Missouri played three bowl opponents between 1973 and 1980 — Auburn, LSU, South Carolina, and Purdue. The Tigers play three of those four foes in 2017. (The LSU game was mistimed, apparently.)
After what is hopefully a nice Week 1 tuneup against Missouri State, Mizzou will begin its season in earnest the next week against a team it has faced as a division foe in each of the last five years and also faced twice in bowls.
To say the least, we’ve covered Mizzou’s 2005 Independence Bowl win over South Carolina in earnest before. So let’s briefly revisit the very first meeting between the two schools, a 24-14 Hall of Fame Classic win for the Tigers in 1979.
A few years ago, I wrote about Missouri’s 1979 season; here are parts one, two, and three. After the classic, rousing 1978 campaign, Mizzou began the year 12th in the country and quickly rose to fifth after wins over San Diego State, Illinois, and Ole Miss. But a blowout loss to No. 4 Texas triggered a funk, and narrow losses to No. 2 Nebraska (23-20) and No. 7 Oklahoma (24-22) meant Mizzou was what it was for most of the 1970s: a high-caliber team with a mediocre record. A 55-7 win at Kansas to finish the season assured the Tigers a bowl bid at 6-5, however, and they had a chance to make a statement against Jim Carlen’s 16th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks in Birmingham.
South Carolina was a pretty straight-forward team in 1979: the Cocks played solid defense (17.1 points per game allowed) and handed the ball to George Rogers as much as possible. The junior averaged 26 carries and 140 yards per game, and SC finished the year with wins over No. 17 Wake Forest and No. 13 Clemson.
Here’s what I wrote about the matchup back in 2010:
It was 50 degrees and rainy at kickoff, and as was typical for Mizzou, the Tigers did not start particularly fast. South Carolina surprised Mizzou with a no-huddle look on its opening possession, and after Rogers drove them down the field, Garry Harper found Zion McKinney for a 20-yard score. Less than four minutes into the game, it was 6-0 South Carolina (the Gamecocks attempted a surprise two-point conversion and failed). That was all the Mizzou defense would allow for a while, but the offense couldn't mount much of a challenge.
It was still 6-0 midway through the second quarter when Mizzou finally struck with a sustained drive. The Tigers went 82 yards but stalled inside the SC 10. Shaky Ron Verrilli's 22-yard field goal cut the Cocks’ lead to 6-3, but it wouldn't stay that way for long. South Carolina fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Mizzou's Johnnie Poe came up with the recovery. The very next play, David Newman caught a 28-yard Phil Bradley pass for Mizzou's first touchdown, and after a rather stagnant first 25 minutes, Mizzou had scored 10 points in 14 seconds to take the lead.
That score also wouldn't last long; South Carolina quickly had to punt after a huge sack of Harper backed them up to their 5. In a year where special teams rarely benefited the Tigers — a blocked punt for touchdown all but ended the Texas game, they missed four field goals against Oklahoma State, and they missed another three against Oklahoma — it allowed them to seize control of the Hall of Fame Bowl. The Gamecocks' punter, standing in his own wet endzone, unleashed a duck that only managed to get to the SC 30. Seven plays later, Bradley plunged in from a yard out, and the Tigers took a commanding 17-6 lead into halftime.
Of course, SC really was a good team, and George Rogers really was a good back. After being hemmed in (and popped down!) after the game's opening drive, Rogers got going again in SC's first drive of the second half. Harper capped a 62-yard scoring drive with an 11-yard scramble, then found McKinney in the end zone once again for the two-point conversion. The Gamecocks were back within three points.
It was win time in Birmingham — the next score would dictate how the rest of the game played out, and after a Mizzou punt, the Tiger defense made its move. Linebacker Eric Berg, the defensive MVP of the 1978 Liberty Bowl, picked off a Harper pass and returned it inside the SC 30, a play that earned him defensive MVP for the second straight bowl game (just call him the Tony Temple of the Mizzou defense).
A few plays later, senior Gerry Ellis broke through the line and scored from 11 yards out. He would end up with 41 yards on 17 tough carries, and Mizzou would take a comfortable 24-14 lead.
The fourth quarter was all about playing keep away. Though Rogers would end up with 133 yards on 25 carries, and Harper would complete 13 of 19 passes, the Gamecocks never seriously threatened again. James Wilder and his 95 rushing yards helped eat up much of the fourth quarter (he would miss out on Offensive MVP honors, which went to Bradley), and amid the raindrops and 62,000 spectators in Birmingham, Mizzou won by 10.
Clearly they should have played more games at Legion Field.
The game was textbook Powers. It was control the line of scrimmage. Control the football. Now and then, skewer the enemy with a pass when he expects it least. Force turnovers and turn them into points.
"It was just another road game for us," said Powers. "You know, everybody was against us but we put on those white jerseys and won." The Tigers were 6-0 on the road this season. [...]
Powers looked back to a midseason switch in his offensive scheme as the key to the team's late upsurge.
"We were trying to do too many things," he said. "So we threw out a lot of stuff and stuck to basics. We made it simple and we started playing as I knew we could all along.
"That's what we did here. We kept it simple and beat South Carolina up front. Don't misunderstand me, South Carolina is a good football team but not as physical as we are, and that was the difference."
As luck would have it, the entire game is on YouTube. Feel free to go ahead and skip to the second quarter.
This was the second of four consecutive seasons in which Mizzou rose to 11th or higher in the polls but finished with four to five losses. Powers could never quite get over the hump in Columbia, but he and his troops had enough to get past Rogers and company at Legion Field.