Where we last left the 1965 Mizzou squad, they had just suffered almost as gut-wrenching a loss as you could suffer. Nebraska had beaten them 16-14, in part because of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty brought on by "barnyard slang". Mizzou stood at 4-2-1, with plenty of national standing--they had actually moved into the AP's Top 10 at #9 after the loss--and a decent bowl to shoot for, but they would have to rebound from a tough loss.
November 6: #9 Missouri (4-2-1) at Colorado (4-1-2)
On November 6, the Tigers faced a stiff rebound test from a resurgent Colorado team. Under head coach Eddie Crowder, a Bud Wilkinson disciple (not to mention an Okie from Muskogee), the Buffs had slowly improved in three years. Taking over a squad that had gone 2-8 in 1962, Crowder managed only duplicate 2-8 records in his first two seasons, but they had been relatively competitive against Devine's Tigers--they lost 28-7 in '63 but only 16-7 in Columbia in '64.
Overall, the Buffs' fortunes had begun to turn in a positive direction. They were 4-1-2 when Mizzou came to town, having just beaten Oklahoma in Norman the week before. Granted, this wasn't OU of the 1950s, but winning in Norman is always something of an accomplishment, no?
Apparently not. Mizzou was unimpressed and swiftly took care of business in Boulder. A 16-yard Lane keeper was the only offensive touchdown Mizzou managed, but it was the only one they needed. A couple field goals and a pick six by Kenny Boston provided the 13-point victory margin, and once again Mizzou had deftly side-stepped a potential trap game.
Missouri 20, Colorado 7
November 13: Oklahoma (3-4) at #8 Missouri (5-2-1)
With Colorado turned away, it was time for Mizzou to travel back home to face an Oklahoma team that, after starting 0-3 (scoring 9 points in those three contests), had begun to figure things out against the dregs of the Big 8. They had beaten Kansas (21-7), Kansas State (27-0), and Iowa State (24-20), with the aforementioned loss to Colorado as the only blemish since early October. It was not to be for OU in Columbia, however.
On a chilly, cloudy Senior Day, Gary Lane scored three touchdowns (ball hog!) and passed for another, and the Sooners could not even remotely move the ball. This one was never close, and Mizzou was 6-2-1.
Missouri 30, Oklahoma 0
November 20: #7 Missouri (6-2-1) at Kansas (6-3)
People sometimes complain nowadays that teams seem to have bowl bids locked up before all the regular season games have been played. It screwed Kansas State in 1998, when the Big 12 bowls were all pretty much lined up on the assumption that KSU would beat Texas A&M in the Big 12 Championship Game. When they did not, they fell all the way to the Alamo Bowl despite being 11-1. Well, once again it was a different ballgame in the 1960s. Before capping their season against Kansas, Missouri had already agreed to play in the Sugar Bowl!
Heading into a major rivalry game, that could have been the worst thing that could have happened, as Kansas had not yet lined up a bowl game (despite holding the same number of wins as Missouri) and needed a big win, and Mizzou's eye could very well have been wandering from the big rivalry game to the Big Easy.
Sure enough, Kansas not only hung around with the superior Tigers in the first half, but twice took leads.
But then the Tigers' athletes took over. Charley Brown burned the Jayhawks for an 86-yard touchdown run (he had 158 for the game, good enough to give him the conference rushing title at 937 yards), and then Johnny Roland took over. From Dan Devine's Simply Devine:
I was a little sad as we prepared to play Kansas in 1965, because I knew it was going to be Johnny [Roland]'s final regular-season game at Missouri and really was going to mark the end of an era. There were two great running backs on the field that day--Roland and Sayers.
Johnny finished his career the same way it had begun--by scoring three touchdowns. We won 44-20, and Johnny finished with more than 160 all-purpose yards. When you saw Johnny run, it just seemed so unreal because it was amazing. He was even more amazing when you realize that he was a unanimous All-America selection that year, as a defensive back.
As I mentioned in Part One, Roland senior season was the ultimate in talent utilization. After starting his career as a stud running back, Roland agreed to move to defensive back for the good of the team--Mizzou had a wealth of solid running backs but really needed defensive help. So he switched sides and became a stud defensive back. In 1965, he added (or re-added) to his repertoire. Not only did he stay on defense and return punts, but he also became a redzone running back, coming into the game when Mizzou was in solid scoring position. It was a perfect move to bring in a bigger, stronger back like Roland after a shiftier, quicker back like Charley Brown had the defense winded, and Roland was scary as both a scorer and a decoy, as his performance against Kansas would show.
