Over the years, with only a few exceptions, this has been Missouri: run into the line, run wide, third down and eight, draw play, punt. Field position, tough defense, pass only when you're behind and time is short. Last year the Tigers scored 13 points against Nebraska, unbeaten at the time. Nothing so amazing about that. Wisconsin, North Carolina State, Colorado all scored more. But Missouri won the game, holding Nebraska to 12. That's Missouri for you. Trouble is, 13 doesn't always do it. The Tigers scored 13 against Colorado and Kansas and came away a loser both times, by four points and one point. The Missouri defense was the second best in the Big Eight, giving up only 12.1 points a game, but the offense was next to last, producing 16.8. The team won its first six games, then staggered in with four losses in its last six. Only a 34-17 romp over Auburn in the Sun Bowl made the end of the year worth remembering.
Now Coach Al Onofrio hopes the offense will have more zip without sacrificing any Big D. Passing may become a part of the Tiger attack. Ray Smith took over as starting quarterback at the end of last season and threw for two touchdowns in the Sun Bowl. But the major cause for excitement is Steve Pisarkiewicz, known to teammates as Zark, a red-shirt sophomore who, Onofrio insists, has "the strongest arm of any passer we've had at Missouri since I came here in 1958." He can throw both long and short and has an exceptionally quick release.
The hub of the Tiger running attack will be Ray Bybee, who was chosen as the outstanding player in the Sun Bowl. Bill Ziegler, who played slotback last season mostly a blocking and pass receiving (pass receiving?) position, has been shifted to tailback. Onofrio, recalling that Ziegler averaged 125 yards a game as a freshman, wants to take more advantage of his power.
But who will open the holes for the runners to run through, and who will give Smith and Zark time to pass? "Our big question mark is our offensive line," says Onofrio. "It will have to grow up in a hurry." Only three starters return, the best of whom is Steve Sadich, a guard.
The Tigers should be as tough as ever on defense, with nine starters back. Tackle Mark Johnson and Linebacker Scott Pickens are standouts. A sleeper at middle guard, one of the vacancies, may be 270-pound Danny Smith, who transferred from always powerful Fort Scott ( Kans.) Community College.
Perhaps Missouri's most serious loss is Greg Hill, who for three years gave the Tigers the best field-goal and extra-point kicker in the Big Eight, perhaps the country. He will be replaced by Tim Gibbons, a soccer-style sophomore who can kick the ball farther than Hill, but not as accurately.
The Tigers must play Oklahoma and Nebraska away, but otherwise the schedule is reasonable, if any Big Eight schedule can be called that. If the Tiger defense is as strong as last year, three touchdowns a game should give the team a 9-2 season and a bowl trip.
Motivation. Desire. Will to win. All those hoary locker-room bywords seemed freshly minted in Pittsburgh last year. And for good reason. Coming off a woeful 1-10 season, the worst in Pitt's long history, returning lettermen were ready to listen to any encouraging words. So when Johnny Majors arrived toting his copy of Norman Vincent Peale's Enthusiasm Makes the Difference, the Panthers were instant believers in his sermon that winning was not just a case of saving face but a test of manhood.
Majors' assistants were devout disciples, especially Jackie Sherrill who all but camped out in Aliquippa, Pa. for six months to land Tony Dorsett, the most coveted schoolboy prospect in the East if not the Western Hemisphere. As for Majors, who came to Pitt from Iowa State as a kind of patron saint of lost causes, he, too, had motivation aplenty: "It's a matter of survival. Either we go up or I got out."