustrating campaigns in Missouri's history. The same season that included two Missouri's most famous upsets (46-25 over USC, 22-21 over Ohio State) also featured some of their most inexplicable losses, and eventually the Tigers limped to 6-5 in one of the strongest seasons in Big 8 history (five teams won at least eight games). Here's what I wrote about 1976 last summer:
It's amazing that the team that beat the #8, #2 and #3 teams in one season, all on the road, couldn't crack the Top 30 [of the summer's Top 100 countdown]. I mentioned how you could write a book about the 1997 season ... well you could do the same about the 1976 squad that...
- ...killed #8 USC on the road, 46-25.
- ...then got killed at home by a mediocre-at-best Illinois squad, 31-6.
- ...then beat #2 Ohio State in Columbus, 22-21, with their backup quarterback.
- ...then whipped #14 North Carolina at home, 24-3.
- ...then lost at home to Iowa State, 21-17.
- ...then beat #3 Nebraska in Lincoln, 34-24.
- ...then lost at #16 Oklahoma State, 20-19.
- ...then beat #14 Colorado at home, 16-7, and gave #14 Oklahoma a good scare before falling, 27-20, in Norman.
- ...then got whipped at home by a 6-5 Kansas squad, 41-14, to finish a mediocre 6-5 and miss out on a bowl bid for the third consecutive year (they were bowl eligible all three years, so naturally that would have been different today).
Never mind a football book about this team ... somebody needs to write a psychology book about this team (and, for that matter, whoever threw this schedule together -- Mizzou played NINE games against teams that finished with a winning record). They played seven ranked teams and went a ridiculous 5-2 against them ... and went 1-3 against unranked teams. Onofrio certainly wasn't lacking in whatever qualities it requires to get your team up for big games, but ... 1-3! A crazy, crazy year. Fans looking back on this year are more likely to remember the upset wins than the losses, which is why a lot of fans like the idea of rough non-conference schedules -- they love being able to talk about the wins without remembering all the losses. But this was a season chock full of missed opportunities. Nobody can question, however, that this was a damn fine football team when it wanted to be ...
Tucked in amid the exhilaration and frustration was a visit from team decked in Tar Heel blue. It was actually a rather big-time matchup -- Mizzou ranked 12th following their surprising win in Columbus, while North Carolina was 4-0 and ranked 14th. Led by a ball-control attack and the powerful running of Mike Voight, who would go on to rush for 1,400 yards and score 18 touchdowns, the Heels were the third ranked opponent Mizzou had faced in four weeks. Mizzou was ready.
As in 1973, North Carolina started with the ball, but after two Voight runs netted 16 yards, the drive quickly stalled. Mel Collins was stuffed for no gain on third-and-5 from the UNC 37, and the Tar Heels punted. The teams would actually trade two more three-and-outs before Mizzou began to get rolling. Midway through the quarter, the Tigers took over at their 30, and on the legs of quarterback Pete Woods and future third-round pick Curtis Brown, plowed into UNC territory. On first down from the UNC 47, Woods found Joe Stewart for 18 yards, and then it was back to the ground. Woods for six, Brown for three, Richard Dansdill for four. From 11 yards out, Stewart took the ball to the house, and Mizzou was up 7-0 with 5:24 remaining in the quarter.
After a Tim Gibbons touchback, Voight once again broke off a couple of decent runs, but after getting rolled up by Illinois a couple of weeks earlier, the improving Mizzou had begun to find answers. A Bernie Menapase pass to Bill Mabry fell incomplete on third-and-4 from the UNC 38, and the Tar Heels had to punt for the third time. A 48-yard punt (and an illegal motion penalty) pinned Mizzou inside their 20, however, and on first-and-15, Dansdill lost a fumble. Three Voight runs and an incomplete pass later, Tom Biddle kicked a 23-yard field goal to bring the Heels within four points as the first quarter expired.
Score: Mizzou 7, North Carolina 3
The turnover apparently pissed Missouri off a bit. Starting from the 20, Brown rushed for 13 yards, Woods found Stewart for another 12, Woods ran for 12, and MIzzou was inside the UNC 40. Then Woods found Leo Lewis for 25 yards to the nine-yard line. However, turnovers struck again. Brown fumbled at the UNC 3, and UNC recovered again. This was only delaying the inevitable. The Heels went three-and-out, and Lewis returned the ensuing punt to the UNC 1. Woods plunged in, and it was 14-3 with 10:23 remaining in the first half.
