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1985: The Wagon De-Rails (Part Three)

For other seasons, go here.

Part One
Part Two

An inconsistent offense and a porous sieve of a defense.  Not a good recipe for a first-year coach.  After Mizzou's 0-5 start, Woody Widenhofer had no choice but to look to the future at a number of positions.  The youth level was, by necessity, already pretty high, but it was time to take it even further.

October 19: #6 Nebraska (4-1) at Missouri (0-5)

Even a bad Mizzou team was up for Nebraska...

Ever since a tight, season-opening loss to Florida State, Nebraska had once again gone back to being Nebraska.  After three home games in which they pummeled Illinois, Oregon, and New Mexico by a combined 153-32, the Huskers had gone on the road and tripped up #5 Oklahoma State, 34-24.  They were up to #6 in the country, and they pulled into Memorial Stadium to face a team starting four freshmen and two sophomores on defense, and another five sophomores on offense.  A recipe for doom, right?  Not so fast, my friend.

As the beginning of the I-70 World Series stole all the headlines in Missouri, Mizzou attempted to steal some back.  Predictably, Nebraska's offense, led by all-conference back Doug DuBose, ran all over the Tigers in the first half, but Mizzou stopped them for field goals a whopping FIVE times thanks mostly to an improving secondary.  NU quarterbacks were just 3-for-15 passing, with two interceptions by Erik McMillan.  Thanks to walk-on kicker Dale Klein, NU had a 15-7 halftime lead, but it should have been much larger.

Mizzou comes after a punt...



Starting at quarterback for the first time in 1985, Warren Seitz looked good.  He connected with Victor Moore for a 30-yard score to give Mizzou a brief 7-3 lead in the first quarter, and then scored from 13 yards out to bring Mizzou to within 15-13 minutes into the second half.  However, he left the game with a bruised elbow late in the third quarter.  Enter Marlon Adler, who never did seem to thrive in the split role.  In Adler's five drives, two ended because of fumbles.

Marlon Adler tries to gauge whether it's worth it to pursue a fumble and risk decapitation...

That was all the breathing room Nebraska needed.  DuBose finally broke loose for a 22-yard touchdown to give the Huskers a 25-13 cushion, and Klein's SEVENTH field goal of the game was the dagger. Adler found freshman Patrick Overshown for a touchdown on the final play of the game, but Mizzou came up short.

Too little, too late...

In the end, the effort and defensive performance was encouraging, but the offense disappeared. Mizzou's winless streak was now at nine games, but surely that would end with a visit from 0-6 Kansas State the next week, right?


Nebraska 28, Missouri 20

October 26: Kansas State (0-6) at Missouri (0-6)

If it were possible to be a "healthy" 0-6, Mizzou could claim that.  Yes, they had lost to some poor teams (none of Northwestern, Indiana or California would go better than 4-7 in 1985), but four of their six losses were by a possession or less, allowing them to claim that they were just a play or two away from respectability.  But in hosting Kansas State, ANY loss--by one point or 21--would be the opposite of respectable.  Since their 1982 Independence Bowl bid, the Wildcats had fallen apart as a program.  They went 3-8 and 3-7-1 in 1983-84, but the bottom fell out in 1985.  Thus far, they had already lost to TWO 1-AA programs, Northern Iowa and North Texas, plus Wichita State, which would soon become a 1-AA program.  They were terrible.

And they beat Mizzou in Columbia.

On the day that Don Denkinger made his way into baseball history in Game 6 of the World Series, Mizzou found a gut-wrenching way to lose to the worst team in 1-A.  They fumbled TWICE at the KSU 1, they blew yet another halftime lead, they wasted an insanely good 224-yard performance by Darrell Wallace (who committed one of the two killer fumbles), and...again.  K-State!  They lost to K-State!  In the mid-1980s!

Despite the blown opportunities, Mizzou still had this one in hand, leading 17-6 in the fourth quarter and 17-14 with time running out.  On fourth-and-16 from the KSU 42, immortal (ahem) KSU quarterback John Welch attempted a pass to receiver Gerald Alphin, but Erik McMillan (future NFL DB Erik McMillan, mind you) jumped the route and picked the pass off...only he didn't.  He got both hands on it, bobbled it, and then Alphin took it away and raced down the field to the MU 10, setting up the game-winning touchdown pass to Todd Elder.  Desperate to make a play, McMillan, Mizzou's best defensive player, went for the pick instead of simply knocking the ball down, and Mizzou lost because of it.  To K-State!

