Throwback Thursday: Alabama Football Got Bit in the 1968 Gator Bowl

J. Bank

Alabama opened the 1968 football season No. 7 nationally and was on target to maybe finish with a similar ranking only to get surprised by Missouri in the Gator Bowl. 

The Crimson Tide lost two of its first five games on the schedule, to Ole Miss and Tennessee by a combined three points, en route to an 8-2 record season (4-2 Southeastern Conference).

It led to Alabama's 10th consecutive bowl appearance, against Missouri in Jacksonville. 

1968 Gator Bowl
Courtesy Jimmy Bank

At that point, Missouri (7-3 regular season) was in the Big Eight conference. The schools had never played before but Alabama was 3-0 against the conference in bowl games. 

The coaching matchup was Paul W. "Bear" Bryant against Dan Devine. 

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Alabama didn't know it was essentially walking into a trap. 

Perhaps foreshadowing what Alabama would do to USC a few years later, Missouri surprised the Crimson Tide with a new scheme, in this case a Power I offense that it had worked on in secret. 

With the Tigers' defense just as effective, Missouri won 35-10 before 68,011 fans. 

It was the worst beating a Bryant-coached Alabama team had suffered, and the statistics were as lopsided as the final score. 

Alabama had minus-45 yards rushing and a total offensive output of just 23 yards. Missouri banged out 402 yards rushing. The Tigers didn’t complete a single pass, but they also didn't need to either. 

The Crimson Tide, which had given up just 104 points all season, made just six first downs compared to 21 for Missouri.

Nevertheless, helped by four turnovers Alabama was only down 14-10 early in the fourth quarter. 

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Terry McMillan scored three touchdowns on short runs and baffled Alabama defenders with his deft pitchouts on the option.

Two interceptions set up Alabama's only points in the game. 

Defensive back Donnie Sutton returned one 38 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, and Mike Dean’s pickoff set up his 25-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

The Missouri defense, anchored by ends Elmer Benhardt and Bill Schmitt, was stymied. Alabama's quarterbacks were thrown for a loss nine times. 

McMillan opened the scoring on a 4-yard burst, and he gave the Tigers a 14-7 lead in the second period with a 5-yard run. The Tigers had operated from the “regular I” during a 7-3 regular season, but changed their attack during bowl workouts “To give us stronger running,” Devine said.

The switch paid off with Greg Cook, McMillan, Jim Harrison and Ron McBride all cracking through the Tide line. Cook led all rushers with 179 yards.  

Quarterback Scott Hunter was so harassed by the Missouri ends that be hit only seven of 25 throws and was thrown for losses totaling 61 yards.

Roger Wehrli, Missouri’s All-American safety, clinched the Tigers’ fourth straight bowl triumph with a late interception that set up McMillan’s third touchdown, a 2-yard run. In the closing minutes, Cook ran 37 yards from scrimmage and Dennis Poppe raced 47 yards with an interception to pad the margin.

It marked the first time since 1958 that Alabama lost three games in a season. The Crimson Tide finished No. 12 in the coaches poll and No. 17 in the Associated Press poll. 

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