North Carolina's ensuing drive was one of their best of the day, thought it was powered mostly by a penalty. On third-and-10 from the UNC 27, Mizzou was called for pass interference on a deep ball. There was no 15-yard maximum for pass interference penalties in 1976, and the flag set UNC up at the Mizzou 40. The drive stalled from there. Menapase was stopped by Don Cole and Steven Hamilton for a loss of one on third-and-9, and a 17-yard punt gave the Tigers the ball at their 10. Enter Kellen Winslow. The sophomore caught a 21-yard pass on third-and-4 to advance into UNC territory. Woods ran to the UNC 22, but a sack stopped the drive, and Gibbons missed a 40-yard field goal. UNC went three-and-out again, and the half ended with Mizzou up 11. The only thing keeping UNC in the game were the two turnovers and the missed field goal. It could have easily been 24-0.
Score: Mizzou 14, North Carolina 3
Curtis Brown made sure that Mizzou did not have a chance to blow their first opportunity of the second half. He ripped off a 52-yard touchdown run five plays into the third quarter, and Mizzou was up 21-3. Forced to open up the offense a bit, UNC didn't respond well. Menapase completed one pass for 14 yards, but UNC went three-and-out after that, and Mizzou was quickly back in Tar Heel territory. Brown ripped off another 23-yard run to the UNC 32 ... and fumbled. UNC recovered again, went three-and-out again (after another Cole sack). Mizzou's offense was rolling by this point and moved right back down the field. Woods completed three passes for 31 yards, then rushed for 11 yards to the UNC 6. But on third-and-goal, Mizzou committed yet another turnover, this one an interception by Bobby Cale. Mizzou was up a healthy margin but incredibly frustrated.
Rinse, repeat. Another UNC three-and-out ... and another Mizzou fumble. Woods fumbled at the Mizzou 34, and three Voight runs advanced the ball to the Mizzou 18 when the quarter ran out.
We know that this was an easy win -- it's in the title of the post, after all -- but this game really did encapsulate all of the frustration of the 1976 season. Explosive offense mixed with physical, tough defense, and yet Mizzou consistently got in its own way.
Score: Mizzou 21, North Carolina 3
Facing a fourth down to start the fourth quarter, UNC felt the need to go for it. Bad decision. Charles Banta picked off Menapase at the Mizzou 5 and returned it out to the Mizzou 21. Three runs by Dansdill and a huge loss by Woods ate up some time before a punt (better than a turnover!), but after a 16-yard pass from new quarterback Matt Kupac to Carol Powell, another drive stalled. UNC got called for offensive pass interference, and the Heels ended up punting.
At this point, I guess the hands team came in. Larry Davis and Dean Leibson for 10 carries and 67 yards on the following possession. Mizzou got a first down at the UNC 13, but after two rushes gained only four yards, a Woods-to-Winslow pass fell incomplete. Gibbons made a 27-yard field goal to give Mizzou a three-touchdown lead with 3:50 left. Thomas Hodge quickly picked off Kupec, and Mizzou was able to run out most of the clock with rushes by Earl Gant and Patrick Watson. (It is hilarious how many players got at least a carry or two in these games.) Kupec padded the stats with three completions for 44 yards on UNC's final drive, but a sack ended the game, and Mizzou was 3-1, with their third win over a ranked opponent.
Score: Mizzou 24, North Carolina 3
For the game, Voight only rushed for 68 yards in 21 carries, easily outdone by Brown's fantastic performance: 19 carries, 161 yards. Dansdill threw in 68, and Woods mixed 51 rushing yards with 119 passing yards. Mizzou's defense was the story, however. The Heels came into the game averaging over 300 yards per contest, and they gained just 182 yards against the Tigers, 21 more than Brown gained by himself.
Perhaps the best part: after the game, North Carolina coach Bill Dooley complained about Missouri's turf, saying "The field left a lot to be desired. There were a lot of potholes that needed to be mowed. We had a lot of slips. It's the same field for both teams, but maybe they are used to it."
SEC coaches, take note: anytime you lose to Missouri in Columbia, just blame the turf. It is a long-standing tradition.