Kansas State 20, Missouri 17


November 2: Missouri (0-7) at Iowa State (3-4)

Where does a team go after a long winless streak is prolonged with a loss to the worst team in 1-A (or at least, the second-worst)?  How do you possibly bounce back from that?

Following the loss to K-State (at home!), Mizzou had to travel to Ames to take on an Iowa State team angling to sneak to 6-5 and bowl eligibility.  They had played three good teams (Iowa, Colorado, Oklahoma) and lost by a combined 156-23, but wins over Utah State, Vanderbilt, and Kansas, and remaining games against Mizzou and K-State, offered the possibility of at least five wins.  Mizzou started well, riding a Darrell Wallace touchdown and a long touchdown pass from Warren Seitz to tight end Pat Thetford.  They took a 14-7 lead into the second quarter, but their typical third-quarter collapse came 15 minutes early.  The Cyclones posted 17 points in Q2, including a touchdown with 0:28 left, and ISU took a comfortable 24-14 lead into halftime.

Fighting their propensity for a post-halftime funk, Mizzou held steady.  A Tom Whelihan field goal cut the lead to a touchdown, and in what was turning into a bit of a stalemate, Widenhofer chose to kick another field goal with five minutes left in the game, instead of going for the first down and trying to score the game-tying touchdown.

This gamble initially seemed to backfire when the Cyclones took three minutes off of the clock and kicked a field goal to go up 27-20 with just 2:06 left.  Would Mizzou have enough time to mount one last charge, like K-State had to them a week earlier?  Yes.  Seitz took the field with 69 yards to go for the tie and quickly moved into ISU territory.  From the ISU 45, Seitz found Junebug Johnson for 37 yards and a first-and-goal.  Two plays later, Wallace--who had 89 yards on 24 carries--plunged in from the one to bring the score to 27-26. 

Woody wasted no time.  What the hell is the point of going for the tie when you're 0-7?  Is 0-10-1 any better than 0-11?  No, Mizzou was going for the win.  Seitz rolled to his right and once again found Johnson for two points and a 28-27 lead.  The Mizzou sideline erupted.

Of course, they almost celebrated too soon.  There was enough time for ISU to move to the MU 40, but a 57-yard field goal attempt fell short as time expired, and Mizzou players streamed onto the field to celebrate.

1932, 1933, 1971, 1985.  These are absolute worst years in Mizzou football history.  And yet, in the middle of even these terrible years, there was at least one celebratory moment.  After the game, defensive back Tony Facinelli said, "I'm elated.  I don't ever think I've been this excited."  Players chanted "We're 1-0 in November!" and "We're undefeated in Iowa!"  Silliness and glee were in the air.  Mizzou's 10-game winless streak was over, as was Woody Widenhofer's own personal 17-game losing streak (dating back to his reign as Oklahoma's head coach in the USFL), and for seven days, this Mizzou team got to call themselves winners.

Missouri 28, Iowa State 27


November 9: #7 Oklahoma (5-1) at Missouri (1-7)

Energized from the win in Ames, Mizzou returned home for back-to-back games against opponents from Oklahoma.  The first one...well, it didn't go so well.  50,321 fans filled Memorial Stadium for a visit from the 7th-ranked Sooners, who were trying to get back into the national title race after a mid-October loss to Miami.  The biggest obstacle Mizzou managed to provide in the quest for the title was the turf.  Players slipped and slid all over the Omniturf--at one point, Darrell Wallace broke into the open field and just slipped to the ground.  One player, however, liked the surface: OU quarterback Jamelle Holieway (my favorite Sooner while I was growing up in Western Oklahoma).  The freshman QB, who had taken the reins from injured sophomore Troy Aikman three weeks earlier, rushed for 156 yards out of the option and threw for another 168.

Mizzou held steady as long as possible.  With ten minutes left in the second quarter, it was just 10-0 OU (the Tiger offense could do nothing against Brian Bosworth, Tony Casillas, and the sickeningly fast OU defense) when Holieway found tight end Keith Jackson for 31 yards on third-and-18 to prolong a drive; the next play, Holieway found Lee Morris for a 23-yard touchdown, and that was the ballgame.  OU led 23-3 at half, 30-6 after three quarters, and then applied the dagger early in the fourth.  Mizzou managed just 62 yards rushing and 219 total yards.  Meanwhile, OU put up 342 on the ground alone.  Holieway really was one of the best wishbone quarterbacks of all-time until a series of injuries slowed him down.  He was amazing in 1985, and OU would go on to defeat five straight good teams--Colorado (31-0), Nebraska (27-7), Oklahoma State (13-0 on a sheet of ice), SMU (35-13) and then Penn State (25-10) to claim the 1985 national title.

