The "Other" Running Back

IRVING, Texas - Ole Miss senior running back Dexter McCluster has certainly captured his share of attention as he vies to become the first player in SEC history to rush for 1,000 yards and total 500 receiving yards in the same season Saturday.

In interview sessions as his team prepares for the 74th annual AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, McCluster always draws a crowd. The questions are somewhat repetitive. Most would like to know how this shifty, albeit undersized, running back has logged 821 rushing yards over a six-game span.

But lost in all of the hoopla surrounding the well-deserved attention of McCluster is a talented rusher all his own in Oklahoma State senior Keith Toston.

"I've seen him in previous years," Toston said of McCluster. "The first look I really got of him this year was when we were practicing in Cowboys Stadium and they were showing the highlights of him (on the jumbotron). He's one of those guys who can break a long run real fast no matter where he is on the field."

Toston is used to living his football life a bit overshadowed. Though he rushed for 1,177 yards, the 14th-most in OSU history, the injury status of former Big 12 rushing leader Kendall Hunter captured most of the headlines over an 8-4 regular season.

An All-American in 2008, Hunter has missed five games this season and has yet to regain the rushing form which helped him gain 1,555 yards a year ago. However, Toston has done his part to fill the void, as he's rushed for 11 touchdowns. The total stands No. 11 on the single-season list. Further, his 24 receptions were second on the team.

Suffice to say, for Toston, a national stage in Dallas seems a perfect opportunity to showcase his skills as a rusher against one of the SEC's better defenses.

"To me, (Ole Miss) really has no weakness," he said. "It's just one of those things of sometimes speed can hurt you. If you have fast guys going side-to-side, it could be hard for (Ole Miss) to redirect. We're going to have to settle down and play our offense. We have to be mistake free. If we go out there and turn the ball over, we'll find ourselves in a hole."

Paired with senior quarterback Zac Robinson, the Cowboys boast the Big 12's top rushing attack at 191.75 yards per game. Also to its credit, the team implements an option attack, which has proved trying for Ole Miss in previous games.

Toston said to expect to see the option around "30 percent" come Saturday when the teams meet in Cowboys Stadium at 1 p.m.

"We can run a lot of things that involve the option," he said. "Anytime you have a quarterback that can run the ball that helps as an offense. Zac (Robinson) is probably the key to our option. He can read it and can break a long one if the defense isn't ready for it."

The last time Ole Miss faced an option attack, it was gashed to the tune of over 300 yards rushing by in-state rival Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs saw two rushers surpass 100 yards on the ground, while the Rebels limped out of Starkville with a deflating 41-27 loss.

"Other than that game, there have only been a few games where a running back has been successful against them," said Toston of the Ole Miss defense. "As a running back group, we're going to try and carry this team on our shoulders. We have to go out there and compete."

This will be the second meeting between Ole Miss and Oklahoma State, the last coming in the 2004 version of the Classic.

But for Toston, this game offers a chance to showcase himself in his final collegiate game. And for a running back that will end his Cowboy career among the school's all-time leaders in rushing, an opportunity is all he can ask for.

"Their linebackers can run pretty fast side-to-side," Toston said in breaking down the Ole Miss defense. "Then they have a front four that's got a couple guys over 300 pounds. They're pretty athletic, as well. They have a lot of athletes on their defense. I think that will be the hardest challenge for us. It kind of reminds me of the team we played earlier in the year in the Georgia Bulldogs.

"That worked out pretty well."


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