In Lawrence, Sayers was good (he was always good), but Roland was better. In his final game against the Jayhawks, Roland a) intercepted a pass, b) recovered a fumble, c) set up a touchdown with a nice punt return, d) completed a pass, e) caught a pass, f) touched the ball 19 times for 178 yards, and g) scored the aforementioned three touchdowns. Sheesh. That's how you become a Mizzou Hall of Famer. And that's how you snuff out the distraction of the Sugar Bowl and put down a rival looking for a big win.
Clearly wins and national prowess are important, but another reason Devine is so highly regarded in Mizzou circles (despite being the last Mizzou coach in either football or basketball to actually leave for another job--though I guess "I have to go replace Vince Lombardi in Green Bay" is pretty acceptable) is that he almost always took care of business against Kansas. In all, Devine's Missouri teams went 8-3-2 against the Jayhawks, a level of success that further emphasized successor Al Onofrio's failures in that regard (Uncle Al went 1-6 against KU).
Missouri 44, Kansas 20
** MIZZOU CLASSIC **
#6 Missouri (7-2-1) vs Florida (7-3)
Throughout history, how often do you figure a team has stopped a soon-to-be Heisman Trophy quarterback on three two-point conversions? I'm willing to bet it isn't a very common occurrence. It takes a team with an infinitely supply of testicular fortitude to pull that off--luckily, Mizzou's defense proved it had just that.
In 1965, Missouri had been on both ends of comeback attempts. Against UCLA, the Tigers had fallen behind 14-0 in the fourth quarter before putting together the most unlikely of comebacks--two special teams touchdowns did the deed--and they had managed a tie. Against Nebraska, it was the other way around. Mizzou took a quick 14-0 lead before NU came back and, aided by an official who wasn't fond of curse words, did just just enough to beat Mizzou, 16-14. By this point in the season, the Tigers were probably pretty unimpressed with double-digit leads or deficits.
Good thing, too, because lesser teams might have panicked in the face of a mad comeback attempt by a stud quarterback.
Heading into the Sugar Bowl, you'd think the attention had to be on the offenses, right? Gary Lane, Big 8 leading rusher Charley Brown, and do-everything Johnny Roland versus Steve Spurrier (11 months prior to winning the Heisman) and All-American WR Charley Casey. But for both teams, defense took top billing. Missouri's defense featured Roland and a stout secondary, and had only given up more than 14 points twice in ten games. Meanwhile, the Florida defense entered the Sugar Bowl ranked #7 in the country, highlighted by All-Americans of their own in DE Lynn Matthews and DB Bruce Bennett.
Sure enough, it was a defensive show early. Neither team scored in the opening frame, as both teams were feeling each other out (a boxing reference!). But in the second quarter, Mizzou's rushing attack got rolling. The Tigers put together a 59-yard drive that was highlighted by Charley Brown's lovely diving catch of a Gary Lane pass. Brown then jetted in from 10 yards out to give Mizzou a 7-0 lead.
The teams then traded punts, only Florida muffed a return, and Mizzou was handed good field position. They took advantage immediately with a halfback option pass from Johnny Roland to Earl Denny...
...and it was 14-0. Florida finally got rolling on offense after that--the future Ol' Ball Coach drove the Gators to the Mizzou 10, but a penalty dropped them back to the 25, and then Mizzou DE Dan Schuppan recovered a Spurrier fumble to stop the drive. Missouri snuck in a field goal and took a commanding 17-0 lead into halftime.
The story of the first half was by far Mizzou's defense. Nevermind Roland and the secondary--this time it was linemen like Schuppan and Tom Lynn raising a ruckus and continuously harassing Spurrier. After the game, Devine said about Spurrier, "We have never hit a quarterback so often or so hard, but he hung in there to do a great job."
To shut out the potent Gators for a half was quite impressive, but to do it for another half would be impossible, right?
Well, maybe not. The D picked up where they left off in the second hafl, shutting UF out in the third quarter and, more importantly, tacking on another field goal to increase the lead to 20-0. As you remember, Mizzou went into a shell against Nebraska and failed to score after two easy TD drive in the first quarter--it was key for Mizzou to remain aggressive against the dangerous Gators, and though it was only a field goal, it made a world of difference.
