The dust has cleared from the 42-17 Ole Miss victory over Tennessee, but we couldn't let that one rest without some additional notes from the Rebels' stunning annihilation of the Vols.
* Most school records are set against lesser competition. It's just fact. That wasn't the case with TB Dexter McCluster and his Ole Miss single-game rushing (282) record and single game total yardage record (324) set against the Vols.
Take a sip, roll it around in your mouth like a fine wine and savor it. Take in the full magnitude of his accomplishment. What Dexter did was not accomplished against the Little Sisters of the Poor. It was done against Tennessee, the third-ranked defense in the SEC and the 13th rated defense in the country. Marinate that for a while.
McCluster, with the help of a revamped and retooled offensive line, shredded one of the best defensive units in the SEC, the same unit led by Monte Kiffen, one of the best in the business. The same unit that held still undefeated Alabama to 12 measly points in Tuscaloosa.
It was, without question, one of the most stunning single-game efforts by any Ole Miss football player ever. Remarkable.
Poor Tennessee. On this day, they couldn't have tackled McCluster in an elevator.
* Almost comical in relation to McCluster's performance was what Dexter said after the game about the UT defenders.
"They talked the whole game. They chirped and chirped and chirped. We'd get a 15-yard run and they'd talk trash. We'd get another one and they kept chirping. They never seemed to get enough and it kept me motivated," he smiled. "After the long run (71 yards for the game-sealing TD) I thought they'd quit, but they didn't. Then, I had to laugh."
* Dexter sidebar. One fellow told me at the end of the game, "Well, we can thank Coach O for Dexter." Stop the presses. If you want the truth, I will give it to you. This is not a jab at O, believe it or not, but we can thank Matt Lubick, the WR coach at Ole Miss at the time, for Dexter. Orgeron rejected McCluster several times, stating his lack of size as his reason each time, but Lubick's persistence about Dexter in recruiting meetings finally wore Orgeron down. Ultimately, O had to approve Dexter, but Lubick got the kid to Ole Miss. Thank Matt Lubick for the mercurial one, and nobody else.
* Don't lose in the shuffle of Dexter-mania the other aspects of the Rebel offense that played extremely well.
In terms of controlling the flow of a game, QB Jevan Snead, in this humble opinion, had his best game as a Rebel this season. He was nearly flawless and he did it on a bum ankle for a half. Granted, it's easier to play quarterback when a defense is so befuddled and playing on their heels, but he's still got to make the right reads and decisions and Jevan was spot on with all aspects of the mental side of the game and was as accurate throwing the ball as he's ever been. At one point, he was 9-11 with two drops. Not bad, not bad at all.
As good as McCLuster is/was, he didn't get those yards by himself. There were big holes for him to get to the second level all day. Once he's there, call the dogs, the hunt is over. Credit the offensive line and the move to get freshman Bobby Massie in the lineup at RT and to slide massive John Jerry to right guard. There was a lot of beef up front and UT's defensive line felt their wrath the entire day.
I've been a little critical of the wideouts at times this season, but not against Tennessee. Yes, they had a couple of drops they could have/should have caught, but what was very apparent was how they kept working to get open and to gain an edge on the UT DBs. There was no giving up on patterns on this day.
Quietly, TB Brandon Bolden had a real good game as well. At times, Brandon and Dexter were lined up in a split-back set and Bolden threw some terrific blocks for #22. He ran the ball effectively and scored the last TD of the game.
* While the lightning returned on offense, the thunder also returned on defense. Besides giving up two TD passes for scores over the middle, they stymied the Vols' offense, an offense that had caught fire in the past few weeks and manhandled Georgia a couple of weeks back.
TB Montario Hardesty, who is one of the best backs in the SEC, was rendered a non-factor by the Landsharks all day. Whatever Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix dialed up, they executed with very few exceptions.
When Snead made his lone mistake of the day, a screen pass that was picked off giving UT a short field in a tight 21-17 game, the defense did a four-and-ball-over on the Vols' offense, arguably the turning point of the game. That stop, the players said, gave everyone a boost and allowed the Rebels to proceed to blow out the visitors.
Nix's plan was nothing revolutionary to SEC football – stop the run and make UT QB Jonathan Crompton win the game. Crompton made the Rebs pay a little bit in the first half, but the Rebel defenders adjusted and owned him in the second half. Nix's patience with the plan, not hitting the panic button when Crompton connected twice in the first half, paid dividends.
* A tip of the hat also to the Rebel offensive staff. Besides making a gutsy personnel change on the OL, they got their creative juices flowing with several new sets/formations/plays that not only worked but sent shock waves through the Vol nation. They revived the Wild Rebel, found a chink in the Vols' armor to the left side and attacked. They ran the option. They ran reverses to keep UT off balance. They rolled Snead with a moving pocket for added protection. Essentially, they outcoached a great coach in Kiffen. That's a day's work.
* While it will go unnoticed by some, freshman Kickoff Specialist Andrew Ritter had his best day, by far, as a Rebel. His kickoffs were deep and in the corners, just what the coaches ordered. The KO coverage broke down a couple of times, but Ritter did his job. He looked more relaxed and comfortable than he has in several games of late and it showed in his performance.
* While it's almost silly to come up with something "unsavory" in a win like that one, here's something that needs mentioning. The atmosphere at the stadium was very good. Loud, proud and ready to rumble, but for the life of me, I cannot accept and will never understand how so many Vols got in that stadium. Their ticket allotment was 7,400, the same as every other SEC school. They had a minimum of 10,000 orange-clad fans there and I even saw orange in the skybox areas on the East side and in the South end zone. That ain't right. There are some Rebels selling their tickets to the enemy and I think that's just wrong. Sorry, but that's the way I feel. I hope and pray those Rebs will not make that mistake when LSU comes to town next week. Come to the game in our colors or sell/give the tickets to a Rebel. But don't sell them to a Tiger. Eat them. You can afford it.
* How much guts do Kentrell Lockett and Patrick Trahan have? A wagon load. Trahan could not walk Friday due to some mysterious foot problem that has yet to be diagnosed. He spent Friday night in the hospital. Lockett had a fever of 103 degrees and was in the hospital all night Friday as well. Both played, and played well, against UT. Folks, that's wanting it.
* Last, but not least, Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt had his team ready to rumble in this huge game. Prior to the UT battle, the Rebels, frankly, were not heading in the direction everyone had hoped. The inconsistencies were ruining any modicum of momentum they were able to sporadically gain. Nutt and his staff kept their composure with the players, never losing their patience and optimism, put together a great gameplan, and preached not letting outside influences detract them. As a result, they had a terrific week of practice, carried that over into the game and became bowl-eligible.
Next up, becoming "more bowl-eligible," i.e., working for bigger and better bowls from this point on. Get on board. The ride will be fun.
Dexter and then some
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