Breaking it Down: Aerial Assault

Over the course of the coming week, the Ole Miss Spirit will break down the key matchups of the 73rd AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic. Monday's edition features the Ole Miss passing attack against the Texas Tech secondary. Read about it inside.

There's plenty to be said of the high powered Texas Tech offense, but with an Ole Miss attack that ranks fourth in the Southeastern Conference in scoring at 30.8 points per game, the Rebels deserve an equal share of attention.

Leading the charge is Stephenville, Texas native Jevan Snead who finished the year with 2,470 yards, 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Junior Shay Hodge leads all Rebel receivers with 42 receptions for 676 yards and 8 touchdowns, while all-purpose star Dexter McCluster is a close second with 38 grabs for 542 yards and a score.

Throw in senior Mike Wallace who currently ranks seventh in the conference for receiving yards per game and third in kick returns and it's easy to see why wide receiver coach Ron Dickerson believes his group deserves a little more credit.

"Our guys have developed into a pretty good unit too," Dickerson said. "Shay Hodge has been reliable and good all year; Mike Wallace is now channeling his explosiveness into being a more consistent threat, especially with the deep ball; Dexter is working more at tailback now, but he's still a weapon for us out wide; and Markeith Summers, Lionel Breaux and Andrew Harris have all improved by leaps and bounds this year. We can play too."

While the Red Raider secondary ranks third in the Big 12 in pass defense, the unit surrendered an average of 238.1 yards per game for the season – almost 30 yards greater than Ole Miss, who ranked 11th in the SEC in the same category.

Texas Tech finished the year ranked fourth in total defense, but surrendered over 370 yards to their opposition per outing.

"I think they're defense is a little underrated," head coach Houston Nutt said. "They keep everyone in front of them and don't give up big plays. They are quick and physical. They remind me a lot of South Carolina's defense."

Through a combination of zone and cover 2 sets, Tech is able to create timely turnovers despite their tendency to give up bulks of yardage.

The group sits first in the Big 12 for interceptions.

"They play a lot of zone coverage," wide receiver Mike Wallace said. "For the most part they're alright. I think their secondary is pretty average. We've played against good corners every week, so we'll be ready for them."

Big play opportunities will certainly be there for the taking, considering the Red Raiders sit 91st in the nation in pass defense. While the Rebels are 58th in the country in passing offense, they have shown the ability to establish a downfield threat consistently.

"I have so many weapons to choose from and that really gives a quarterback more and more confidence," Snead said. "I've got guys out there who I can dump it to and they can turn it into big gains and guys who can run by coverages.

"Playmakers are everywhere on this team."

Advantage: Due to the quick-strike ability of the Texas Tech offense, winning the battle of possession will certainly be priority one. Establishing the run will be paramount, with the need for vertical shots minimized.

But due to Tech's inconsistencies in defending the pass, the Rebels must find a way to gain a bevy of yardage while exercising efficient time management. In turn, a short/intermediate passing game might be the best way to take advantage. We'll take the Rebs in this matchup.

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