Defending The Title

IRVING, Texas – Kendrick Lewis says Oklahoma State presents the same type challenges as teams they've faced all season in the Southeastern Conference.

"It's things we've seen before week in and week out," he said with a great deal of respect for the 9-3 Cowboys. "They compare a lot to some of the SEC schools. They've got high caliber athletes, so it's going to be a great matchup."

The New Orleans native said he and his teammates feel they had a solid season, except for the last game of the campaign.

"It's a game that we feel as a defense have to bounce back from," said the 6-foot-1, 195-pound free safety. "Last time out left a bad taste and we did some bad things. We were unsuccessful, and since that day through bowl practice, we've tried to get back into a groove where we were before the Mississippi State game when we were connecting on all cylinders.

"Defensive line, linebackers and secondary, we all know we're much better than that," he continued, "and it's about competing and having another opportunity."

Lewis said the Rebels are approaching this game with more urgency than they did against MSU. He admits they may not have been as tuned in and focused as they needed to be that day.

"I really believe it was more how we approached the game," he said. "Defensively I don't believe we approached it like we did an Alabama or an Arkansas. I think we looked on those guys as an easy win, that they weren't going to come out and compete. But those guys came out and did a great job. They've got some great athletes. It was just our whole approach to the game going into it."

But now they have a chance at some sort of redemption, a chance to win nine games again, and to take home another Cotton Bowl championship trophy.

"That's something you dream of," Lewis said. "Winning against Texas Tech last year means we are back to defend our title. It will be good for the history books. It's a bigger and better Cotton Bowl than ever before. Hopefully we'll come out victorious."

Lewis, a second-team All-SEC selection, said he feels good about his own season but wants to finish strong Saturday.

"I played well early on," said the team leader in tackles with 80 on the season. "My interceptions were down and I didn't have a big year as far as that and what I was expecting. But I have one more game to go out and prove myself. I had a nice solid year, consistent year. But I believe I could have done better as far as the passing game and catching interceptions."

But now it is down to one last game as a Rebel. He wants to make sure it's a memorable one.

"I'm just trying to help my team win a ballgame, whatever they need me to do, if it's special teams or anywhere they need me," said Lewis, with nine pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and two blocked kicks in 2009. "We're just trying to win this game and leave here with a bang, knowing this is my last game for the University of Mississippi."

Oklahoma State, like the Rebels, had higher aspirations than Cotton. But that's where they are now, and Lewis said he knows the Cowboys are a formidable foe, if for no other reason than the conference they play in week in and week out.

"They've got some good athletes on that team," he said. "They've got some playmakers that at any given time can make big plays. We'll have to compete real hard against them to be successful. Next to the SEC I believe the Big 12 is the best conference in college football. It's always good to compete against those guys from that conference to see how it turns out."

Lewis closes out two seasons playing for defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix. He said playing for Nix has been special.

"I have a great deal of respect for him," Lewis said. "He's a great coach and brings out the best in each and every last player on the defensive side. He wants you to go out and compete for him, compete and never quit. Those are the words he uses. You take heed of it and believe in him. We trust him and his gameplans every time we play a game."

Nix has mutual admiration for Lewis.

"Great leader. Great kid. Smart," Nix said. "A heck of a football player and person. I can always go to him if I'm questioning whether they're ready to play or not. He gives it his all. He's a winner."

OM Spirit Top Stories