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Let’s look back at Missouri’s first meeting with Auburn

Shug Jordan was a far more successful coach than Al Onofrio, but their lone meeting was one-sided in Uncle Al’s favor.

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The front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports section (Dec. 30, 1973).

Auburn’s 2013 SEC title game win over Missouri was memorable for any number of reasons — points, yards, importance, etc. — but it wasn’t the first meeting between the two Tiger teams. That came 40 years earlier, in El Paso of all places.

There were some parallels between the early-1970s and the mid-2010s.

  • A legendary coach’s final breakthrough: the 1969 Big 8 title for Dan Devine, the 2013-14 SEC East titles for Gary Pinkel.
  • A coaching change after a five-win season: Devine went 5-6 and left for the Green Bay Packers, and Pinkel went 5-7 and retired.
  • A defensive assistant named as successor: Al Onofrio for Devine, Barry Odom for Pinkel.
  • A total offensive collapse: Mizzou fell from 33.2 points per game in 1969 to 8.5 in 1971 and fell from 39.1 points per game in 2013 to 13.6 in 2015.
  • An offensive rebound coinciding with defensive regression: Mizzou went from allowing 20.3 points per game in 1970 to 25.9 in 1972 and from 16.2 in 2015 to 31.5 in 2016.

Granted, Onofrio’s first season in charge was far more of a disaster than Odom’s. Whereas 2016 was certainly far from enjoyable, a 4-8 campaign with a couple of close losses grades out better than a 1-10 collapse.

But Mizzou fans should hope the parallels continue, at least for a while. In Onofrio’s second year, the Tigers’ win total improved by five, to 6-6. They got pummeled by Arizona State in a minor bowl, but they still made a minor bowl after a hopeless first year. And in Onofrio’s third season in charge, Mizzou at least briefly made it back into the top 10 after beating Nebraska in a classic.

As was customary under Onofrio, Mizzou faded late in the regular season. After a 6-0 start, they lost four of five to finish 7-4 and draw a Sun Bowl bid against Shug Jordan’s 6-5 Auburn Tigers.

Jordan was approaching the end of his legendary career on the Plains. He had taken over for Earl Brown in 1951 after an 0-10 campaign, and he had engineered six top-10 finishes and the 1957 national title over the proceeding two decades. And the early-1970s saw Auburn's most success since the late-1950s. Auburn finished 10th in 1970, saw quarterback Pat Sullivan win the Heisman in 1971, and finished 10-1 and fifth in 1972.

The Tigers began 1973 ranked 13th in the preseason, but early losses to No. 9 Tennessee (21-0) and No. 10 LSU (20-6) signified that this would be a rebuilding season of sorts. They took down No. 12 Houston at home but lost three of four to finish the regular season and got rocked, 35-0, by No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

Take it away, Bill Beck of the Post-Dispatch:

EL PASO, Tex., Dec. 29 -- The way the Tigers saw it, Missouri's 1974 football season started Saturday even if there will be a nine-month delay before the next game. Certainly, it looked like a brand-new deal both live and on CBS television.

Casting off the offensive clanks that brought four defeats in the last five games of a 7-4 regular season, the Tigers enhanced Big Eight prestige and excited a capacity crowd of 31,127 in the Sun Bowl by plucking the tall feathers of the Auburn War Eagles, 34-17. [...]

With junior quarterback Ray Smith throwing two touchdown passes and running backs Ray Bybee and Tommy Reamon each gaining more than 100 yards, the Tigers rolled up 390 yards in total offense and dominated the game throughout. Yet, it might have wound up in a cliff-hanger had it not been for an 84-yard kickoff return touchdown by All-America John Moseley as time expired in the first half.

Mizzou led 21-3 before a late Auburn touchdown drive cut the lead to 11 with just seconds remaining in the first half. But Jordan elected to kick to Moseley instead of squibbing the ball. Big mistake. His return made it 28-10 at halftime and made the second half a formality. Mizzou scored to make it 34-10, and that was that.

Mizzou has won 15 bowls in its history. This was one of the easier ones.

Did it light the kind of spark Mizzou was hoping for in 1974? Not exactly. Ranked 18th in the preseason, the Tigers lost 10-0 at Ole Miss to start the season and were never ranked again. It was a particularly Onofrio-like year: beat No. 7 Arizona State and No. 5 Nebraska, lose to Oklahoma State, finish 7-4. But hey, you have to get back to 7-4 before you can get tired of being 7-4.