When Marshay Green was moved from wide receiver to cornerback last spring, astute observers knew the transition would take time and there would be struggles.
Green had some problems this year with the adjustment, but he kept plugging.
"I'm a competitor," Marshay said. "Competitors don't shrink away when something doesn't go their way. I never got discouraged. I just battled."
And while the secondary and Green gradually improved from game to game, the defense got better and better, culminating in five straight regular season wins.
That was all good, but the Rebel secondary had not seen a passing attack like they would face in the Cotton Bowl.
And Green and company had never been doubted more strongly from those outside the Ole Miss community.
"Hardly anyone outside the team felt we could hang with Texas Tech and all those great skill people. We knew we wouldn't stop them cold, but we knew we could put in a winning performance against them," Marshay, who had to cover All-American Michael Crabtree a lot, said. "You don't stop a team like them. What you try to do is contain them, slow them down and take advantage of the mistakes they make.
"We were able to do that with two interceptions and hold them way below their averages in points per game and passing yardage. That was our goal and that's what we did."
Green was instrumental in that cause.
For a span in the third quarter, it was the Marshay Green show and he, arguably, fired the two most crippling shots to Texas Tech's starboard all day.
With the Rebs holding a 31-21 lead - which isn't enough against Tech's explosive offense - with 12 minutes to go in the third quarter, Green was on Crabtree, who only caught four passes for 30 yards on the day. Crabtree slipped on a stop route and Green was there to gather in the pass.
Sixty-five yards later, he was diving into the end zone for a Rebel score. It was a gut shot to Tech.
Just a few minutes later, Marshay had a long punt return, stepping out on the Tech 9. Even though the Rebs didn't get any points out of that return, the point had been made and the Tech wounds were flowing.
"We didn't have a safe lead until that interception return by Marshay," said Coach Houston Nutt. "You have to credit him and Coach (Chris) Vaughn. It's been a hard journey for them to get to this point, but they worked at it every day and it started paying off the second half of the season. Cornerback may be the most improved part of our team since August. I'm proud of them."
Marshay said the early 14-0 deficit did not put a damper on the Rebs' enthusiasm.
"We were there for the long haul. We made a couple of mistakes and got behind, but we really were not worried about it," he said. "I knew we were going to come out and fight. We fought and we were up at half 24-21.
"We were looking to make something happen early in the second half to stretch out lead. I was just in the right place at the right time and my teammates blocked for me on the interception return and on the punt return."
The Red Raider offense had its moments, but as Marshay said, not enough of them.
"We gave up four defensive touchdowns," he said. "We were hoping for two or three, but I slipped down on one of their TD passes.
"To be honest with you, we were pretty comfortable back there. We knew it was going to be a great challenge, but that's what we wanted. We wanted to see what all the hoopla over their offense was about. They were very good, but today we were better."
Marshay Green took a few lumps to get to this point at the cornerback position.
But he delivered the blows in the Cotton Bowl and now he's the one hoisting the Defensive MVP trophy over his head.
Cotton Bowl coverage -
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