Heading into the final quarter, Mizzou had the dagger in their hands. They faced a 3rd-and-1 from the Florida 15 and a chance to end any hope of a Florida comeback, but Carl Reese was stuffed for no gain. Devine then had a choice to make--go for a third field goal and technically keep Florida within three possessions, or go for the first down, score a touchdown, and end the game. Devine, who showed against UCLA that he had no problem going for the win when he went for two down 14-6 in the fourth quarter (they missed and needed a two-point conversion on their next touchdown just to tie), went for the jugular. And missed. Reese was stuffed again on fourth down, and Florida was given life.
Six passes later (all completions), it was 20-6. Spurrier took the Gators 85 yards in the blink of an eye, but for some curious reason, Florida coach Ray Graves decided the Gators should go for two. The attempt failed, and Florida was down a full 14 points. That did nothing to discourage the Gators, however. On the second play after the Florida kickoff, Earl Denny fumbled and Florida recovered on the Mizzou 11. Two plays later, Spurrier plunged in from a yard out, and it was 20-12. Ken Boston, however, broken up Spurrier's second two-point attempt, and the lead remained at eight points. If they had just attempted PATs, they'd have been down just six.
After a Mizzou punt, Spurrier had to lead Florida 81 yards for a chance to tie and did exactly that. And once again, it didn't take long. A spectacular juggling catch by Casey (who finished with 5 catches, 108 yards, and the career SEC receiving record) did the deed, and the score stood at 20-18 with four minutes left. But this time it was Jim Whitaker stepping up to the plate for the Tigers--he broke up a pass intended for Barry Brown (who had 9 catches for 88 yards on the day), and Mizzou continued to hold on for dear life.
Florida got the ball back one last time, but Mizzou's defense finally responded, quashing the rally, closing out a dramatic Sugar Bowl win, and allowing the 12,000+ Missouri fans in attendance to exhale for the first time in about an hour.
Missouri 20, Florida 18
The 1965 Missouri Tigers had a lot going for them: ballsy quarterback, deep stable of running backs, hosses in the trenches, athletic secondary, stout defense, good kicker, great coach, and more than almost any other Missouri team, a mountain of pro prospects. Roland went on to become 1966 NFL Rookie of the Year. Lineman Francis Peay was drafted #10 overall to the New York Giants and would also play for Kansas City and Green Bay over a 9-year NFL career. Lineman Butch Allison was drafted in the second round by the Baltimore Colts (and in the second round of the AFL draft by the Oakland Raiders). Gary Lane became a Cleveland Brown. Bruce Van Dyke had his choice of the AFL Chiefs and NFL Eagles.
And that says nothing of the juniors--in 1967, kicker Bill Bates, DBs Jim Whitaker and Bruce Grossnickle, LB Bill Powell, and RBs Charley Brown and Earl Denny would also be drafted.
This was as stocked a roster as Dan Devine ever fielded, and in the end, the results showed that. Missouri was possibly one ticky-tack unsportsmanlike conduct penalty away from not only playing in the Orange Bowl, but playing for even more than that. In a year when nobody went undefeated and Alabama won the national title at 9-1-1, a win over Nebraska could have meant that, after a January 1 slate that saw favorites lose across the board (except for Missouri in the Sugar Bowl), a Missouri-Alabama Orange Bowl would have decided the national champion, just as the Missouri-Nebraska Orange Bowl did. That's right, Missouri was denied a potential shot at the national title because a referee was offended by Bruce Van Dyke's dropping an s-bomb in the fourth quarter of a huge battle. At least when the 2007 Missouri team was denied a shot at the title, it was because they were beaten fair and square!
In 1967, Missouri returned another strong, talented senior class and welcomed future Missouri Hall of Famer Roger Wherli into the mix, but the offense struggled with the losses of Lane and, to a lesser extent, Roland. Mizzou started 4-1 but limped to a 2-2-1 finish, never scoring more than ten points in a game down the stretch (impressive that they managed two wins and a tie!). They sat out a bowl at 6-3-1 and again at 7-3 in 1967 before meeting Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide in 1968 and handing them the worst loss of Bryant's career at the time. But that's another series of posts, I guess.