Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix, sitting in the media room after the Rebs defeated Oklahoma State 21-7 in the Cotton Bowl, didn't look like a victorious coach.
He looked spent.
But his crew had just spun a defensive masterpiece, including a goalline stand, causinjg six Cowboy turnovers in the fourth quarter, seven turnovers overall and scoring a defensive touchdown.
Sweet redemption for the way the regular season had ended in Starkville.
"Our kids knew the last time out wasn't indicative of the way we play defense at Ole Miss," said Nix softly, with a relieved tone. "They stayed focused all through the Cotton Bowl practices and they accepted the challenge of Oklahoma State's offensive diversity.
"We wanted to make a statement that we are a good defense and we do know how a good defense is supposed to play. We wanted to finish on the right note."
As good as the Reb defense has been MOST of the year, they have not been known for causing a lot of turnovers. Seven, count 'em.
"Sometimes they come in bunches. Like sacks. It's kind of contagious and when it gets that way the ball starts bouncing your way," Nix stated. "That goes back to our defensive staff - Kim Dameron, Terry Price and Chris Vaughn.
"I have never been involved with six turovers in one quarter. Credit the staff for putting them in the right positions and for those kids making the plays in a big way."
The Rebs concentrated on stopping the option and were mostly successful in doing that.
"They hit us on a play or two, but for the most part we shut it down," Tyrone noted. "That just goes back to focus and what I said earlier in the week. If you focus and play your assignments, it doesn't matter what type of offense they run - we have a chance to stop it.
"We got good penetration up front. The linebackers filled well and the secondary supported well against the run. It was justified that we were questioned about not being able to stop the option all week, but I knew we could. I got irritated about it - not being asked about it, but because we didn't stop it in Starkville. We put the work into stopping it here and came out pretty good. We don't see a lot of option, so we just had to work it more. It's just focus and tackling. This was one of our better games in terms of focusing and playing hard and playing our assignments."
Nix was pleased with the overall play of the defense.
"We played very well on first and second down and got Oklahoma State into a bunch of third-and-longs and that's when we made good things happen. That is when we are at our best," he proclaimed.
Another key for Nix was that his guys did not let it bother them that the offense was giving up almost as many turnovers as Oklahoma State's offense in what could be easily called a sloppy exhibition by both offenses.
"It does not matter what our offense is doing. Our job is to get the ball back. We knew we could score on any play and would. Dexter scored on an 86-yarder and that's almost all we needed to win," Nix stated.
One huge series by the Rebs was a goalline stand with the game tied 7-7 after a Rebel turnover deep in Ole Miss territory.
"That's just character. Oklahoma State did that to our offense earlier in the game and we returned the favor," Nix closed. "We are strong up the middle and that's where it starts. It's man-on-man down there on fourth-and-one and our guys bowed their necks and took on the challenge. I love that about our guys - they like challenges."
After the Egg Bowl loss, the Rebel defense had something to prove and some pride to restore.
After smothering Oklahoma State most of the day, they proved what they came to prove and left Cowboy Stadium with their heads held high.
The Rebel offense had the same issues that Oklahoma State did. It was almost as if the time off between games had made them rusty rather than sharper.
Turnovers, not being able to convert from the one on two cracks at the goal, bad center-quarterback exchanges, it all took place.
Dexter to the rescue.
"We had to keep feeding him. He ripped off the 86-yarder for a score and helped us move the chains enough despite our turnovers and poor plays," said Offensive Coordinator Kent Austin.
QB Jevan Snead was leveled while chasing down a ballcarrier after his third interception and the decision was made to bring in Nathan Stanley, Jevan's backup.
"We just wanted Jevan to watch a couple of series and clear his head after that big hit. We also wanted to see if Nathan could give us a spark," Kent explained. "Nathan did some good things. He scrambled once for a first down and was pretty composed for this big of a stage.
"But after his interception at the start of the second half, we decided to put our experienced guy back in there. Jevan struggled a little after we got him back in there, but in the fourth quarter, he righted the ship and did a good job with the game on the line."
Snead could be remembered in the game for the bad plays, but Austin does not think that is entirely fair.
"He missed a couple of throws early and made a couple of nice passes. I wish he had hit that TD to Grandy he underthrew and then I think he would have gotten on a roll," Kent assessed. "Here's the deal. I'm not excusing the bad plays. I'm really not. But people need to realize he has won 18 games in the last two years as our starting QB. Who is the last one to do that here? I don't think Eli (Manning) did. The kid has back-to-back Cotton Bowl wins.
"We know he's making too many mistakes. He knows he's making too many mistakes and he's down about it, but let's be fair about it. The kid has made a lot of plays and made some big plays today. Don't just remember the bad plays. Again, we're not excusing those and neither is he, but I'm asking people to look at the big picture. Look at the record."
Austin was asked if he thinks Jevan will be back for his senior year.
"I have not been involved in that process. If I am asked, I will help Jevan in any way I can. I think it's all going to come down to what his NFL evaluation reveals about his possible draft position," Kent stated.
While the offense had trouble holding on to the ball and getting something going, they did the logical thing and basically turned things over to the little man with the Texas-sized heart - Dexter, who rushed for 184 yards on 34 carries and scored both of the Rebs' offensive TDs. He also caught five passes for 45 yards.
Along the way, McCluster became the first player in SEC history - the first and the only so far in all the years of the Southeastern Conference - to rush for over 1,000 yards and have over 500 yards receiving in a single season.
Let that soak in. Digest that. Incredible.
"I could talk about that young man forever. He's as fine a person as he is a football player - from his integrity to his character to the depth of his commitment," Austin stated. "His ability to absorb the information he does in all the things we ask him to do in our offense is amazing. He takes that information and makes big play after big play. You do realize Dexter has back-to-back MVPs of the Cotton Bowl? How often does that happen?
"I'm telling you, we are going to have some sleepless nights wondering how we are going to replace that guy and Shay Hodge and some of those big guys up front, but that is college football. That's just the nature of the beast.
"John Jerry, Daverin Geralds, Gerald Harris, Reid Neely, Andy Hartmann and more. . . those are terrific kids and terrific football players and we appreciate everything they all did from the bottom of our hearts."
And as the old saying goes, a win is a win. Style points mean little.
Taking home the trophy is what counts and the Rebels have their second one in as many years.
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