Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Mizzou 50: 1994 brought the start of the Larry Smith years

By 1994, the Omniturf era at Faurot Field, mostly known for bad field conditions and bad football teams, was mercifully nearing its end. In 1992, Big Eight Conference coaches issued a statement that included the phrase, “Big Eight Conference football coaches wanted to report that the football field at the University of Missouri is a detriment to the home and visiting teams and takes away from the integrity of the game played on such a field.” Ouch.

The Rolling Stones performed at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 18, 1994, before 45,000 people. The concert raised almost $100,000 for stadium upgrades that would include a switch from Omniturf back to natural grass for the 1995 season.

Missouri had a new coach for that final Omniturf year, 1994. Larry Smith was the latest man brought to Columbia to try to bring the program back to life after an ever-increasing malaise, which had reached a decade by the time he arrived.

Smith had previously coached USC to three Rose Bowls, winning one, a pretty good resume for a coach coming to a program in the state Missouri was in. Smith had been fired after a Freedom Bowl loss to Fresno State, but he at least had some intriguing past results.

Missouri was a rebuild, however, and the Tigers opened the 1994 season with a 20-17 loss to a not-great Tulsa team. Then came a 42-0 beatdown at Illinois that dropped Missouri to 0-2.

On Sept. 17, three days after that Rolling Stones concert in Columbia, Missouri played Houston in the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the Astrodome. It was a small crowd, 18,310, but it was a game in an iconic venue. Playing a Houston Cougars team that would finish near the bottom of the SWC and would get left out of the Big 12 Conference shuffle, Missouri won 16-0. Larry Smith’s first Missouri win came in the Astrodome.

The Tigers then lost two home games, 34-10 to West Virginia and 38-23 to No. 5 Colorado. The Buffaloes would go 11-1 and win the Fiesta Bowl that season, only losing to Nebraska.
Missouri was now 1-4, but the Tigers went to Stillwater and beat Oklahoma State 24-15.

Then came an Oct. 22 home game with No. 3 Nebraska. Missouri was a huge underdog. The Tigers had produced a lot of scrappy efforts and close games against outstanding Husker teams, but this was lopsided. The Huskers, barreling toward their third national title, and their first in two successful decades under Tom Osborne, won 42-7. Osborne would finally get that elusive ring with a 24-17 Orange Bowl win over Miami, in which the Huskers surged back in the fourth quarter to get the win.
Missouri bounced back from the loss to the Huskers with a 34-20 win at Iowa State, but then lost 30-13 at Oklahoma.

Missouri hosted No. 11 Kansas State on Nov. 12. The Wildcats were on the rise under Bill Snyder, having only lost to the elite Nebraska and Colorado teams that season. It was a close one, but K-State won 21-18.

The following week, Nov. 19, was Senior Day in Columbia, the final game on the Omniturf at Faurot Field, against Kansas. It was probably fitting, but Missouri closed out that era with a loss, 31-14, to the Jayhawks. The Tigers began and ended the Omniturf decade with winless home seasons, and their final record on the surface was 20-38-3.

But Missouri had one more game, at Hawaii. Playing in Aloha Stadium, it probably felt like a bowl trip for a program that hadn’t made one in a long time. Missouri and Hawaii tied 32-32, the last tie in Mizzou football history, as new overtime rules were coming soon.

The Tigers finished the season 3-8-1, another tough season in a sea of them. Quarterback Jeff Handy had completed his eligibility, so the rebuild would have to include replacing the school’s all-time leading passer at the time. As Smith headed to year 2, there weren’t a lot of tangible signs of hope. The conference title drought also hit 25 years that fall.

1994: 25 years ago, 6th in the Big Eight

Record: 3-8-1, 2-5 in Big Eight

No comments:

Post a Comment