People have learned to expect the unexpected from the University of Missouri football team. On any given Saturday the Tigers can beat anybody. Or lose to anybody. They belong in an amusement park, with roller coasters.
Last Saturday they did it again, beating Ohio State 22-21. Let's not call it an upset, even if the Buckeyes were unbeaten, second-ranked and riding a 25-game winning streak at home. And even though Missouri had lost to Illinois ( Illinois?) 31-6 the week before and was playing without Quarterback Steve Pisarkiewicz. After all, an upset occurs only when one team wins a game it is supposed to lose. The Tigers have been winning that kind of game for years.
Just look at the record. Four years ago Missouri followed a 62-0 loss to Nebraska with a 30-26 defeat of Notre Dame. In 1973 and '74 the Tigers shucked and shocked the Cornhuskers. They opened last season by defeating Alabama, only to play .500 the rest of the way. They began this year by trouncing Southern California 46-25 and then lost to Illinois. Arid you thought presidential candidates flip-flopped?
Missouri Coach Al Onofrio had an explanation for the defeat of Ohio State: "We pointed for the first and third games. Against Illinois we simply fell flat." In the Illinois game his team might also have paid too much attention to the stadium's P.A. announcer, who kept reminding everyone that the Ohio State game could be seen the following week on closed-circuit television.
Without Pisarkiewicz, the Tigers' prospects in Columbus seemed poor indeed. Zark the Shark had thrown three touchdown passes against the Trojans and was nearing Paul Christman's school record for total offense. But he was ineffective in the face of the Illinois defense (hitting just seven of 18 passes for 64 yards) and had to leave at the end of the third quarter after aggravating a bum shoulder. He was hurt, embarrassingly enough, when one of his own backs cut the wrong way and speared him. The Tigers finished the game with Pete Woods, a 6'4", 210-pound junior—the star pitcher on the Missouri baseball team which won the Big Eight title last spring. Woods was expected to redshirt in football this season, but Pisarkiewicz' injured shoulder put a crimp in that plan.
As Missouri prepared for Ohio State, Woods was the best quarterback Coach Al Onofrio could muster. Unlike Zark, who is a classic drop-back passer, Woods prefers option roll-outs, throwing best on the run. He also exudes enormous confidence. "I've been waiting for two years to play," he said before the game. "I don't see any problems at all."
The first half, however, belonged to the Buckeyes, who started the game by uncharacteristically, and unsuccessfully, throwing long for a touchdown on the first play. Woody Hayes settled down to his usual attack after that, spurning the pass and running Fullback Pete Johnson and Tailback Jeff Logan. With Tackle Nick Buonamici's pass interception at the Tiger 23 setting the stage for one score, Johnson bucked for three touchdowns within seven minutes of the second quarter, and Ohio State led at the half 21-7. Missouri's only score had come on a 31-yard pass from Woods to Joe Stewart.
Assessing those first 30 minutes, Onofrio said later, "They really took the starch out of us." In the second half, though, the Missouri defenders stood their ground, holding Johnson (who came up with sprained ankles) and Logan to 36 of their combined 229 yards. The Tigers were so unimpressed by Ohio State's passing that Safeties Mike Newman and Chuck Banta cheated to just behind the line of scrimmage and finished as the team's leading solo tacklers.
When the Buckeyes tried to pass, they did so with regrettable results. Rod Gerald completed only one of eight attempts and was sacked three times by End Dale Smith. Missouri Linebacker Chris Garlich helped the offense get on the scoreboard in the third quarter by intercepting a Gerald pass and returning it to the Ohio State 36. Eight plays later Tailback Curt Brown picked up four of his 108 yards on a touchdown run that put the Tigers back in the game.
The score was still 21-14 with 4:42 remaining when Missouri began its final 80-yard drive. The Tigers surely could have used the rifle shots of Pisarkiewicz, the Big Eight's leading passer last season. But Zark the Shark was not even in uniform.