Oklahoma 51, Missouri 6


November 16: #10 Oklahoma State (7-1) at Missouri (1-8)

You have to give a bit of credit to Woody Widenhofer's 1985 Tigers for one simple fact: they never quit on the season.  With just two games left until a merciful end, Mizzou was still fighting and trying to improve.

Twenty minutes into the game against Oklahoma State, it looked like they had improved quite a bit.  Marlon Adler--I guess it was his turn in the revolving door of quarterbacks--found Junebug Johnson for an 80-yard touchdown and a 10-0 Mizzou lead.  Even when the Cowboys quickly and forcefully struck back (three touchdowns, including a pick six, in two minutes), Mizzou didn't stay down.  Tom Whelihan broke a school record with a 54-yard field goal to end the first half.

Mizzou trailed 21-13 despite dominating about 27 of the half's 30 minutes, and they continued to apply pressure in the third quarter.  The defense did a solid job on Thurman Thomas and the OSU offense, and Whelihan added a third field goal to bring the Tigers to within 21-16.  A FOURTH field goal (in six tries), with 13:22 left in the game, made it 21-19, and the Cowboy offense continued to stagnate due to an inspired Missouri effort (it was Senior Day, after all).  Behind Darrell Wallace's 94 rushing yards and Adler's 247 passing yards (143 to Johnson), Mizzou got an opportunity at a go-ahead field goal try with 8:22 left, but Whelihan missed.   Still, though, Mizzou got the ball two more times...and in six plays, lost 13 yards.  A quickly wearying OSU squad (they would go on to lose their final three games of the season, including a 15-10 loss to Iowa State the next weekend) held on, and Mizzou's seniors--including Adler--left Faurot Field for the final time with a ninth loss of the season in their pocket.

Oklahoma State 21, Missouri 19


November 23: Missouri (1-9) at Kansas (5-6)

The less said about a loss to Kansas, the better, right?  The headline in The Missourian said it all: "Missouri's Nightmare Complete."  As was usual, Mizzou hung around for a while, bouncing back from an early 14-0 deficit to tie the game on a Junebug Johnson touchdown catch (the junior from Fulton had 9 catches for 146 yards and 2 TDs and set the Mizzou record for catches in a season) and trailed only 20-14 late in the third quarter, when a defense that a) had played so well against Oklahoma State and b) had suffered so many killer breakdowns, put together one last breakdown.  KU quarterback Mike Norseth found Richard Edsell for a 64-yard dagger, and KU coasted from there.

After the Edsell touchdown, with the game likely out of reach, Woody Widenhofer trotted out Ronnie Cameron, the freshman QB-turned-WR-turned-QB from East St. Louis, for a hand at the QB job.  Cameron went 5-for-7 for 69 yards and a touchdown (to Johnson), offering hope for the future.  That was good, because 1985 was hopeless.

Kansas 34, Missouri 20



If Rock M Nation had existed in 1985, I'd have been painting as rosy a picture as possible for 1986.  Freshman Ronnie Cameron looked like the QB of the future with a nice performance at the end of the season.  Sophomore RB Darrell Wallace looked absolutely wonderful at times and had plenty of eligibility left.  Wide receiver Junebug Johnson still had another year of eligibility remaining after setting the school's season receptions record.  An offensive line led by junior John Clay had matured and improved toward the end of the season.

On defense...well, things certainly weren't great, but with freshmen scattered throughout the lineup--highlighted especially by safety Stan Long and linebacker Steve Vandegrift--they had indeed shown signs of improvement, particularly in shutting down a potent Oklahoma State attack for 57 of the game's 60 minutes (of course, those other three minutes killed them, but that's besides the point).  Plus, they had lost SIX games by a possession or less.

And within two months of the end of the season, Hazelwood Central's Tony Van Zant, the most highly-recruited running back in the country, would commit to Mizzou.  Things just HAD to be looking up, right?

Why this picture?  Why not??

Of course, we know that it didn't work out that way.  We know that this was Year #1 of a failed Widenhofer regime (to be followed by a failed Bob Stull regime).  But at the time, it just seemed like a rebuilding project and a team taking lumps and getting unlucky with injuries.